Vegetarians Have Moral Obligation to Eat “Frankenmeat”

The Daily Telegraph reports:

Prof Mark Post, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, yesterday announced the world’s first test tube hamburger would be served up in October. Heston Blumenthal, the experimental chef, will cook the patty grown in a lab from a cow’s stem cells. Each portion will cost £220,000, but Prof Post hopes if the burger is a success he can develop the technology on an industrial scale.

“This is meat produced without the cruelty, carbon footprint or waste of resources,” said Alistair Currie, a spokesman for the vegan campaign group.
“It’s a hugely beneficial development for animals. We welcome this development, which shows this is a viable idea.”

He added the charity had no ethical objections to the fact that the test-tube patty will technically be a meat product.
He said: “Peta [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] has no objection to the eating of meat. Peta objects to the killing of animals and their exploitation. I personally don’t fancy eating this, but if other people do that’s fine.”

Even though Mr Currie doesn’t fancy eating Frankenmeat, he has a moral obligation to do so. It is not just other people who should eat this meat, vegans also have a moral obligation to eat it. Here is why.

Currently, carnivores vastly outnumber vegetarians. To protect the environment and reduce cruelty to animals, vegetarians argue, we should stop carnivores farming animals and eating meat. Frankenmeat is an ethical alternative, as Mr Currie points out. However it is hugely expensive – £220 000. But if vegetarians were to eat Frankenmeat, they would increase its market, thus driving price down. They would also show it to be a palatable, socially acceptable alternative to farmed meat. This would make it cheaper and more attractive to carnivores, driving them away from farmed meat to Frankenmeat. By doing their bit, and eating Frankenmeat, vegetarians could do more to improve the environment or the maltreatment of animals than by refusing the dish on grounds of taste.

In terms of their own values, vegetarians, even vegans, have a moral obligation not only to ensure Frankenmeat is marketed, but to consume it themselves.

They should not only swallow their pride, but their distaste, for the sake of their own values.

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68 Responses to Vegetarians Have Moral Obligation to Eat “Frankenmeat”

  • Michael Blatherwick says:

    Perhaps not calling it Frankenmeat would be a good start?

  • Jeff Kaufman says:

    The amount of animal suffering averted by buying artificial meat is likely much less than donating to a good animal welfare charity.

    • Paul Scott says:

      This is false logic, a non sequitur and easily disproven.
      If only artificial meat was purchased for consumption then the farming of animals would cease. Thus the practice of slaughtering animals for food would cease. An enormous drop in animal suffering.
      Donating to a charity will have no or minimal effect on the slaughter of animals for consumption. Thus the suffering will continue.

      • Jeff Kaufman says:

        The question reduces to whether the dollar of a vegetarian who wants to prevent animal suffering goes further when buying artificial meat instead of giving to an effective animal welfare charity. Why do you believe that charity is ineffective here? While I have some issues [1] with Alan Dwarst's estimate of the effectiveness of Vegan Outreach [2], I think when you donate to them each $5 to $500 worth of pro-vegetarianism literature they distribute convinces a person to become vegetarian for a year.

        [1] http://www.jefftk.com/news/2011-11-10.html

        [2] http://utilitarian-essays.com/dollar-worth.pdf

      • Dave Frame says:

        @Paul, you're missing the point here, I think. Jeff's contention is that if you have $200k to spend, buying one awesomeburger/frankenburger does a lot less good than giving the money to any number of charities that, at low cost, deliver huge benefits to *people* currently living in misery.

        There is an issue about how to contextualise that $200k, of course, since there are start-up costs associated with new technologies – if that $200k is part of a larger programme that rids the world of animal slaughter (as you put it), maybe the good purchased by that $200k woild be very high. That's a more complicated question – it's an empirical one, a predictive one, a contingent one and one turning on the moral weight of animal vs human suffering. I'd accept Jeff's point but point out that that approach, taken narrowly and obsessively crowds out** the sorts of technological change that permits future reductions in suffering.

        **Since spending my money on improving welfare=consumption of today's desperately poor people reduces the amount I have available for investment the sorts of highly uncertain and speculative future technology that might lead to large welfare improvements in the future. [Especially if I'm risk averse.]

        • Jeff Kaufman says:

          @Dave: "deliver huge benefits to *people* currently living in misery"

          I was trying to argue from a vegetarian perspective and specified "good animal welfare charity". I happen to think the case is much stronger for giving to human-helping charities than animal-helping ones, but mostly because I value humans a lot more than animals.

          (Just quibbling; I think your comment is good.)

