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How dare they solve our problem!

There is a fascinating article in today’s Observer, “Out of the lab and into your frying pan: the advance of cultured meat”.

(The best comment is from “Tintenfische”: “You call that cultured meat? Pah, not even close. Last week my steak took me to the ballet and a symposium on the evolution of beat poetry as seen through the eye of the beat.”)

The author of the article, Zoë Corbyn – I’ve always liked the name Zoë – describes the background:

To a certain extent, the science of culturing meat is relatively well understood. The process begins when a cell is taken from an animal and grown up in a lab to permanently establish a culture (called a cell line). The cells can come from a range of sources: biopsies of living animals, pieces of fresh meat, cell banks and even the roots of feathers, which JUST has been experimenting with. Cell lines can either be based on primary cells – for example muscle or fat cells – or on stem cells. Stem cells have the advantage that with different nutrients, or genetic modifications, they are able to mature into any cell type. There is also no limit to how long stem-cell lines can live, so it is possible to use them indefinitely to produce a product. Once a good cell line – for example, one that grows fast and is tasty – has been selected, a sample is introduced into a bioreactor, a vat of culture medium where the cells proliferate exponentially and can be harvested. The resulting meat cell mush can be formed into a plethora of unstructured items, from patties to sausages – with or without other ingredients added for texture. Conventional meat has a variety of cell types from which it derives its flavour, including both muscle and fat, and the companies are trying to broadly replicate that.

Not everybody is happy that this hoary science fiction trope seems to be on the point of commercial viability. Apparently an advertisement in the Brussels metro…

…contrasts a barn of cows surrounded by greenery to a “meat lab” surrounded by transmission towers. It is the work of the European Livestock Voice campaign – set up last year by a number of European farming industry groups to stress the potential social impacts of upending the meat industry.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them. The would-be purveyors of a guilt-free equivalent of meat to vegetarians are also opposed from the other side:

The website Clean Meat Hoax was launched last year by an informal group of 16 animal rights scholars and activists. It rails against cultured meat on the grounds that it still suggests that meat is desirable, and that animals are a resource people can draw on. It contrasts with the more pragmatic position other animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) have taken in favour of the technology on the grounds that animals’ lives will be saved. “What is incredible to me is how uncritically this technology is being celebrated and I don’t think that’s an accident – we don’t want to consider the possibility that we can stop eating animals,” says site founder John Sanbonmatsu, a philosopher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

“Less pragmatic than PETA”: not a concept one meets often. I think the Clean Meat Hoax people have something in common with the opponents of vaping. What really distresses them is that after all their years of exhortations to make the smokers or meat eaters repent, the jammy bastards might be enabled to cease doing the bad thing just like that, with no redeeming pain.

41 comments to How dare they solve our problem!

  • Snorri Godhi

    The comparison to vaping is a good insight.
    A similar comparison could be made to CAGW activists opposing nuclear power.

    From my Olympian stand above the fray, my guess is that ‘cultured’ meat will eventually be preferable to the real thing. That day is a long way off, but i wouldn’t discourage experimenting.

    I am doing my best to live long enough to eat good cultured meat — but not because i am keen to eat cultured meat: just trying to live as long as possible, because i am enjoying it.

  • staghounds

    “animals’ lives will be saved.”

    No they won’t. The ones for whose meat there is a market will be slaughtered. The ones for which there isn’t a market won’t be born.

    Just like today.

    The popularity of cultured meat means there won’t be as many animals. No one is going to raise cows and pigs so they can live self-actualising, joyous lives.

  • Fraser Orr

    …contrasts a barn of cows surrounded by greenery to a “meat lab” surrounded by transmission towers. It is the work of the European Livestock Voice campaign – set up last year by a number of European farming industry groups to stress the potential social impacts of upending the meat industry.

    Which just shows how well propaganda works. Perhaps the comparison between the meat lab and a slaughterhouse might be better. After all, Daisy isn’t frolicking in the fields of green because she is to be our pet.

