Bioethics Blogs

The Case for In Vitro Meat

by James Ninia

Long gone are the days of hunting and gathering food or raising our own livestock.  The first time American consumers see their food is usually on a supermarket shelf or a restaurant plate. It’s easy to not consider what goes into the preparation of milk, eggs, or pork chops. For meat in particular, the path from the source is not only bloody and unsanitary, but also terrible for the environment.

In August 2013, a historic milestone was achieved: the first public tasting of in vitro meat (IVM).[i] IVM is exactly what it sounds like: meat created by humans in laboratories. While this technology is still very much in development, this meat is created by painlessly harvesting stem or muscle cells from a living animal, and developing these tissues in a culture until edible meat is produced.  If the medium used to create IVM is not Fetal Bovine Serum, scientists could theoretically prepare meat without having to kill, or even harm, a single animal.

Continued research and development of IVM and related technologies is morally imperative for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. The reasons this emerging technology gets an ethical thumbs-up are at once obvious and nuanced. For one, producing meat in this way does not necessitate the killing of an animal, instead requiring only taking a sample of cells from them. Some might raise an eyebrow that harvesting these cells might still cause a pig or a cow pain or distress; however, that may not even be the case. It has been claimed, for example, that merely 10 pork muscle/stem cells could yield up to 50,000 metric tons of pork product.

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.