          • Dave Frame says:

            @Jeff – sorry about that. My presumption was obviously wrong. But I was thinking something similar on the way to lunch… even if you restrict you attention to animals you could make the case (as you do!) that spending the money on alleviating suffering might do more good than spending it on eliminating at least some of the meat trade. It's not obvious that saving a sheep from a reasonably peaceful death here in New Zealand (however lurid the subsequent processing) is a greater welfare improvement than saving a cat or dog from a cruel or neglectful owner. [But maybe I'm saying that in part because I don't want to give up eating meat, even though I find the case for vegetarianism very strong. This is why the awesomeburger/frankenburger would very much appeal to me. If a frankensteak tasted as good as a cow-based steak, I'd switch across, even if it cost twice as much.]

      • Ruth Townsend says:

        If we adopt 'Frankenmeat' (for want of a better term), and do away with a reliance on real meat, doesn't it follow that farm animals, like cows, would no longer be required given that their primary purpose is for human consumption? If so, then you are right to say that there will be no suffering, because there will be no cows.

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    The article itself referred to "Frankenburger". I chose that title because there is a pervasive tendency to perjoratively call anything involving genetic or other biological technology "Franken" thereby denigrating it. I wanted to show there can be strong moral reasons, even amongst the most moral of our citizens, to embrace some "Franken" technologies. But you are right – perhaps we should call it "Ethical Meat". I must point out that I made this article conditional to the values of vegetarians. I personally am not convinced that it is in animals' interests to pursue Ethical Meat. Rather, it would be better to pursue Ethical Farming of live animals. But this of course does not address environmental or resource concerns. Perhaps we could genetically engineer animals to consume less resources and emit less waste, as well farming them ethically. That might be most in their interests.

  • Michael Blatherwick says:

    I could see exactly why you started by calling it Frankenmeat, but I was definitely expecting you to propose a change of terminology to something along the lines of 'ethical meat', 'suffering-free meat' (scientists / factory workers notwithstanding!) or 'I can't believe it's not dead animal flesh!' as part of your argument.

    I think the biggest hurdle that 'independent meat' faces- bigger even than Jeff's argument- is the 'ickiness factor' and, as you mention in your article, marketing will be key. As a meat-eater who relishes the prospect of 'independent meat' and the idea of not having to justify its providence to himself, even I would balk at being told to eat "Frankenmeat"!

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Michael, I wouldn't balk at eating Frankenmeat, if it was safe and tasty. My biggest concern would be new infectious risk. But even if you found the name "icky", that is not a moral reason not to eat it. I like "independent" meat. Also "pure meat".
    Jeff, it is true that now donating to effective charity does more good. But we have to predict which will over time become a wider, more attractive movement with more followers. I just can't see donating to animal charities taking off to the same degree as pure meat. Imagine if it was healthier, tastier, looked the same, or better, cheaper than farmed meat. It could be a real contender for the title.

  • Áine Hughes says:

    interesting argument but I believe its undermined by the claim that it will cost 220,000 to produce. this is for laboratory- scale production and ignores the reduced costs that would potentially come with refined and mass production methods. I believe this could have been stated by the lead researcher himself but apologies as I am not in a position right now to provide a link to that info.

  • Áine Hughes says:
  • Jeff Kaufman says:

    @Julian: "we have to predict which will over time become a wider, more attractive movement with more followers"

    If I'm a vegetarian and I go buy this $220K burger, very few people if anyone are going to follow my example and start eating it instead of ordinary meat because of cost. I don't eat meat, so it doesn't replace a burger I would otherwise have eaten. It just reduces to me funding research into artificial meat. So then we're arguing whether the most effective charitable intervention from the perspective of reducing animal suffering is artificial meat research as opposed to convincing people to become vegetarians, eat less meat, or vote for animal protection laws.

    It's probably also valuable, given that we live in a world where we don't have a practical option of artificial meat, for vegetarians to develop a a feeling of disgust at the idea of eating meat. This feeling might not be easily overridden.

  • Michael Blatherwick says:

    Julian: to be clear, I would personally overcome the negative connotations of bad marketing such as calling it Frankenmeat, but a great many would not.

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Jeff, I am not suggesting you take out a mortgage and spend it on a burger. But if this research did progress, and a pure meat burger came out at $20, but a Macdonalds was $3, vegetarians might have a good reason to eat the $20 Frankenburger. People already spend more money supporting "organic" farming, sometimes for ethical reasons.

  • Jeff Kaufman says:

    @Julian: Ok, so we're talking about a future where this has taken off, artificial burgers ("awesomeburgers") are reasonably widespread, and you're choosing whether to buy one of them at $20 instead of eating whatever vegetarian sustainable food you'd normally eat for, say, $5. Let's further assume that you don't find them disgusting and that you enjoy them about as much as what you'd otherwise eat. Buying the awesomeburger makes sense, then, if the $15 in additional expenditure does more good as income for the burger company than it would at the best animal welfare charity you know. (You're right that this also applies to buying organic food for ethical reasons unless you believe it's the most good you can get for your dollar.)

