‘To eat or not to eat, that is the question!’ Although this is a parody of a soliloquy of Shakespeare’s imperishable Hamlet, this is a question that a lot of us have thought about while reflecting upon the complex question whether killing animals is for consumption is a moral thing to do or not. However, the possibility that meat can be grown in a laboratory without doing any harm to animals is a delightful prospect for everyone. Although laboratory-grown meat might have a neat solution to the aforementioned dilemma of the ethical consequences of meat consumption, it is not without its problems.
But first, how can meat be grown in a laboratory? Take an example of a fruit-tree. A fully ripe fruit tree produces a fruit, whose seed can be sown and you get another fruit tree which does the same. And theoretically, we can repeat this process an infinite number of times to produce more and more trees.from a a fruit of a parent tree. In a similar manner, all you have to do is identify the proper “seeds” (which in the case of an animal are cells) that can be extracted from an animal, which can be used to create meat much like seeds of a fruit can be used for getting more fruits.
Here’s a wonderful video that explains this process a lot better.
But even if you do get meat from a laboratory, will it be fit for consumption? Well, that depends upon a whole host of conditions. To set the record straight, there is practically no difference in terms of the healthiness of lab-grown meat and meat that comes from animal rearing. Will people accept eating laboratory-grown meat easily is a different question altogether. In the same way that we wouldn’t regard a cloned animal the same as that of an animal that is born out of its woman’s womb, people are hesitant to accept laboratory-grown meat as “real” meat, whatever “real” may mean. The cells that are there in a laboratory-grown meat are just the same as in the body of an animal- there’s nothing unreal about it.
But whether the two types of meat taste equally good is a different matter altogether. When it was first served to a person in 2013, the texture of cultured meat was far from meat that wasn’t. These days, it is claimed that in terms of texture the two types of meat are 60-70% similar. How much effort and time it will take for the two to be similar in taste can’t be known in advance but it might take a few years to a few decades. With a preconceived revulsion to laboratory-grown meat, it will be a hard blow to its popularization if it does come to the market and people don’t like its taste.
Then again, there’s the ethical question about what makes meat fit for consumption. If you could perform cellular agriculture in humans i.e. extract muscle samples from human beings and culture it under proper laboratory conditions, you will get the meat of a human being without harming him/her. Will the lack of slaughter of Homo Sapiens make their meat fit for eating? To eat or not to eat, that will be the question. The answer: We don’t know.
But what we do know is that growing meat in a laboratory will spare animals from the misery of spending their lifetimes in factory farms where the conditions are abhorrent to them. Force feeding to raise animals in practically no time means that most of their internal organs are malfunctioning long before they’ve been butchered. They are barely free to move about which results in excessive psychological stress, the animals tend to consume much more calorific content than they give when ready for being served, they tend to consume water in a scale that is way out of proportion of the water needed for crop production, and there’s the staggering fact that the green-house gas emission from the animal rearing industry is higher than the cumulative effects of greenhouse gases from transportation services worldwide.
If laboratory-grown meat does hit the market soon, it is bound to be more expensive than meat in its current form. But a person well-versed in the severe environmental and ethical costs of factory-farming might prefer cultured meat to animal meat. The idea of not harming animals and yet consuming meat is a delightful one. It is gaining a lot of currency in the developed world with some major business houses investing heavily on the research of laboratory-grown meat bringing the princess down from US$300,000 per burger in 2013 to almost US$ 10 per patty by 2021. No matter how cheap the prices ger, you will face my parody of Hamlet- To eat or not to eat!