In-vitro meat received its world debut yesterday. The technology has a long way to go before it’s economically viable, but Singer flags its possible perks:
There are important ethical reasons why we should replace animal meat with in vitro meat, if we can do it at reasonable cost. The first is to reduce animal suffering. Just as the cruelty inflicted on working horses, so movingly depicted in Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, was eventually eliminated by the efficiency of the internal combustion engine, so the vastly greater quantity of suffering that is inflicted on tens of billions of animals in today’s factory farms could be eliminated by a more efficient way of producing meat […]
The second reason for replacing animal meat is environmental. Using meat from animals, especially ruminants, is heating the planet and contributing to a future in which hundreds of millions of people become climate refugees. Much of the emissions from livestock is methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas emitted by ruminant animals as they digest their food. In vitro meat won’t belch or fart methane. Nor will it defecate, and as a result, the vast cesspools that intensive farms require to handle manure will become unnecessary. With that single change, the world’s production of nitrous oxide, another powerful contributor to climate change, will be slashed by two-thirds.
That’s my position, too. It’s the obvious one to take, and it’s the one that Ottolenghi also takes in the above video. Any possible technological advances that allow us to satisfy demand for meat without all of the harm that it currently causes should obviously be welcomed.
But I think that what Blythman argues for in that interview is also crucial here. Any such success, whilst potentially solving the problem of animal cruelty and environmental destruction, would do so by promoting a deeply processed product inevitably full of additives which are prime candidates for harming our health. So you wouldn’t find me eating test-tube meat for the same reason I don’t eat skittles: not because it harms other creatures and future humans through climate change, but because it would most probably harm myself. The intellectual arrogance that leads people to believe that they can successfully reconfigure out diets in such a drastic way, without any long-term negative physiological repercussions, is just not something I think it’s wise to associate with.
As Ottolenghi says, though, people won’t be wise enough to start eating natural food and mostly vegetables any time soon. So we may as well try to find a way that ensures they’re only killing themselves.