    By the time the price is $20, though, how much does my additional dollar affect the market? Best case is that it's the dollar that convinces the meat company that this is a profitable line of business and that they should expand hugely. Worst case is that there's a limited supply of awesomeburgers at any given time and one that I eat is one someone else can't eat ("we're out of awesomeburgers, would you like an organicburger instead?"). It's probably somewhere in between, and my expectation is it's closer to the latter, but how is a consumer to judge?

    • Dave Frame says:

      Similar arguments arise regarding renewable tecnhology and "doing your bit" on climate change. My view is that no, you can't change the world on your own, and no, your actions don't really matter very much, but yes, you can send a (small) signal regarding consumer demand. And companies are responsive to these. Showing that there is a demand for awesomeburgers would encourage and even speed up their development. If you support the technology (renewable elctricity or awesomeburgers) then the best practical thing you can do is put some money down to help companies that are trying to bring it to market.

      More popular than putting one's own money down, of course, is lobbying to put other people's money down: ie taxpayer subsidies (such as the eye-wateringly expensive feed-in tariffs for renewables in Germany). I imagine those inclined to appropriating the incomes of others in support of your own moral causes could easily mount an argument to the effect that (1) meat based on animals has social costs** far in excess of those associated with awesomeburgers; (2) we should reflect the full social costs in our pricing of goods and services; (3) we could do this either by taxing animal meat or by subsidising awesomeburgers (economically equivalent, aside from spillovers (ie nut-growers might have strong opinions on the matter, but few others would care)); (4) etc.

      **don't see why the phrase social costs shouldn't include those borne by our furry and four-legged friends.

  • Dominic Wilkinson says:

    Julian, I think that you are right, though your argument will only convince certain vegetarians – those who have a utilitarian rationale for avoiding eating meat
    obviously taste-based vegetarians will not accept the moral argument for FrankenMeat,
    and some more deontological/rights-based vegetarians will also reject the conclusion
    they might be only focused on their own actions – for example a Kantian vegetarian might argue that the important thing morally is to act in accordance with the categorical imperative
    they might be morally neutral about the actions of others
    (of course whether this is a plausible moral theory is another question)

  • Matt Sharp says:

    I certainly think there would be enough demand for this from vegetarians/vegans, provided the price was reasonable. I think the Dutch vegetarian society claimed about half of its members would be happy to consume in vitro meat, and that would presumably increase as people got over the initial yuck response.

    And I'm sure many meat eaters would happily switch to this too. Comments on the webpages of the generally conservative Daily Mail reporting of in vitro meat is quite strongly in favour (though I'm not convinced the online readership is an accurate reflection of its general, printed readership).

    With regards to the cost/benefit argument above, given the amount of land, water and crops consumed by farm animals, it seems likely that it would not just be factory farmed animals that benefit from in vitro meat, but also many people.

  • Regina Rini says:

    Hello Julian,

    I'm not sure you've shown that vegetarians have an obligation to <i>eat</i> Frankenmeat. Perhaps you've shown that they have an obligation to <i>support</i> it. But there are lots of ways to support Frankenmeat without eating it. You could start up a fund promising to subsidize the costs of any company that successfully brings Frankenmeat to market. You could buy Frankenmeat and donate it to charity pantries (with appropriate declaration of its origin). Or – perhaps suboptimally – you could just buy crates of it and dump it into the ocean. Any of these things would contribute to the desired effect of creating an artificial market for Frankenmeat, without having to actually eat the stuff.

    You might get your conclusion with some additional assumptions. Perhaps it's not enough to create the initial market by buying Frankenmeat – perhaps you should also be publicly seen to be eating it, thereby encouraging other people to do so. Maybe – although now you're obligated to be deceptive, since to encourage them you'll have to pretend to be enjoying the meat, even if you actually find it distasteful. To my mind, anyway, that makes the claim much much less plausible.

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Thanks Regina. Zack Beauchamp made a similar criticism on Twitter. The carnivores would find out that it is not being eaten and it wouldn't be as attractive. It would have to to be socially acceptable- part of social movement. Who would eat something that its supporters weren't prepared to?

    • Regina Rini says:

      Hi Julian,

      then it seems to me that your argument is stuck on what had worried me before. If vegeterians must be seen to actually eat the Frankemeat, but find it repulsive, then they must be very deceptive. There are lots of good moral reasons against being deceptive, and therefore lots of reasons to suppose that vegeterians don't have this obligation.

      Worse, it's quite possible that many vegetarians are simply incapable of convincingly pretending to enjoy something they find literally distasteful. In that case, some 'ought implies can' principle kicks in, and there's no sense in saying that this obligation exists.

      • Dave Frame says:

        This reminds me of other "lesser of two evils" issues – eg of the sort some enviros have been grappling with over nuclear power.* The argument is (1) a community thinks X is very bad; (2) with technology j, that community also think Y is bad; (3) technology k removes a suite of objections, O_i, to Y; (4) therefore the community should embrace Y as an alternative to X on the basis that Y s clearly now the lesser of two evils, and minimising evil is good. This line of reasoning seems completely compelling to me if moving from j to k really does remove all the objections to Y.

