Siena College's Student Newspaper

Opinion

Cellular Agriculture Provides a Solution to Traditional Farming Methods

One of the biggest ethical issues in contemporary society involves the captivation and slaughtering of animals in order to meet a social desire for meat. This issue, fought against prominently by philosophers such as Tom Regan, Richard Ryder and Peter Singer, is typically grounded in the idea that animals deserve equivalent rights, treatment and recognition of interests as humans do, and that us as a species has no right to take other species and hold them captive for the entirety of their lives and lead them into a slaughterhouse in order to instrumentally fill an arbitrary need. While some people have taken very kindly to this movement and have chosen to switch their dietary habits to that of being vegetarian, vegan, etc., others do not respond to the argument and still choose to consume meat in the same habitual way they have done before. However, with a new advancement in a newly-coined field known as “cellular agriculture,” there now exists a solution which I believe is not only beneficial, but preferable for all parties involved.

In recent news, scientists have devised a way to create lab-grown meat from the cells of the animals which are typically slaughtered to produce such meats. This raises many questions and concerns, but at the same time, this also solves a lot of problems. What I aim to focus on is the ethical implications of the potential switch from our traditional, for lack of a better term, “grow, breed, slaughter, repeat” cycle, to a more humane, “grow, scrape a few cells, repeat” method of agriculture. While these advances have the potential to cause an insurrection in the traditional farming method of killing animals to produce meat, I think that, in the right circumstances, a switch from growing animals in order to slaughter them, to growing animals and letting them live on a free range and still obtaining mostly the same results is not only the most ethical, but also the only logistical way to proceed forward as a society.

The main idea behind cellular agriculture is to take cells from an animal and cultivate them to grow into edible meat. Admittedly, the in-depth mechanics which go into this are beyond my grasp, so I am going to take this at face value. The main point to take away from this is that there is a way to create meat for us to enjoy without compromising taste, and while limiting or even eliminating the industrial aftereffects of traditional agricultural farming.

I’d like to establish my stance as an avid meat eater before I give my whole-hearted opinion on this; I have been aware of the arguments for lifestyles such as veganism, vegetarianism, etc., and of the conditions that animals are forced to live through before being ultimately killed, and while having been emotionally moved by some of these arguments/presentations, I still actively choose to continue eating meat. I attribute it to an unwillingness to seek out substitutes when necessary, as well as a simple enjoyment of the things I eat.

In terms of this recent article, I am extremely pleased with the advent of cellular agriculture. I think it is amazing that we have the ability to take nothing but cells from an animal and create edible, substantive meat without harming them in any way. I, given the option, would choose to eat this “lab-grown meat” over traditional meat, hands down. Given my hopes of this becoming not only popularized but hopefully regulated (which is quite a battle) and standardized, I would be content with this being the only option offered in markets and restaurants. This is all said barring the facts of which potential additives are included in the making of the meat, and other circumstances which would deviate the product from being as close to traditional meat as possible.

I think that this is, without a doubt, a step in the right direction for people in all camps, from the avid meat-eaters such as myself, to the vegetarian/vegan/etc. crowd. I am sure, despite these advances, someone somewhere will still find a way to craft an argument pertaining to something such as the lifestyle of the animals, or the fact that they are in any form of captivity and not allowed to run free amongst nature for their entire lives, etc. To something along the lines as this, not knowing the specifics, I would agree in part, but would be happier knowing that they are only being taken for a ‘cell-scraping’ rather than a slaughtering.

However, going down that road, there is another massive upside to switching to this alternate form of agriculture: lessening pollution. The global combined effects of the amount of water pollution, greenhouse gas emission and incompetent means of disposing of dead animals leave a massive footprint in terms of overall pollution in just the United States alone. While certain groups advocate for the switch to a plant-based diet, claiming that it’s easier now than ever to do so, I think that, in time, this will prove to be a very competitive alternative.

Now, all advancements aren’t entirely great. Despite the aforementioned praise, I still have my worries. For example, if it is possible to scrape a few cells from an animal and create edible meat, what’s stopping somebody from scraping a few cells from a human and obtaining the same results? This opens up an entire dialogue about the ethics of intraspecies cannibalism, which, arguably, can be solved for the curious ones through this new method. Clearly, killing or maiming another human being with the intention of taking the excess meat and preparing it for consumption is something, which I hope, is entirely outside the bounds of our ethical boundaries as a society. However, this method, assumedly, makes this possible without any of the side effects. I’m not saying anything by this, however, it is something to sit on.

One more downside is my previously mentioned insurrection in the farming industry. I am not sure exactly how making this method of farming would affect presently-standing farms across the world, but something tells me it is not going to be a pretty transition. I can foresee some hard-fought battles in order to keep some establishments standing, and potentially even some agreement to have the two methods coexist amongst each other. As far as I am aware, it takes a bit more knowledge to biomechanically grow and cultivate cells for meat than it does to lead animals into a slaughterhouse and harvest their meat, or at least I’ll assume that it does. Turning farming into another field to require even more extensive knowledge to break the entry barrier is against my ideals, but it’s the only solution when the only way to move is forward.

Back on the good side, I do think that this is not only a great advancement, but the most logical and correct movement to take forward, given our dietary habits as a species. Statistics show that the planet as a whole generates more food than it consumes, however the relative dispersion of that food is largely unequal, hence the amount of food shortages in our world. Statistics also show that, despite this, by 2050, we will not be able to breed enough cattle and chicken to meet the global demand of these meats, needed by a projected nine billion people worldwide. This hints more at the tone of overpopulation than intended, but I will address that later. However, when Tyson Foods, the biggest meat processor in the United States, claims that they are in the process of a “shift from being a meat company to a protein company,” and has invested an undisclosed amount in the leading company spearheading cellular agriculture, my hopes are undoubtedly higher than usual for the future of this.