    Having said that this discussion reminds me of the issue of cochlear implants. Children of deaf people are sometimes denied the opportunity to get these devices when they are young (and the device most effective) not on by a functional argument (being deaf is better), but on a community argument (being part of the deaf community is better.) When I hear this argument I both get mad at the parents, and at the same time I understand where they are coming from. So I have very mixed feelings about it.

    The vegetarian and especially the vegan community has many of these same attributes. I’d call it religious, but not necessarily pejoratively. It provides a common cause, a shared secret knowledge, a sense of being righteous or better than the other, and even, often, a road to Damascus conversion. But I say that not particularly pejoratively since in many ways I respect a community that takes an ethical stand and is willing to sacrifice for it. I don’t agree with them, though I think the argument is too long and complex to rehearse here, but I respect people who truly stand up for and sacrifice for “doing what is right”. Which isn’t to deny that some adherents are cloying and bothersome, but that always goes with any religious movement.

    And I think this movement to allow others to “do what is right”, in their view, at a lower personal cost is a rare case of true honor. And the fact that a commercial company is trying to address this issue for, god help us, a profit, makes me feel all warm and gooey inside.

  • Fraser Orr

    @staghounds
    The popularity of cultured meat means there won’t be as many animals. No one is going to raise cows and pigs so they can live self-actualising, joyous lives.

    That is true, but I detect a tone of disapproval. After all we all accept that contraception is better than abortion. And the conversion of all that farm land into something useful is surely a good thing. Oh and don’t forget the cow farts. My god, the cow farts.

    I wonder if the same labs could make cow digestive systems that are focused primarily on farting. Perhaps that would be an excellent source of green energy….

    And FWIW, I have a friend who actually does raise a pig for a self actualizing, joyous life. But if you called her crazy, I’d be hard pressed to disagree.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    staghounds,

    Though I am not a vegetarian and have no plans to become one, I see where vegetarians who support the idea of cultured meat are coming from. They seek to avoid animals being killed because they think killing animals for food is wrong. They do not seek to maximise the number of animals alive.

    If this takes off it will be strange to see the long era of raising animals for meat largely come to an end, though I think some real meat will still be produced as a luxury product. I assume that if they can make lab-grown meat they can make lab-grown milk too, so there will be no need for dairy herds either. Although many of us in the developed world don’t visit farms often they were always there in the background. Will little children still learn that cows go “moo” and sheep go “baa”?

  • GregWA

    Reading up a bit on this over at Wikipedia and things like “starter cells”, “growth media”, and “scaffold” show up. Given that medical science reverses itself every couple years on just about every serious issue, I’m skeptical that cultured meat will be safe anytime soon. By this I mean actually save vs perceived to be safe and thus approved by the regulators.

    I suspect those here saying it could take off in the next couple of years (or has it already?) are probably right. I’m worried that 10 or 20 years after the take off, we’re going to start finding strange effects in people that we can’t explain. And the cultured meat industry will be rich and powerful by then so little chance of any health issues ever being tied to their meat.

    As a chemist, I find the state of the biological sciences appalling. Drugs are “discovered” by random number generators, developed because they show efficacy toward some malady, but there’s no understanding of how they work. Or the side effects. No physical science involved. That’s my simplistic view from outside the field, but I worry there will likewise be no fundamental understanding of the biological implications of lifelong, significant consumption of cultured meat.

    Just take us to Mars and leave the rest alone!

  • Itellyounothing

    Nazis gonna Naz! Ban the thing!!!!!

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Just for fun, I shall mention Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s 1976 novel Inferno. The protagonist is a science fiction author who dies in the first few pages and ends up in Hell. It turns out that Dante’s Inferno was a simple statement of fact: hell is full of sinners being punished in ways gruesomely appropriate to their sin. The considerable humour in the book would not be to modern tastes. One of the first damned souls the protagonist meets is a grotesquely fat woman, scarcely recognisable as human. She says she was slim and beautiful in life.

    “Why would anyone do this to you?”

    “I… think it must have been because ten million fat people were cursing me.” Her voice turned venomous. “Fat, fat, fat people with no willpower and no self-respect.”