        But there a few things to note: firstly, if the change in technology from j to k removes some but not all objections then the strength of the argument depends on how the various objections are weighted. If there are some objections, O_-i, that remain unaffected by changing technologies, then these are still reasons to oppose, or at least not embrace, Y. We're seeing that line taken here – some folks just don't like the taste of meat, and I personally don't see why any adult should be forced to eat things they don't like to eat**.

        Also, it's always going to be a slightly open issue as to what "the community should embrace Y as an alternative to X" means. This isn't just because I'm being vague – it's also because "support" for an initiative comes in a million different practical flavours. It could be anything from eating frankenburgers to lobbying for government subsidies for products you have no intention of consuming… it depends. In the nuclear case it could be anything from changing from an opponent to a booster, through to simply not opposing the technology.

        But I think there is a very reasonable core to what Julian is arguing, and that is that most of the really compelling moral objections to eating meat – the suffering arguments – are swept away by this new technology. To the extent that other moral issues apply to this issue (freedom to choose what to eat, etc) the change in technology doesn't oblige you to adopt the full range of ways of embracing the new meat. But it probably does bring a moral requirement to accept that the new meat is morally unobjectionable on traditional suffering arguments – if you don't want to eat it, fine, but if you think the suffering of animals is a morally significant issue, you should probably think that technologies that potentially make a huge dent in that suffering are morally important improvements, too. Attempts to preserve the approximate moral equivalence between X & Y by re-weighting the O_i vs the O_-i (eg retreating to liberty-based preference arguments) may be personally satisfying, but are actually more double-edged than most people realise.

        *Setting aside the irrationality of most objections to nuclear power…
        **For instance, my friend Scotty doesn't like the taste of vegan or vegetarian foods. He likes meat-based foods. Unless you guys can come up with foods that satisfy his palate, he will continue to have these sort of aesthetic preferences for meat, with associated liberty-based objections to compulsory vegetarianism.

  • Theo says:

    At first I thought that the argument wasn't complete, because some vegetarians chose this lifestyle for religious or semi-religious reasons – purity of body, metempsychosis, etc.

    But then I realized that those beliefs do not fully apply to artificial meat. The purity of body argument could be easily overridden with the fact that artificial meat isn't proper animal meat and thus falls in the same category as a regular industrialized product, such as a loaf of bread. The same is valid for metempsychosis.

    By the way, to the ears of an historian, "Frankenmeat" sounds like "the meat that the Franks sold", in contrast with Saxon or Italic meat :)

  • Jemma Evans says:

    There aren't enough vegetarians to make most supermarkets stock a good selection of Quorn products, never mind influence meat eaters to start eating very expensive Frankenmeat!! As a Vegetarian I have opted out of the meat industry, I don't wear leather either, so I feel no obligation to be pushed to support the meat industry in another guise, I would rather support a good meat alternative than something that is still meat and that animals have had to be farmed to produce. I think this is a good alternative for meat eaters who feel bad about animals being killed but don't want to give up eating meat, but it's not really relevant to vegetarians.

  • homer says:

    Been a vegetarian for 29 years. Not interested in fake meat. I'm not going to die from a heart attack like my father did at age 65.

    • Matt Sharp says:

      What if in vitro meat could actually make your heart healthier?

      • Jeff Kaufman says:

        Why would you expect in vitro meat to be more/less healthy for your heart than ordinary meat?

        • Matt Sharp says:

          It's been suggested that the most harmful fats in it could be replaced by the type found in fish, which is supposedly healthier.

          • Marilyn James says:

            While they're at it, why not add fibre, antioxidents , water and other things to make it even healthier? But surely improving heart health isn't the reason for producing this stuff. Or is it? If it were clearer what the objectives are, it would be easier to see if this is the best way to meet them.
            It looks a bit like a solution looking for a problem to me. If we weren't so slavishly devoted to the market and to technology for the sake of it, we may be able to find better ways to address animal cruelty, human hunger, obesity, heart disease, environmental destruction etc etc

  • DG says:

    Vegetarianism is a choice to abstain from eating a category of food products and in and of itself does not have moral content or obligations attached to it. Vegetarians abstain from meat for a variety of reasons, some moral and some not. Some vegetarians object to meat on broad moral grounds, objecting to the act of killing itself, while others object particular practices such as factory farming or wasting of edible grains on cattle while other people starve. Jews and Muslims often practice vegetarianism as a practical way to keep kosher or halal in a society where most food is not. I am a vegetarian purely because of personal preference: I find the idea of eating beef or pork disgusting for the same reason that most omnivores find the idea of eating dog or cat disgusting. It's not a moral choice and my preferences would probably apply equally to frankenmeat.

