A Vegetarian Perspective on In-vitro Meat

At first, the idea of eating meat that is grown in a test tube may make some people—especially vegans like me—a bit squeamish, but when you consider the current method of meat production and its devastating impact on the planet, you’ll likely agree that in-vitro meat is an appetizing alternative. PETA’s $1 million prize incentive for scientists to create marketable in-vitro meat by 2012 could have far-reaching effects for animals, humans and the environment. For those who don’t have the discipline to give up eating animals—despite evidence that animal products don’t do our bodies any good—lab-grown meat is a viable solution with positive ramifications.

Billions and billions of animals would be spared from pain and suffering, for starters. More than 40 billion cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals are killed for their flesh each year in the United States alone. An end to factory farms and slaughterhouses would mean an end to painful debeaking, branding and castration practices. Chickens would no longer be scalded alive in defeathering tanks or cows dismembered while they’re still conscious.

We would never have to see another disturbing video showing slaughterhouse workers stomping on chickens and slamming them against walls; dragging injured pigs around by their snouts, legs or ears; or pushing downed cows onto the kill floor with a forklift. Meat recalls would be a thing of the past.

We would have a greener planet and an end to the global food crisis. Greenhouse gasses would be dramatically reduced and animal waste would not taint our waterways. And it may eventually be possible to grow millions of pounds of protein from a single cell, a monumental improvement from the inefficiencies of animal agriculture. As things stand now, it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat. A staggering 760 million tons of grain will be used to feed farmed animals this year—compared to 100 million tons used to produce fuel. Around 1.4 billion people could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to U.S. cattle alone.

And humans would be healthier. Not just because in-vitro meat will not contain antibiotics, listeria and salmonella or because mad-cow disease and other animal-borne illnesses will become a thing of the past, but also because no one will have to live downwind of a stinky, pollution-spewing animal factory. A Scripps Howard synopsis of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on farm pollution warned, “Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated. … Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick.”

When in-vitro meat is commercially available, our oil problems will be significantly reduced. More than one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the U.S. are used to raise animals for food. Each stage of meat production requires massive amounts of energy—and costs massive amounts of money.

Laboratory-grown meat will have a major impact on many facets on life, from ethical to ecological to economical. While mass quantities of in-vitro meat may not be feasible for a few years, tasty mock meats and other vegetarian alternatives can be found in supermarkets today. Until forward-thinking scientists can produce “meat” without the moo, why not choose vegan foods that have been benefiting animals, people and the environment for years?

Heather Moore is a freelance writer and a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510. Read other articles by Heather, or visit Heather's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hp said on May 10th, 2008 at 10:46am #

    “The average age (longevity) of a meat eater is 63.
    I am on the verge of 85 and still at work as hard as ever.
    I have lived quite long enough and am trying to die, but I simply cannot do it. A single beef-steak would finish me, but I cannot bring myself to swallow it.
    I am oppressed with a dread of living forever.
    That is the only disadvantage of vegetarianism.”
    George Bernard Shaw

  2. Rich Griffin said on May 10th, 2008 at 10:52am #

    I’ll stick to being a vegan since it has kept me alive despite having a life threatening illness!! (: 21 years and counting!! (:

  3. Sheila Velazquez said on May 10th, 2008 at 11:07am #

    I agree that most of us would be healthier if we reduced our meat intake, but I disagree with your blanket statement about the negative health benefits of nonvegan foods. If we were concerned only with eating complete protein, we could eat rice and beans. I believe the PETA prize is for in-vitro meat that has the same appeal and that is no more expensive than natural meat. This will be hard to do considering the characteristics of many favorite cuts of meat, e.g., muscle, bone, etc.

    As someone who has raised and butchered her own meat, I can also say with authority that all animals are not treated inhumanely and that those of us who have raised our family’s food are probably most upset by the cruel treatment of food animals, because we know exactly what ending a life for that purpose means, and how it should be accomplished.

    Small farmers all over the country are trying to survive outside the corporate food system. Their animals are well treated. Many are never given antibiotics or other drugs, because there is no need. They are pastured on grass that has never been sprayed with pesticides.

    If clean agriculture were better supported, we could do away with factory farming. In order for this to happen consumers would have to be willing to pay a price that would cover the farmer’s costs and leave him with a profit to invest in his farm. To afford this would probably mean eating less meat but of a higher quality.

    If government subsidies to big ag were ended, the small farmer who receives none could be competitive. That would mean the availability of healthier meat and vegetables for all of us. We’d all be winners.

  4. hp said on May 10th, 2008 at 11:31am #

    Spoken like a civilized person, Rich.

  5. ashley said on May 10th, 2008 at 2:06pm #

    I am against in-vitro meat simply because I can’t stand that sort of ‘unnatural’ technology messing around with organic life systems. I feel the same way about GM foods.

    There is no doubt that the eating of meat is a cruel practice, even immoral on some level. However, in moderate doses it clearly is quite nutritious, not to mention delicious, even if not necessary. Fish is meat to in this context.

    To me the ideal system would be one that uses animals for work, dairy production, wool and so forth and then, when they die, that is the meat used for consumption, making for an occasional feast rather than a daily dose.

    If we had a political system more rooted in local versus national communities, then various communities could develop more individually tailored approaches to diet, amongst many other things. Sadly, that is not our condition, nor likely to be for some time to come barring a very painful collapse, during which millions of humans will die along with the animals they are currently exploiting.

  6. Who Cares said on May 11th, 2008 at 12:38am #

    For health benefits you might want to add that vegetables (especially leafy) give a full feeling for longer so you end up eating less and snack less in between meals.
    Even if people don’t want to give up on meat completely switching to a diet based on more fruit and vegetables would therefore be healthier due to reducing being overweight.

  7. David Chabot said on May 11th, 2008 at 1:36pm #

    When I see things like “despite evidence that animal products don’t do our bodies any good”, I get scared.
    If this was true, then why are we still alive? We as humans have been eating meat (and grains and vegetables and fruits) for millions of years. Quality meat (bio) is good for healts. It provides nutriments not available in veggies.
    BTW, meat fat is GOODFOR HEALTH and cholesterol is NOT DANGEROUS. Sugar is.

    But I agree, we eat too much meat.
    VEGETARIANS DIE YOUNGER. Oh, they tell you they’re healthier, but census data shows the opposite.
    VEGETARIAN KIDS ARE SICKLIER. The Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine reports that children reared on these diets are at higher risk for ‘impaired psychomotor development’.