Cellular Agriculture; Is it Vegan?

If you’ve been paying attention to current scientific developments, you’ve probably heard the terms “Cellular Agriculture”, “Lab-Grown Meat” or the less popular, “Tissue-Grown Meat”. But what do they mean, and are they vegan?

Simply put, cellular agriculture (and it’s mentioned equivalents) uses a process called “tissue engineering” which involves removing a small amount of cells from animals (similar to a biopsy). The cells are then allowed to grow in controlled environments called “cell cultivars”. A serum is added to the cell samples which provides needed “food” for them to reproduce, they are then placed in optimal settings, which allows them to grow on their own.

The fact is, the seemingly “new scientific developments” have been around for much time for humans needing skin grafts or organ transplants, but we’re just now seeing companies use these techniques to create alternatives to factory farm raised animals for consumption.

Early reported cases of keeping mammalian cells alive outside of the body date back to as early as 1912 when French biologist, Alexis Carrel kept a piece of a chicken heart muscle alive in a Petri dish. Things have progressed quite a bit since then.

Today, we’re seeing companies like Just Foods, Memphis Meats, SuperMeat and Finless Foods are just a few of those who’ve jumped on the research and development side of creating what may be the “future of meat”. But, is it vegan? Is it ethical? Can you call yourself “vegan” if you consume these products? If the answer to all of these questions is “no”, who is the intended market or audience?

Because cellular agriculture involves physically taking cells from an animal, and the end product is still animal cells, most people would agree it’s not considered “vegan”. It would be safe to assume most animal rights activists would not be content with eating these products, but that brings us to our next topic of “ethics”.

There isn’t one “right” answer to the ethics of lab-grown meat; it’s all based on personal opinion and realizing the alternatives. Most principled vegans would agree that doing any form of experimenting on animals is not virtuous, and eating their cells (whether “ethically obtained” or not), isn’t exactly something they want to do, but most would also agree that cellular agriculture is the “less of two evils” when comparing it to traditional animal breeding and slaughtering methods. We could go on and on about settling for the lesser of evils vs complete and total animal liberation, but for the purpose of this argument, let’s stay on track.

Lab-grown meats have been discussed all over the media. In fact, in a recent episode of the Netflix series, “Explained”, titled “The Future of Meat”, interviewers asked people what they thought of the idea of meats grown in a lab. Most were initially disgusted by the idea, and felt that their “real meat” was safer and “more natural” than these advancements. But, the episode goes on to mention that “all meat is lab-meat”. They explain that every animal grown for food is killed in a “lab”, processed in a “lab”, and given antibiotics and other prescriptions that came from a lab. They make the argument that unless people are raising their own animals in their backyards, then slaughtering the animals themselves, all animals raised for food have experienced some sort of lab-like environments, whether it be before or after their death.

Another argument on the topic is that cellular agriculture can produce animal muscles without the antibiotics, filth, and spread of viral and bacterial infections. Imagine if all slaughterhouses were turned into clean buildings filled with microscopes, petri dishes and samples of cells being monitored by scientists, rather than slaughterhouses filled with blood, feces, disease and pain? We can also consider the land used in order to create these labs that cultivate cells, rather than wasting land on raising animals, constructing slaughterhouses, and growing food to feed these animals. Imagine if all of our crops could actually go towards hungry people, rather than feeding countless animals that would soon go to slaughter.

Of course, most of us want to see total animal liberation, but can we consider the fact that currently, most people have no desire to give up meat, and this is a better option than our present situation? Or, is this just perpetuating the false idea that “humans need meat to survive”?

You be the judge.

Also, Check out my podcast episode with Dawn Ressel to hear more about this topic:

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