  • Projectfabrizio says:

    Perhaps the moral obligation tilts heavily on the industrial meat eateries, like McD BK. At that price, Kobe is much more ethically justifiable, I mean beer and massages in between naps and walks for one round at the merry go round we call life?, and that would keep prices of meat where it should be for the purpose the meat serves, and so could be the standard, imagine Franken Kobe sliders at White Castle? the ethics should be on how it is kept in check and at the pace of how we adapt the evolution of our diets and hence the meat products, but imagine a burger which is already a great source of antibiotics today, could be delivered in large quantities to contaminated populations in developing countries or during emergency across the scale spectrum.. Also the value behind tailored meat for specific needs and restrictions

  • Derek Vandivere says:

    Baloney.

    First, you're assuming that vegetarians are evangelical and feel a responsibility to convert meat-eaters to vegetarianism. In a lot of ways, laboratory meat fails:

    - It's still more resource intensive than a vegetarian diet
    - For vegetarians who are concerned with the 'naturalness' of their food (however you define that), it's unacceptable
    - For vegetarians who are concerned with issues like GMO, factory farming and corporate control of food, fake meat is unacceptable
    - Obviously, for vegetarians who just don't like meat, there's no reason to eat fake meat (I assume I'd find it fairly disgusting after 17 years)

    My motivation's mostly environmental / carbon footprint related, and a vegetarian diet is still better than fake meat. Why should I support a half-baked solution?

    • Matt Sharp says:

      "It’s still more resource intensive than a vegetarian diet"

      Is it? Show me some studies, please.

      "- For vegetarians who are concerned with the ‘naturalness’ of their food (however you define that), it’s unacceptable"

      Yes, but that's a crap reason to eat or not eat something.

      "- For vegetarians who are concerned with issues like GMO, factory farming and corporate control of food, fake meat is unacceptable"

      Don't really see how factory farming comes in to it. And I don't think in vitro meat would necessarily have to involve GM. Maybe you have a point about the corporate control of food, but I don't think that is necessarily an argument against in vitro meat per se. Perhaps you could buy in vitro meat grown by your 'local' small-laboratory.

      "My motivation’s mostly environmental / carbon footprint related, and a vegetarian diet is still better than fake meat. "

      Is it? Show me some studies, please.

      • Jeff Kaufman says:

        You're asking for studies calculating how resource intensive artificial meat is, so we can compare it to a vegetarian diet? That's not really practical, because artificial meat is so new and so far from commercialization that it would be very hard to study it's resource usage.

        (I would expect it to be more resource intensive, even when fully ready, just because we have to feed the artificial meat on plant energy which could be going directly to people instead.)

        • Matt Sharp says:

          Yep, that was my point, really. Derek was asserting that it *is* more energy intensive than a vegetarian diet, but I doubt there have been any studies comparing them. I know there is at least one study that estimates energy/land/water use for in vitro meat compared to conventional meat:
          http://www.new-harvest.org/img/files/tuomisto_teixiera_de_mattos_cultured_meat_lca_es_t_published.pdf

          I think you're probably right that it would be more resource intensive, but that depends where the plants are grown. If it's the case that vegetarians are buying soya etc which is grown overseas, the transport costs could greatly outweigh the costs of growing in vitro meat in one's home country.

      • Marilyn James says:

        I doubt if any studies have been done. And if the proponents of fake meat are having to put pressure on vegetarians to make it profitable, I doubt if there is any business case either.

      • Derek Vandivere says:

        To be honest, I've not read any peer-reviewed studies, but what I've seen is that a meat-based diet is about an order of magnitude more resource intensive than a plant based diet, and the fake meat either uses or saves 60% of the resources compared to real meat. Either way, it's still either 4 or 6 times more resource intensive.

        Being concerned with, say, all the hormones and antibiotics in most factory farmed meat is a crap reason?

    • Dave Frame says:

      Derek wrote: "My motivation’s mostly environmental / carbon footprint related, and a vegetarian diet is still better than fake meat."

      Oh, that one's easy. Don't worry about your carbon footprint. Your personal carbon behaviour is truly buried in the noise. Your *lifetime* contrbution to climate change is probably on the order of half a billionth of a degree, which is of course forever indiscernable, and doesn't actually affect anything. Considered on its own, that perturbation is probably a good thing; considered alongside the contributions of the tens of billions of people alive over the climate change period, it's a nanoscopic sliver of something potentially quite serious. [But even that, of course, is not *your* individual contribution, it's an individualisation of a collective effect. That's something quite different, since it isn't you as an individual who is causing harm (as harm is usually understood).] There may be things your personal behaviour can affect – you can send consumer preference signals to companies, for instance, and you can vote. But you, Derek, should sleep well at night knowing that your contribution to climate change is, and I say this as a professional, negligible. So if that's the only thing stopping you from eating meat, I have good news. Fire up the barbie!

      • le_sacre says:

        Why on earth would you encourage Derek to vote? After all, his individual contribution to most election outcomes is negligible.