    “Why”

    “For doing my job! For trying to help people, trying to save them from themselves. For banning cyclamates, that’s why! It was for their own good,” she ranted. “You can’t trust people to be moderate about anything. Some people get sick on cyclamates. They have to be helped. And this is what I get for helping them!”

  • bobby b

    “What really distresses them is that after all their years of exhortations to make the smokers or meat eaters repent, the jammy bastards might be enabled to cease doing the bad thing just like that, with no redeeming pain.”

    Amen. They’re not mad about people dying from smoking. They’re mad that vapers seem to be almost mocking them.

    It’s completely an ego thing. You WILL think correctly! Think as I think, not just do as I do!

    And, the beef? They’ve currently drawn a line at thinking animals. Seems arbitrary. If killing life is wrong, it matters not the life’s IQ. How long until we hear about the piteous screams of the broccoli as it is ripped out of the ground? Broccoli is, after all, a living thing. Why do cows deserve as much protection as humans, but broccoli doesn’t deserve as much protection as cows?

    It’s funny – I’ve seen a number of websites recently extolling the intelligence of cows. They all seem to have the word “green” somewhere in their site title. It’s been three days since I pushed a cow out of the way, and so the species might have changed in that time, but back then, cows were some of the dumbest animals you’d ever hope to meet. (Meat?) Almost as bad as turkeys.

  • Steve D

    ‘the jammy bastards might be enabled to cease doing the bad thing just like that, with no redeeming pain.’

    So, it’s the pain that counts? Then Ayn Rand was right.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    How long until we hear about the piteous screams of the broccoli as it is ripped out of the ground? Broccoli is, after all, a living thing.

    Not long. There is already a group called fruitarians that have taken up this appeal to protect the lives of vegetables so cruelly snatched from mother Gaia. I first learned of them in a fantastic scene in the movie “Notting Hill” which the internet is kind enough to provide us a sample of:

    “These carrots have been murdered”.

    https://www.cougarboard.com/board/message.html?id=12380440

  • bobby b

    That’s beastly!

    😆

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby: Cow, meet chicken. [“Duh”]

    .

    Agricultural “advances” have already ready brought the flavors of meats, vegetables, and fruits down to the point that they are the merest shadows of their formerly flavourful selves.

    I long for properly bred and fed pork, chicken, beef; tomatoes and strawberries that are not mostly pulp (tomatoes) and woody pith (strawberries); eggplant that you can carry in your arms rather than needing an 18-wheeler to lug from the store to the kitchen.

    And so on.

    If the farmers are producing this flavorless glop out of “real food,” what is the New Meat going to taste like? If the top-of-the-line in chicken is pseudo-“chicken nuggets,” which are nothing but uniformly dry and flavorless pieces of chicken breast (which is less nutritious than real dark meat, which is hardly to be found nowadays), then count me out. I’ll start raising my own chicken, pigs, cattle, so forth on the < 1/4-acre lot where I live, and to hell with the zoning board.

    GRRRRRR!!!!

    Now that I'm through w/ the rant, I'll say that even I, 40s-&-50s farm girl that I am, have picked up a bit of the eating-animals-bad vibe, and have for decades thought that eventually Joe Six-pack here and around the world would become vegetarian or some such unnatural creature. So this is not unexpected. Still I wish I could get a real rib steak that tastes like rib steak.

    One comment from the Guardian article (where Natalie’s link actually goes) (my boldface):

    tomword [to] MugNuadat 16h ago

    So eating meat regularly is like being an alcoholic? Hey, this is why there is such a negative reaction to the eating disorder called veganism. It’s cultish and lying when it spouts for its pulpit. Humans have always eaten meat when they could. Animals in the wild hunt each other. Do get real with life on planet Earth.

    BTW, many people refuse to eat GMO food for one reason or another — chiefly because, they say, they don’t trust it to be “healthy” — or because it’s not “natural.” And even I wonder if its biochemistry contains more or other allergens than, say, regular rice (vs. Golden Rice) and has the same nutritional and digestive values or properties as old-fashioned, regular rice.

