Lab Grown Meat: Salvation... or Sideshow?


Lab grown meat has been in the news recently, given the first taste test of a $300,000 lab-grown hamburger in London this week.  And it has made waves in animal rights circles. Notably, PETA has offered $1 million for a marketable version of the product. 

But should we care? 

First, there are serious technological difficulties. The process to make the product is incredibly arduous, and no similar product has undertaken mass scale at reasonable cost. There are countless, far more promising technologies that never hit the economies of scale necessary for mass production, e.g. fuel cells. And practically every startup in the world has an idea that they believe will scale up in some way. The vast majority of these ideas, as I see in my day job (technology lawyer), are failures.

We have no reason to think that the chances for lab-grown meat are any better.  

Second, plant-based substitutes are already very good at simulating dead animal flesh, and cost effective. Ninety percent of the time, when I gave someone the Reuben from the Chicago Diner without telling them what it was, they didn't realize it was fake. 

Yet we don't see the storm of people falling all over themselves for seitan. Mostly, it's a product for vegetarians (despite being, in principle, far cheaper than meat; my parents made seitan themselves when they were young because real meat was too expensive.) 

Why would we expect any different result for lab-grown meat? Is the final 2% similarity improvement really going to make a huge difference?

Third, however, there is the ethical objection. The process of lab-grown meat requires continued harvesting from animals, so it is not free from violence. But even if continued harvesting were made unnecessary, lab-grown meat still is ethically dubious. Part of what the AR movement is trying to accomplish, is to build a norm against flesh-eating. We want people to react with horror when they even consider the idea of eating another sentient being. It's hard to do that if you're stuffing your own face with flesh, lab-grown or otherwise. 

In short, lab-grown meat is a sideshow. Focus your energy on telling the animals' story. That, and not dubious "alternatives," is where we will find the path to animal liberation. 


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