        This simplistic reasoning ignores two important considerations: social contagion of behavior (if I plan, discuss, and commence voting/reducing CO2 emissions/recycling, others in my circle are more likely to as well), and population-level mentality (What if <i>everyone</i> thought that way about voting/CO2/recycling? Then nothing would ever get done, whereas if most people act, the effect is enormous. Since I can control only my own actions–and for lack of better information should assume many/most will make the same choice I do–I'd better do my part).

        I can appreciate Julian's posting as a deliberate attempt to generate click traffic/commentary and as a very cursory thought experiment on resource management, but on any other level it's frankly moronic.

      • Will Crouch says:

        "Negligible" (in the sense of a very small amount) for each person. But you're affecting a lot of people. Suppose, by living a low carbon footprint lifestyle, over the course of your life you push back by the curve of increasing temperature rise by 1s. Seems pretty negligible. But that's 1s for every one of 7 billion people. So you're pushing back climate change by 220 man-years. Which is non-negligible. And it can't be the case that that 1s 'doesn't make a difference'. Because it adds up to something that does make a difference, and lots of 0s can't add up to a positive number. We should be careful about treating a small difference as no difference, if that small difference affects a great many people.

        • Dave Frame says:

          I find the whole personal carbon footprint thing a bizarre way to deal with such an enormous collective action problem. We don't routinely go down this route when we think of other commons problems – we regulate over-fishing upstream (as it were) by capping supply, not by trying to fiddle with personal demand.** In the case of climate change, focussing on personal scales obscures the fact that most of our emissions co-vary – it's true that you could try to manage the carbon consumed by people in Oxford by getting them to stumble around in the dark, obsessing about lights and electricity. But it's more efficient – and welfare-enhancing – to deal with this upstream by planning to replace Didcot power station with something that does not release CO2 into the atmosphere (and then let people use as much electricity as they are prepared to pay for).

          **Policy makers could choose to give everyone a (tradable) fish permit that limits their personal consumption of fish. You could apply many of the same arguments we see for personal carbon credits in the fisheries case. Fortunately, saner heads have prevailed on that one…

          @ le_sacre: As voters, we are one of (usually) tens of thousands who decide our elected representatives. As climate forcers we are one of tens of billions – if you think we disappear in the noise in terms of voting, how much more irrelevant are we in terms of our personal climate forcing? I do think we can matter politically (if we choose to) because we can make a difference on at least some of the scales that matter to us. And I think people can have an impact as a citizen on climate change, by supporting some initiatives and opposing others. I also think individuals can send signals to companies that there is unmet demand for low carbon products. But in these capacities we are acting as citizens and consumers, respectively. To me these are different roles than that of climate forcing agent, since they control different things. Derek as a political agent can affect political outcomes and political decisions regarding planning permission for new infrastructure. Derek as a consumer can assist companies seeking to develop low carbon goods. But Derek's role as a climate forcing term denominated in Watts per sq metre is negligible.

  • Adam says:

    You assume every vegetarian chooses his or her diet out of bioethical principles. Perhaps many vegetarians simply prefer foods that contain no meat.

  • William Maxwell says:

    Right now my 'obligation' is not to eat franken meat but to eat vegan foods, support plantfood businesses and help the meat/dairy substitutes market thrive, the best thing I can do for animals. If science advances to the point where nobody is hurt or killed for the production of test tube meat then I'd have no ethical qualm about eating it, it'd be a matter of personal preference or if franken foods involved less harm than farmed plant foods then hypothetically it could become the ethical thing to eat but right now the only ethical option is veganism.

  • Theo says:

    As captatio beneuolentiae, I was a vegetarian myself for 6 years ( though for the simple reason that I didn't like the taste).

    One thought that always bugged me is the ethical calculation vegetarians do to justify their choice – and I mean vegetarians of the kind this article intends to address.

    If they do not eat meat in order to reduce animal suffering, and if some even go to extreme behaviors such as not using silk and leather, as well as not eating milk products, I assume that they put great value on their moral consistency.

    However, in my crude knowledge of mathematics, I think no human can leave a positive impact in the world – biologically and physically speaking. One is able to choose between causing small or significant harm, but, just by being alive, it seems to be impossible to completely eliminate the damage we do. I am sure there is a law of physics that proves that.

    Recycling, for instance, will never be 100% effective. In the same way, not eating animal products does not mean that a hardcore vegan causes n0 harm to animals. This is not to name the obvious damage we cause by taking a bus, using plastic bags, and, of course, breathing.

    In short: if we cause harm just by being alive, and if it is improbable that this harm can be reduce to 0, wouldn't vegans and vegetarians have the moral obligation of killing themselves, for the sake of their moral consistency?

    The humane and reasonable answer would be to take the "lesser evil" solution, remain alive, and keep making small contributions to the planet. But this is not what I am talking about: I am talking about moral consistency.