    Since everything has trade-offs, what are the actual downsides of Golden Rice? Lord knows I’m all for more nutritious food which is also easier to grow in abundance that replaces food so un-nutritious that children’s growth is stunted and/or that children and adults starve.

    Now that we’re all in a good mood, I’m going to see what can I should open for supper.

  • Julie near Chicago

    BTW — I know the quote can be accused of “because-this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it”-ism.

    That issue could generate whole long, deep philosophical and practical discussions.

    I really need supper.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, good point! Fraser, do they say how tortured the grass feels when the sheep eat it? 😆

    .

    Actually- isn’t there some East-Indian sect or other that only allows you to eat plants’ deadfall?

  • Rich Rostrom

    GregWA – January 19, 2020 at 11:00 pm:

    Drugs are “discovered” by random number generators, developed because they show efficacy toward some malady, but there’s no understanding of how they work. Or the side effects. No physical science involved.

    Umm, no. I suggest you read Derek Lowe’s blog In The Pipeline. He’s a medicinal chemist who discusses every phase of the drug development process (including the financial side). Also general chemistry, with a focus on organic and biochemistry. (And a great series of posts on “Things I won’t work with”, like compounds with lots of nitrogen atoms wedged in. IYKWIM.) Much of his technical discussion is beyond me, but it’s very clear that there is much understanding of how drugs work and a great deal of physical science.

  • What really distresses them is that after all their years of exhortations to make the smokers or meat eaters repent, the jammy bastards might be enabled to cease doing the bad thing just like that, with no redeeming pain.

    Which is why it is a religion.

  • I’m still going to prefer my chicken, beef, lamb and pork free range during it’s lifetime and nicely slaughtered, butchered and prepared on the supermarket shelf when it’s dead, not grown by some chap/chapesse wearing a white coat in some anonymous laboratory.

    When I look at the “vegan” stuff in the supermarket it just looks bland, fake and awful. Then I read the ingredients list and it is just over-processed shit. No wonder they all look like death all the time.

    Having some nice, fresh vegetables is one thing. I’m certainly having neeps and tatties with my haggis on Burns Night, but this vegan stuff is going a bit too far.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Julie near Chicago
    bobby, good point! Fraser, do they say how tortured the grass feels when the sheep eat it? 😆

    Well of course there is a lot more than that going on in nature. Birds eat worms, cats eat birds, lions eat antelopes, bacteria hijack and kill humans. Nature is red in tooth and claw. It is why I always laugh a little to myself when I hear someone telling me about the beauty of nature, God’s glorious handiwork. Nature is only beautiful if you look only at the beautiful part. If you do a more comprehensive examination you will have to assess it is an amoral, nasty, blood soaked, violent and vicious nightmare that we have to thank civilization for protecting us from it.

    Actually- isn’t there some East-Indian sect or other that only allows you to eat plants’ deadfall?

    You are probably thinking of Janism. They walkabout looking at their feet to make sure they don’t step on bugs, worry about breathing in flies, and occasionally, when older, starve themselves to death so as not to be a burden on anybody. Their level of commitment to non violence is absolute and extreme and I both admire them for their commitment and think they are nuts. I have often wondered why societal evolution has not made the extinct, especially in India which had no shortage of violent, conquering hoards.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Having said that this discussion reminds me of the issue of cochlear implants. Children of deaf people are sometimes denied the opportunity to get these devices when they are young (and the device most effective) not on by a functional argument (being deaf is better), but on a community argument (being part of the deaf community is better.)

    I’ve had first hand experience of this myself, as a member of a “hard of hearing” society, you get individuals who were not deaf enough to be taught sign language and could get away with normal hearing aids, sadly they are sometimes ostracized by both deaf and hearing communities, I personally found the deaf community to be quite distasteful in this regard and was not surprised about their attitude to child cochlear implants when they started coming about.

    Communications nowadays are frequently becoming text based, so being deaf (or partially deaf) is not as much of a burden, I don’t see the militant deaf community being much of an influence now.

