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A headless lamb was recently born. This is a natural phenomenon. It is similar to anencephaly in human beings.

I wrote recently on the moral obligation that vegetarians have to support the development and consume frankenmeat, derived from stem cell technology.

The occurrence of the headless lamb raises another intriguing option for those who oppose the rearing of animals in the food industry on grounds of suffering caused by farming practices. Headless animals, including lambs, do not suffer.

Such aberrations occur because of genetic mutations or other abnormalities in normal development. However, knowledge of the cause of such conditions could be used to intentionally create headless lambs, or other other animals as a source of meat which does not involve suffering.

The deliberate creation of headless lambs is high on the Yuk Factor. But it has one strong ethical argument in its favour – it provides meat with out suffering to the animal reared and killed.

Such animals could be kept alive long enough on artificial diets or nutrition until the size and quality of meat is sufficient. Strict regulation of the nutrients might even enhance the quality of the meat.

For those committed to reducing animal suffering, the intentional creation of headless or preferably anencephalic animals for food is preferable to the status quo.

Those who find creating such animals objectionable but who support factory farming should ask why their own sense of unease or disgust outweighs the suffering inflicted on animals to satisfy their carnivorous palates?

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19 Comment on this post

  1. Yes of course I would. I have been following the development of (the equally objectionably named) “test-tube meat” with rapt attention, and would eat that too. I am a bloodthirsty carnivore, but I find nothing so detestable as the way we raise sentient beings for food. For anyone who could not eat headless lamb, get over it you big wet babies.

  2. I’ve recently tapered my livestock-based meat consumption down to zero, and I’m quite happy with that decision. At the same time I’d gladly eat and help market Frankenmeat. I’m a little confused by the tone of your articles on the subject, which seem to presume that vegetarians would oppose the creation of Frankenmeat, even though your original linked article in the Daily Telegraph explained it was PETA that was promoting the research. Sure, many vegans and vegetarians would not eat the Frankenmeat, but a great deal of them have gone without meat for so long that their digestive systems have grown accustomed to its absence, and would be upset by suddenly eating meat.

    Also, the idea that they are obligated to buy it to drive down the price for everyone else is a very strong prescription. There are many, many competing ethical claims on our pocketbooks. I oppose childhood hunger and disease, the misery of refugees, the ransacking of forests, the eating of meat, and many other ills. I happen to donate a modest amount to nonprofits addressing each of these named issues; am I obligated to donate more? How much? Am I obligated to donate a token amount toward fighting each and every ill I can think of? The very legitimate reason vegetarians may feel content with just not eating meat themselves (rather than using funds to drive down the price of Frankenmeat for their carnivorous cousins) is that they think their scarce funds can do more good elsewhere, and they already have a costless way of doing a non-trivial part to reduce animal cruelty (just eating other stuff!).

  3. Whilst I wouldn’t agree with factory farming methods (and therefore don’t feel obligated to answer the question you placed at the bottom of the article) I would argue that the degree to which a lamb suffers and its autonomy (of which there are also degrees*) are necessary (and jointly sufficient) conditions that must be met in order for a farming practice to be moral. A free-range lamb, though eventually suffering in the killing process, is enabled a reasonable degree* of autonomy and flourishing before its death. It is this enablement of autonomy, and the resulting decrease in suffering (I would argue there is a significant correlation between the two) during this time that sets it’s treatment apart from that of its factory-farmed friend. On this basis, a headless lamb, though not suffering, is not autonomous, and is unable to flourish whatsoever. As a result it would seem to me morally objectionable to intentionally produce anencephalic lambs.

    *Where this minimum degree of autonomy lies in practices that breed animals for consumption is another question!

    1. Cultured meat won’t frolic, it’s true. But it’s not at all obvious that we have a moral imperative to increase frolicking. I would argue that we do have an imperative to reduce factory farming. Cultured meat satisfies the latter, and is neutral as to the former. What’s your objection, exactly?

      1. “Cultured meat won’t frolic, it’s true”

        An anencephalic lamb is not analogous to cultured meat.

        “But it’s not at all obvious that we have a moral imperative to increase frolicking.”

        Maybe… I think however it has been shown that we have some consideration for an animal’s autonomy, hence why many consider free-range chicken morally more palatable than factory-farmed chicken (excuse the pun).

        “What’s your objection, exactly?”

        Intentionally bred anencephalic lambs for consumption.

        1. We may have consideration for the autonomy of some animals (by degree, according to our level of empathy for e.g snakes v. chickens v. dogs). But we don’t have to consider the autonomy of anencephalic animals who, as you point out, have no autonomy worthy of consideration. So I still don’t see your objection: what moral principle do you think is being violated?

