Grow Your Own Exploitation
The quest for cultured meat seems to have a number of millennials excited for the future; homegrown burgers, nuggets and silk, as easy as planting some basil on your windowsill and watering once a day. The harvesting of body-parts made as simple as picking strawberries, and if we’re to believe Isha Datar – the CEO of New Harvest, a non-profit specialising in cultured-meat tech – an abundance of animal flesh without the need to kill.
It always amazes me how promoters of cultured meat seem to think that they provide an answer to the problem of animal exploitation, as if the fact that a burger was grown from cells extracted from the corpse of an animal at the slaughterhouse, or the cells of a living animal makes any difference when considering the morality of animal use.
If you can stomach reading it, this article in the New Scientist goes into great detail discussing the various “breakthroughs” in taste through the culturing of fat as well as muscle tissue. Not to mention one of the main hurdles faced by the Victor Frankenstein movement – producing a “thick enough piece of meat” without having to “combin[e] several small lab-grown pieces.” Just another day in the kitchen for the Adam’s Family, perhaps, but where do the animals fit in with this ‘revolutionary’ idea to cease their slaughter?
Oh, that’s right. It starts with them.
In order for this whole process to exist, one must first assume the legitimacy of animal exploitation; one must accept the notion that animals exist as means to our ends in the first place and that their sole purpose for being here is to satisfy the needs of man. Cultured meat begins with animal exploitation, and ends with the normative message that animals are the sort of beings that can be used as human resources. Currently, “muscle stem cells are most easily obtained from fresh meat at a slaughterhouse or from live animals – preferably young ones since their stem cells are more plentiful.” Datar of New Harvest “hopes to change that by making cell lines available for order from lab supply catalogues or by linking up researchers so those with cultures can share them with others, much as people share sourdough starters to make bread.” This will also enable those with the correct scientific technology to collaborate with one another, enabling two parties to successfully begin cell culturing or cell aeration with an shaking incubator.
So right now, both live and dead animals are being used to fuel the Frankenstein machine; the harvesting process being described as “hard work” – whatever that means. Every bit of lab-grown “meat” has come into existence through the exploitation of an actual animal. That fact does not change whether they continue using current methods or whether they end up with a cell catalogue for future aspiring Frankenstein’s to order from. It would be no different to ordering furniture from a catalogue where the sofa material was human leather; the fact that the leather was grown from the cells of an enslaved human of the past does change the fact that in order for that sofa to exist, we had to first treat human beings as property, as things, in order to harvest their cells. The fact that exploitation is a little more distant does not make it morally acceptable.
It is no different where animals are concerned. Indeed, the assumption that such a product is fit for human use speaks volumes about our perception of animals as things with no moral value in the first place. To the extent that we would have a moral problem with using products with a history inextricably tied to the exploitation of humans, but not have the same problem in the animal context, that is simply indicative of our speciesism in arbitrarily attributing higher moral value to humans for the purpose of being used as resources.
Our consumption or use of human-derived products would unanimously be rejected in light of the clear link between our use of those products and the subsequent normative assumption that humans are the sorts of beings that can be used as our resources.
And that is precisely the point that those who promote cultured meat miss. Animals are not ours to use in the first place. Like humans, they are not the sort of beings that can be thought of as sources food, clothing, or any other “product” in the pipeline currently waiting to be “cultured.” The fact that we consider it acceptable to exploit them for their cells in order to grow muscle tissue in a lab, further highlights why we must continue striving for societal recognition of animal moral value. Speciesism does not die with cultured meat, it is merely reinforced through the assumption that animals are ours to use at all. It accepts as legitimate the idea that animals are of lesser moral value.
Lets leave this laboratory nightmare where it belongs – in horror movies and 1960’s tv shows – and fulfil our obligations to animals by recognising their moral value and going vegan.