    As regards lab-grown meat, once past the first step of making it commercially viable, the next step will be making it taste even better than traditional meat, if you’ve experienced a really nice piece of fillet steak you can have that any time you want at the fraction of the price, the concept of coddled Kobe cows will be a thing of the past, and there will be nothing any of the idiots of “natural farming” or PETA can do about it.

  • Lee Moore

    The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy seems to be in the mix here.

  • lucklucky

    Their haunting fear is that someone can be without them. A leftist needs to feel indispensable.

  • Snorri Godhi

    As regards lab-grown meat, once past the first step of making it commercially viable (…)

    Not to be pedantic, but it’s better to keep in mind that, once it is commercially viable, it is no longer lab-grown.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser,

    Yes, I was thinking of the Jains. But the Foot of All Knowledge, at least, says nothing about such extreme asceticism. It talks about vegeterianism and some veganism, but the page on Jainism doesn’t go any farther than that.

    But it’s encouraging to know that you too have understood that at least some Jains hold even plucked vegetables and fruits to be forbidden. The Font does say they’re not supposed to eat root vegetables, such as potatoes and onions.

    I can’t imagine Indian cooking without at least onions. And cumin, of which I am very fond.

  • Paul Marks

    As long as this product is presented honestly there is no harm in this – no harm and, potentially, much good. Good in the sense of the poor (such as me – I am poor) having less of a drain on their income.

    If the product is cheaper than eating cows, and tastes the same and provides the same nutrients, one would have to be rather odd not to buy it.

    Perhaps the future will be one of manufactured, rather than farmed, food – but that is for customers to decide. It is too soon to tell.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . once it is commercially viable, it is no longer lab-grown.”

    I’m getting this mental image of the lean, leathery cowboy slouched astride his mount, smoking his hand-rolled cigarette and watching over the moonlit field full of the glistening lumps of faintly quivering Meate Kows that are his charges on this long night, whispering to himself “git along, little dogies” as a tear trickles down his cheek.

    (And if you haven’t watched a lot of old American westerns, this will make absolutely no sense to you. 😀 )

  • Andrew Duffin

    Is it just a coincidence that these “cultured meats” are all high-tech products using patented processes, and can only really be produced by large well-resourced global food companies?

    I’m sure it is.

  • Dr Evil

    We are omnivores so Clean Meat Hoax can get lost.

  • There was an underground comic called God Nose, published in 1964. (Some consider it the first underground comic, which is bullpuckey. I was doing God Comics in 1961, Vaughan Bode did The Man before 1963, I had a copy. Gilbert Shelton had Wonder Warthog strips all over the place.

    Which is neither here nor there. One of the stories had God Nose trying to find a guilt-free food for humanity. Animals were Right Out, of course, so He started experimenting with vegetables. They complained. At last He found that slime from slugs could be used to make the perfect food, and all was well – until the slugs complained and went on strike. Even omnipotence cannot satisfy everyone.

    Which is one of the good things about Spiderism. The Great Spider tries very hard only to eat those souls that annoy him. It’s a decent compromise.

    http://washuu.net/GtSpider.htm

  • Stephen Munslow

    If you’re not already familiar with it, I highly recommend one of funniest satires on vegetarianism ever written, in 1872, by Samuel Butler in his Erewhon. It would make an excellent set text in all schools. If you’re impatient, skip to the indented portion, then onwards. If it doesn’t make you laugh, I shall be very surprised

    https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/butler-samuel/1872/erewhon/ch26.htm

  • Fraser Orr

    @Andrew Duffin
    Is it just a coincidence that these “cultured meats” are all high-tech products using patented processes, and can only really be produced by large well-resourced global food companies?

    I don’t know why that means it is bad. Ford is a huge company with zillions of patents, does that make cars bad? Pfizer is a huge company with zillions of patents, does that make its drugs an evil plot to rule the world.

    And FWIW, what you say isn’t true. Many of these companies are small start ups or little boutique firms built on the passion of the owners.

    I’m not a vegetarian, but I am a huge fan of this movement. I think more choice, more opinions are always a good thing. And I even occasionally eat a bean burger or two myself, some of them are delicious.