          1. Last Comment.

            Hence why I used the word ‘Intentionally’ when I told you my objection. You would intentionally make them anencephalic, that’s a violation of autonomy.

          2. “Intentionally” doesn’t fix your argument. Unborn animals do not have any autonomy to violate. Or is abortion equivalent to murder?

    2. Plants aren’t autonomous.

      Should we be trying to breed Triffid-esque versions of lettuces in order to give them a degree of autonomy? Surely autonomy only matters for something that is sentient in the first place?

      1. Loss of autonomy =/= murder. An unborn child and an unborn animal do have autonomy to lose, it’s just in the former’s abortion there are more compelling reasons than consumption. In farming autonomy is vital because you’re only eating the animal. It is a luxury and that alone.

        1. I don’t really understand your argument. How does an unborn child or an unborn animal have autonomy to lose? I could understand if you said they had *future* autonomy to lose, but until something gains sentience and a degree of self-awareness and rationality, they are not yet autonomous. But in the case of an anencephalic lamb, there is not even the possibility of future autonomy (this seems to imply that I think that ordinary lambs have any autonomy, but I rather doubt this too).

          1. Agreed, it would be potential autonomy. It’s difficult. I think ultimately I’m barking up the wrong tree. I think there is still a case to be had about changing the life course of an animal – which we all implicitly seem to suggest happens – but I think both you and BABH have shown the complexities of trying to argue that point 🙂 Something to think about!

  4. Does anyone actually find this objectionable? Provided the feed is also vegetarian (cultured mycoproteins had problems getting vegetarian certification because they used to use eggs in the culturing process), what’s not to like about cultured meat?

  5. Right. Because factory farming and genetically engineered headless animals are the only two options from which we must choose.

    I have absolutely no moral objections whatsoever to raising animals explicitly for human consumption, any more than I do growing vegetables for the same purpose. I would prefer that they are well looked after, both because inflicting unnecessary suffering during an animal’s life is, well, unnecessary, but also (and rather more importantly in my view) because such meat is generally higher quality and as a result tastes better. In this respect, the putative lamb requires at least a semi-functional brain in order to to be able to gambol about on hillside eating grass (activities which will improve the flavour, texture and marbling of the meat).

    This is also the way we get to still eat meat while maintaining the caloric productivity of increasingly stretched land and water resources: by only raising high quality, well looked after animals, and the price of meat going up substantially as a result.

  6. I don’t see why a pricey “guilt-free” burger would be seen as any more yucky than a factory farmed one. In neither case are the origins of the food evident upon consumption. If it’s prepared and served well, I believe folks will eat it. There are far worse prepared foods that people eat without question. I think that price would be the only barrier.

    I have not read much mention of in the comments (for this essay or the prior one) about the existence and responsibility of “carnivores with a conscience.” I don’t have the stats, but I’m willing to bet that there are more people who eat meat but wish they had better options than there are pure vegetarians. I think this group would be far more influential in numbers to move the market and as “converts” to move a culture away from factory farming. Vegetarian-leaning folk with the occasional meat craving would also naturally gravitate to it. Those two groups would dwarf the number of true vegetarians.

    I’ve settled into a “pescatarian” diet out of a combination of health, taste, and ethical reasoning. I feel no compunction to eat any meat on the hoof or the wing, even if the “hoof” is a test tube, but that won’t stop me from encouraging others. In terms of encouraging the market, surely there are other ways of helping it along that does not involve me ingesting the actual meat. Options could include buying it for others as a gift or giving to a non-prof who is trying to further the market through ads and research.

    [A side note: I can usually bear to look a the comments following any article, but the quality here is miles above the average.]

  7. It’s certainly less ethically problematic. But I doubt most consumers would be willing to not only spend more (there’s no way this would be cheaper than factory farming) but also overcome the “yuck factor” in order to buy this sort of product. I mean, if you won’t spend a little extra to buy a free-range chicken, why would you spend more to buy a headless one?

  8. I think you might be able to raise an objection about the parents of the frankenlamb. That is to say, the normal sheep, might find it frustrating or stressful that their offspring are taken away from them (since they can’t suckle… they have no mouths… etc.). If merely removing baby animals from their parents (something that is oft objected by PETA and similar groups), then that might cause harm.

  9. Since eating meat (here I mean red meat which is the example given) is physiologically unnecessary and in general linked to shorter life spans, increased rates of heart disease, other cholesterol-related problems, obesity, digestive problems and various cancers, then I see no reason to eat it whether the ‘animal’ frolicked in a field or grew on a petri dish. I would also find it ethically questionable to recommend it to other people.

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