    • Jeff Kaufman says:

      It depends how you think of harm and what you're going for. When you say "no human can leave a positive impact in the world" I would disagree. A doctor, for example, might help enough people that the positive impact of their work outweighs their many negative impacts. Or a vegetarianism advocate who convinces enough people not to eat meat that their overall impact on animals, even including things like their contribution to climate change, is positive. Both of these people could think they were doing more good alive than dead and not "cause[ing] harm just by being alive".

  • Nathan says:

    I've been a vegetarian for twenty years. I've never tried to push my dietary choices on anyone. This Frankenmeat garbage is the most immoral, disgusting and repulsive thing I've ever seen. I'd rather watch people eating live monkey brains than watch these zombie chickens and cows harvested so some pathetic twat can imagine that no animal was harmed while he/she/it sunk ITS inhuman teeth into some sci-fi horror flesh. Like I said, I choose to be a vegetarian and what you eat is your business and that's been my policy for twenty years. But if you or anyone else eats this crap in front of me, prepare to be assaulted.

    • Jeff Kaufman says:

      "I’ve never tried to push my dietary choices on anyone … if you or anyone else eats this crap in front of me, prepare to be assaulted"

      I'm confused.

    • Anne says:

      Wait – wait — how is Frankenmeat immoral? Do you have an objection to harvesting cow stem cells? Or is it that consumption of food that appears to be meat functions as a "meat advertisement"?

      I certainly agree that FM sounds repulsive.

  • benthamite says:

    First of all, your assumption that this test tube muscle is vegetarian is simply incorrect. The so called test tube meat required liters of fetal calf serum:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/feb/19/test-tube-burger-meat-eating

    It is doubtful that these cells could ever be coaxed to grow in large quantities without the use of animal-derived products.

    Secondly, your assumption that vegetarianism is based only on the desire to save the lives of animals is incorrect. Many, if not most, vegetarians also care about sustainability, the environment, social justice, and human health. Laboratory meat is unacceptable to many vegetarians because enormous resources are being used to synthesise an unnecessary luxury food.

  • Chris B says:

    As a vegan, I must say that this post raises an interesting point. That said, you are totally wrong to say vegans or vegetarians have a "moral obligation" to eat petri dish meat. The vast majority of us believe we have a moral duty to abstain from causing other beings harm without a justification (e.g., self-defense). This is also called "the golden rule" and is the basis for morality vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. It does not necessarily follow that vegetarians believe in an affirmative duty to help (i.e., the bystander duty). My ethical duty is to abstain from meat plain and simple, not to persuade others to follow me.

  • Onno Oerlemans says:

    This is indeed a strange argument–that vegetarians have an obligation to eat lab meat to show meat-eaters it's palatable and socially acceptable, and to drive down costs. But in being vegetarians, our primary moral obligations, on the matter of not eating meat, are to animals, not other humans. In any case, one could just as easily say that eating lab-meat is confirming to meat-eaters that meat in general is good and necessary, thus increasing over-all dependency on meat. Most vegetarians I know find meat inherently repugnant, and to not want lend the problematic habit of eating it any support at all.

  • - says:

    Quite a lot of small animals i.e. various kinds of rodents etc. is killed by combines during harvesting field crops (most of vegetarians do not grow all plants they eat in their own gardens), so this would additionally speak for Frankenmeat.

    • Marilyn James says:

      So if you eat frankenmeat you will no longer eat grains? Does that necessarily follow?

      • Matt Sharp says:

        Presumably you would eat fewer grains and other crops if you have in vitro meat as source of protein and fats etc.

        • Marilyn James says:

          Possibly. Probably not. the burger will come with a bun no doubt

        • markm says:

          Vat-grown meat would still need to be fed in some manner, and the best source we have is grain.

          • - says:

            Meat from lab doesn't have to be just in shape of burgers, and it was cultured in the mix of glucose, lipids, amino acids and minerals. (Even if some of them would be obtained from grains, only some and it would be still less than needed to sustain whole animal i.e. all other parts of body, its temperature, calories needed to move around etc.)

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    Thanks -
    That is last post,
    Christ B – you will cause other beings less harm by eating Frankenmeat

  • Jess says:

    There are so many things wrong with this argument.

    First off, if vegetarians are vastly outnumbered by carnivores, as Julian so proudly points out, why is it so important that they purchase lab-meat? Economically wouldn't it be a mere drop in the petri dish then?

    Also, it's presupposing that X quantity of meat is going to be consumed, and therefore increasing the percentage of lab-meat consumed equals less slaughtered meat. So if vegetarians want fewer animals to die they should support lab-meat. However, eating meat of either kind is unnecessary for humans, and there is no "need" for X quantity of meat to be produced. So it's erroneous to state that it's your duty to support this if you want fewer animals slaughtered.

