When I was a graduate student at Ohio State, one of the professors related a story about his discussion with a German philosopher. The discussion was about the ethics of eating meat and the German philosophy said that he had the perfect solution: science would give us headless cows that did not suffer.
Interestingly enough, while we have yet to make headless cows (aside from the old way-decapitating them), scientists have made considerable advances in the field of artificial meat. This idea, long a staple in science fiction, is fairly straightforward: animal tissue is grown in/on a suitable medium and then harvested as meat. Cook it up, eat it up, artificial yum.
Such artificial meat does nicely bypass many of the ethical concerns that real meat creates. After all, such meat does not suffer or feel pain (in any meaningful sense). Thus, all the arguments based on suffering and pain are vanquished.
A concern that does remain is the matter of killing. Technically, such tissue is living and the process of becoming food will kill it. However, the tissue does not seem to have a life in a meaningful sense that grants it moral significance. After all, it is just tissue and killing tissue is not the same thing as taking a life. For example, if I burn the roof of my mouth by drinking (too) hot chocolate, I am not committing a form of limited suicide. Likewise, if I kill a slab of artificial meat for dinner, I am not killing a living creature-just stopping cellular activity.
That said, it could be argued that the artificial meat has life and hence killing it would still be morally significant. Even if this is granted, killing such meat would seem to be even less significant than killing a plant and hence it would be thus morally superior to vegetarianism in this aspect.
Another concern that remains is the matter of health. After all, if artificial meat is unhealthy to eat (as some argue is the case for real meat) then it could be just as wrong to eat the artificial meat as real meat. Then again, perhaps this would be a health issue and not a moral issue at all. Also, artificial meat could also be engineered to be healthier.
Yet another concern is that creating artificial meat will be resource intensive and hence suffer from the same problem as real meat in this regard. Using up resources to make artificial meat when the same resources could be used to feed more people would seem to be morally questionable and wasteful (just as the case for real meat). Why not, some might say, use those resources to create hydroponic crops that would also create oxygen and absorb carbon?
A final concern worth considering is, of course, the ethics of making such artificial meat. Not surprisingly, the idea of creating animal tissue as product to be grown in this manner strikes some as morally questionable. The natural reply to this is that creating such meat is less bad that using animals as food.
In my own case, I would probably eat artificial meat if it were safe, healthy and tasty. Like many people, I really like the taste of meat. However, I also have concerns about the ethics of eating animals and would prefer to not have my enjoyment rest on the suffering of other beings. Like most folks, I already consume artificial foods and food ingredients, so artificial meat would actually not be that radical at all.
T. J. Babson says
Future Meat = Asimovian Angus
I’m rolling with Noah:
Book of Genesis, Chap. 27.
And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said to him, My son: and he said to him, Behold, here am I.
2 And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death:
3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;
4 And make me savory meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.
5 And Rebekah heard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son; and Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it.
6 And Rebekah spoke to Jacob her son, saying, Behold, I heard thy father speak to Esau thy brother, saying,
7 Bring me venison, and make me savory meat, that I may eat, and bless thee before the LORD, before my death.
8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, according to that which I command thee.
9 Go now to the flock, and bring me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savory meat for thy father, such as he loveth:
Mmmmm, I can’t wait till the first aliens land. I’m going to try me some space meat!
Michael LaBossiere says
Check out the Torchwood episode Meat, if you have Netflix.