    I doubt this is true of you Andrew, but what I have observed is that a lot of supporters of meat eating tend to be overly harsh against people providing products for vegetarians, or against vegetarians themselves. Of course some vegetarians can be annoyingly evangelical, but most are just making a lifestyle choice and following their convictions. And most vegetarian food products are made to supply their demand.

    I often wonder if the reverse effect to what Natalie mentioned in the OP is going on here. Where the deep seated rage and mockery of vegetarians that I have often seen is a symptom of a deeper feeling that one can’t fully come to terms with the moral ambiguity of killing and eating animals, and so compensate with such an overly aggressive response. I believe they say of lawyers: “if you don’t have the facts on your side, argue the law, and if you don’t have the law on your side, bang the table.”

    Not, by any means suggesting you, or any of the commentators here suffer from such a malady. We are generally all pretty self introspective people. But I think for those who think about these things less then that may be the case.

    @Dr Evil
    We are omnivores so Clean Meat Hoax can get lost.

    I find this argument without merit. In nature we humans are also extremely violent, tend to rape our females, enslave the weak and use violence and the threat of it to steal from the weak. I don’t think civilized behavior should be based around what our animal nature prompts. In fact, in a sense, “civilized behavior” might well be defined as “choosing not to do what our animal nature prompts”.

  • Kirk

    Here’s how it will work out: The reality is, cultured “meat” isn’t going to have the same set of textures and flavors we’re used to with “real meat”. In order to get that mixture of toned muscle, fat, and all the rest, they’re going to have to go to ever more elaborate lengths to replicate live animals–And, I dare say, it will all end with someone having essentially recapitulated the cow, in all its glory. A living, breathing, artificially-made organism designed to wander the world’s meadows converting inedible biomass into food for humans. And, no doubt, we’ll have to install brains to control the damn things, meaning that the only essential difference is going to be that a Real Cow ™ is something naturally produced, while the artificial thing has the great benefit of being… Humane?

    I’m not seeing it, to be quite honest. You want the texture and flavor of meat, plus being able to set the production of it up such that it’s autonomous and free-range, well… You’re gonna end by building yourself a very expensive cow. Which is about where we are, today. There might be a bit less cruelty involved, in that you could, I suppose, have artificially modular little brains in your artificial cows that you could uninstall at harvest/slaughter, and then re-use, but what’s the benefit of that? You’ve got that now, in one nice, neat biological package…

    Why reinvent the wheel?

  • Fraser Orr

    Kirk
    I’m not seeing it, to be quite honest. You want the texture and flavor of meat

    Not necessarily. Sometime meat has unpleasant bits of gristle, inconsistent texture, tough bits, cartilige that is unpleasant to eat, and all sorts of defects. You can argue that that is part of the pleasure of the food, but it is also part of the downside of food. Creating the steak (for example) means that you can create something with much more consistent quality (including the variety in texture and so forth) that you want. A Kobe steak has many of these features of consistency, fat distribution and lack of nasty bits. People don’t pay $300 to get gristle stuck between their teeth.

    Which is to say artificially created meat could be considerably better than the random muscle we get right now which is originally designed for walking around, not eating (though we have been artificially manipulating it with poor quality manipulation tools, for a thousand years.)

    We genetically manipulate the food we eat today with very inexact tools partly to improve the flavor, partly to maximize ROI and partly to simplify handling and processing. With artificial meat you could potentially do this with a vastly higher level of control.

    Again, I’m not a vegetarian, but to make bogus arguments like this does nothing to advance the pro-carnivore position.

  • At what point does it stop being meat and instead becomes “Soylent Red?”

    Where do we draw the line between the biologic and the bio-engineered?

    Just because something looks, smells, feels and tastes like Meat, doesn’t mean it is…

  • At what point does it stop being meat and instead becomes “Soylent Red?”

    Where do we draw the line between the biologic and the bio-engineered?

    Just because something looks, smells, feels and tastes like meat, doesn’t mean it is meat, since at some point we’ve crossed the boundary from one to the other.