    Laying a moral obligation to consume any specific product on anyone is beyond absurd, especially placing it on the group of people who are already doing the least harm. Why isn't it a moral obligation for omnivores (not carnivores, ahem) to buy lab-meat? Do vegetarians have a moral obligation to purchase meat substitutes that are already available? Do omnivores?

    Honestly, this article is really just a sensationalist attempt to lob some of the vegetarian/vegan holier-than-thou attitude back at them. Which is not entire undeserved, but it doesn't work with an idea this ham-fisted.

  • bw1 says:

    The problem is your reas0ning is based on leveraging the free market to get more Frankenmeat on people's plates. Since most militant vegetarians are leftists, they will reject a market based approach in favor of a statist, authoritarian approach of simply outlawing the consumption of meat, which is their typical end-game goal.

    • Marilyn James says:

      The moral argument depends on getting LESS meat on people's plate, not MORE frankenmeat. Persuading vegetarians to eat it will not persuade carnivores to take to it – why should it? So the market is to be 'leveraged' lin order to make this product profitable. Your political inclinations may colour your opinion of that of course.

      Meat is a luxury product which should be priced to reflect all its costs, including treating the animals decently. If frankenmeat can come in at a competitive price by comparison, then meat eaters will choose it – particularly in processed meat products. That is the way to ' leverage' the market, not by applying moral blackmail to people, vegetarian or not, who dont want it.

    • Jess says:

      Your assertion that vegetarians' ultimate goal is to outlaw meat consumption is silly and completely baseless. Vegetarian organizations advocate for laws improving the quality of treatment of farmed animals and fewer government subsidies for meat production, but not completely banning it. A cursory Google search of "outlaw meat" would assuage your paranoia a bit. There's going to be a handful of crazies in any movement (and any comment thread, ahem), but outlawing meat has never been part of the discourse, at least not for the last 20 years. Quite the contrary, "voting with your wallet" is an oft-repeated theme.

  • Patrick Brinich-Langlois says:

    I love the name "awesomeburger"—it's one million times better than "in-vitro meat patty." Another possibility is BetterBurger, which might appeal to sustainability-minded people. I think we should refer to conventional burgers as "dead-animal burgers."

  • Bianca Manago says:

    Again, I would like to reiterate the point that some vegetarians/vegans do not choose this diet for ethical reasons. Some individuals choose it for a HEALTH reason. Many people with digestive problems (Crohns disease, ulcerative colitis, etc) oftentimes cannot digest meat without severe pain when their physical disease is flaring up, and many, choose to stay on a plant based diet to reduce the risk of this pain altogether.

    Some individuals choose a vegan diet because they feel more energetic.

    What about individuals who do not buy meat because of the market?

    With that said, other studies suggest that the consumption of a purely vegan (plant based – whole foods) diet can reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease and other problems which plague society. Furthermore, it suggests that these diets have the potential to reduce degenerative diseases. http://www.forksoverknives.com/about/the-fok-diet/

    I am no expert in this area, so I am not positive about the validity of all claims made within this plant based diet research, however, IF they do stand up. Your argument does not.

    Also — you cease to discuss religious/cultural reasons for not eating meat. What about the financial burden of a diet with meat?

    You also cease to discuss research that suggest that GMO plants have deleterious effects on the human body. What about GMO meat. People have a right to maintain their health if they so choose to do so.

    I really appreciate your attempt to make people knowledgeable about the other opportunities for moral options for eating meat, but meat is not necessary to maintain a healthy diet. Do your research more thoroughly about the origins of the meat, and the reasons for vegetarianism. This article seems a bit short-sighted.

    Furthermore, I am not convinced by your assumption that individuals can be morally obligated to do anything. You haven’t done well enough to understand their morality behind eating meat — therefore, cannot hold them to any moral code. An individuals decision may not be linear, but it may incorporate a myriad of things – many of which you haven’t accounted for. You assume many things here, and you can do better.

  • Mercer says:

    This is “technology” that could have been developed many, many years ago. It will never come to fruition because meat = money. Just like the concept of the water powered car. Of course the government and associated industries will aggressively halt these advancements for as long as they possibly can. Why? Because we live in a hell of a world which churns precariously along, fueled by nightmarish atrocities against millions of animals across the globe, every single fuckin’ day. No one needs to eat meat. Myself and millions of others are living testament to the validity of a vegan / vegetarian diet. To indulge in corpses and support cruelty is immoral, inexcusable and, to me – intolerable. Wake up, people. Compassion and clarity of mind are infinitely more rewarding than any horrendous ‘meal’ of flesh and blood.

  • mehs says:

    so, i should be morally obligated to eat something that is not even made for me (and made from unethical source – only human stem cells with consent may be ethical) but for people who refuse to have moral obligations but would like to think they behave morally, and at the same time cost me my taxes and environment more than it should? really?

    if these cells are taken from an animal that agreed with it, i might even try it, but i don’t feel obligated to buy something that i never thought was necessary to exist…

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