Bioethics Blogs

The moral limitations of in vitro meat

By Ben Levinstein and Anders Sandberg

Almost everybody agrees factory farming is morally outrageous, with several billions of animals living lives that are likely not worth living. One possible solution to this moral disaster is to make in vitro meat technologically and commercially viable. In vitro meat is biologically identical to real meat but cultured in a tank: one day it may become cheaper, more efficient and safer than normal meat. On animal welfare grounds, then, in vitro meat seems like a clear win as it has the potential to eliminate or greatly reduce the need for factory farms. However, there is a problem…

Factory farming is morally outrageous. To highlight a few of the atrocities: Laying chickens in the US are kept in cages under .06 square metres (around the size of an A4 sheet of paper) without exposure to natural light. They’re starved for 7-14 days to force molting and increase overall productivity. Chickens raised for meat grow disproportionately large breasts relative to their skeletons and internal organs. They frequently suffer “heart failure, trouble breathing, leg weakness, and chronic pain”. Pregnant sows, in most US states and much of the world, are confined to gestational crates, which usually do not allow them enough room even to turn around. Beef cattle begin their lives outside, but their final months are spent standing in their own waste in a feedlot with neither pasture nor much shelter. According to FAOSTAT estimates, tens of billions of animals are kept on factory farms each year.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.