  • Chester Draws

    Here’s how it will work out: The reality is, cultured “meat” isn’t going to have the same set of textures and flavors we’re used to with “real meat”.

    A whole bunch of things that were clearly impossible are nowadays commonplace. We already are recreating dead people in movies, and it won’t be long before we will really struggle to tell entirely synthetic actors. Forty years ago, that would have been a outlandish claim.

    Unless you can show my why it is impossible, rather than just asserting it, I’m happy to think it will be possible. The issue will be cost.

  • bobby b

    Interesting to me where this goes in terms of deeper medi-ethics.

    If we can build a cow without the cow’s brain – without the thoughts and the pains and the perception of suffering – one that has none of the expectations of a future happiness – then we’ve eliminated the moral issues involved in eating meat. Right?

    So, if we can grow human embryos into adulthood that are complete except that they are formed without heads or brains – again, without the thoughts and the pains and the perception of suffering – that have none of the expectations of a future happiness, from formation – have we eliminated the moral issues that might otherwise keep us from using them as organ donors?

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    So, if we can grow human embryos into adulthood that are complete except that they are formed without heads or brains – again, without the thoughts and the pains and the perception of suffering – that have none of the expectations of a future happiness, from formation – have we eliminated the moral issues that might otherwise keep us from using them as organ donors?

    I don’t think this is a future issue. There is already a huge amount of research into growing human organs ex-vivo. So perhaps not exactly what you described, but not far short. Oftentimes for reasons of biocompatibility though they are grown from the intended donors stem cells.

    However, no doubt if it were legal to sell such things one could imagine factories producing livers and pancreas and lungs that doctors could simply order off Amazon and have drone shipped. “Let me see, amazon search, yes, select department, Human Organs, type, liver, yeah, which blood type B+, and small size, $59.95! Free shipping with Prime.” (OK, maybe a went a bit far there.)

    So I think your question is answered — we are all perfectly ok with that. And it is one more reason that the legal prohibitions on the sale of body parts causes the deaths of thousands of people on transplant waiting lists every year.

  • Ben David

    1. Humans have always been modifying useful organisms to increase yield or reduce inputs. Now it’s done with gene splicing and cell culture. So?

    2. How is this different from modern efficiencies that yield the “meat by-products” listed on modern food labels? If cheaper feedstocks/processes let us augment ground beef or other processed products – that is a billion dollar market right there. And a net nutrition gain for the world’s population. No need to wait for steak-like results to be profitable.

    3. This will ultimately democratize protein production. Countries that could not raise beef will now be able to do so, perhaps using agricultural wastes. The technology will eventually pass to the public domain.

  • If we can build a cow without the cow’s brain – without the thoughts and the pains and the perception of suffering – one that has none of the expectations of a future happiness (bobby b, January 22, 2020 at 3:04 am)

    I never thought of cows meditating on their plans for future happiness in this life, still less of them meditating on their reward when they go to the great meadow in the sky. I think cows live in the present and already have, as far as their thoughts are concerned, little future to lose. As the poem says

    Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food
    And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.

    Or, as C.S.Lewis put it, Eustace, when a dragon (‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’), could kill a cow so quickly that it didn’t know it had been killed – “and presumably still doesn’t know” – a reflection which prompted discussion in the nursery.

    Obviously, one could go yet further and not even stop at having no brain. In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ contains a sentient loquacious beef animal bred to want to be eaten, eager to point to the prime cuts on its body and encourage you to help yourself.

    For myself, I’ll stop before the vegetarian triumph, let alone these ‘solutions’ to the vegetarian’s alleged moral dilemma. There are enough issues in the above to let us be glad theses future will come slowly, if ever, giving us time to solve (or rationalise?) these “deeper medi-ethics” issues – or avoid going there.

  • Niall Kilmartin
    January 22, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Obviously, one could go yet further and not even stop at having no brain. In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ contains a sentient loquacious beef animal bred to want to be eaten, eager to point to the prime cuts on its body and encourage you to help yourself.

    You have re-invented the Shmoo, and this entire discussion has recapitulated all the ethical arguments made Way Back Then (1948).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmoo

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