Clean Meat: Reading The Comments
Lately it seems that everywhere animal advocates turn, people are talking about clean meat – meat made from a small biopsy of cells (for example, a few cells taken from the feather of a chicken) and grown in a growth medium. It’s being touted as a possible replacement for traditional meat, which requires raising and slaughtering a sentientanimal. By contrast, clean meat, sometimes also called in-vitro meat or IVM, can be grown in a lab, theoretically keeping the same nutrition and taste as traditional meat while reducing animal suffering as well as resource usage. However, as with most novel technologies, public perception is mixed, including mixed feelings on what IVM might end up being called. This study analyzed public perception of the ethics of IVM in an interesting way, by reading the comments on seven articles from mainstream media sources: 814 comments from 462 commenters were included in the analysis.
Five values emerged as the most controversial: the wellbeing of animals, environmental sustainability, justice and equality, naturalness, and maximization of resources. Proponents of IVM generally argued that it results in fewer animal deaths than traditional animal agriculture, is more sustainable with regards to water and energy usage, and will enable more people to be fed complete diets. These commenters were generally not concerned with the “unnaturalness” of IVM, as they generally saw it as preferable to the hormone-and-antibiotic-laden meat of our current diets.
Interestingly, opponents argued that while IVM is less damaging to animals than traditional agriculture, it is more harmful than abstaining from meat entirely. Their logic goes that IVM does nothing to actually reduce meat consumption in our society – it just makes it less harmful. For these opponents, IVM is a wishy-washy middle ground for those who are unwilling to completely give up meat. In addition, some opponents were skeptical that lab-grown meat – which requires significant energy input and raw material production – is more sustainable than a cow or chicken that merely needs food and water. Furthermore, the fact that IVM can only be created in a lab – which requires capital that only corporations or governments can afford – raised concerns about inequality. Some were concerned that this would lead to further corporate consolidation of the food supply, to the detriment of people who are forced or desire to raise their own food.
Concerns about naturalness of IVM were found to be similar to those of other novel technologies, like GMO crops. While some were opposed to the very idea of IVM as an alienation from the natural food chain, others were simply skeptical of its safety or nutritional benefits. Finally, some saw it as a waste of resources that is primarily driven by refusal to give up certain luxuries.
The study concludes that clean meat is an incredibly controversial topic, and this should affect how it is presented to the public. According to the author, rather than being presented as the logical next step to reducing meat consumption, it should be framed as one option out of many. Opponents to traditional animal agriculture stress that plant-based diets are another option, as is simply reducing consumption of conventional meat. While concerns about clean meat should not lead us to abandon it as a whole, they should not be dismissed as the ravings of luddites or conspiracy theorists. The author concludes that clean meat can and should be promoted on its own merits, not simply as the predetermined tool to end traditional animal agriculture. Furthermore, the public should be included in the dialogue around its development, as they are the ones that will ultimately decide its success or failure.