BBC News recently proposed the question: Could vegetarians eat a ‘test tube’ burger?
The article describes a new process that uses stem cells extracted from animals to grow artificial beef muscle, which could then be used to make a hamburger patty.
Currently the stem cells are typically harvested from by-products of animals that have been slaughtered, but this could change relatively soon. Scientists are working on extracting the stem cells from living animals without harming them.
The question then arises if such hamburger patties could be suitable for “moral vegetarians,” that is; vegetarians who practice because they believe the practice of killing animals for meat is morally wrong. If the animals are not being killed for their meat, then a vegetarian’s morals may no longer be at odds with eating a lab-grown burger.
This is not to say that it is for everyone. Clearly a product like this does not fit into the typical definition of “vegetarian,” but it could possibly serve as an exclusion to the lifestyle for some people.
Others simply feel the practice of biologically engineering our food is creepy or down-right disgusting.
But growing meat from stem cells isn’t such a far cry from other farming methods currently in use that most of the general population doesn’t mind or doesn’t know about. Fruits and vegetables are genetically engineered to be bigger, shinier and disease and insect-repellent. Artificially grown meats may just be the next wave in food engineering.
Yes, it may sound radical now, but consider that many of the food industry practices we have and accept now were new and experimental at one point in history as well. The transition to lab-grown beef will certainly not take place overnight, nor is it likely to take over the traditional meat industry in the foreseeable future.
Perhaps in 20 or 30 years, the practice will be perfected and the meat will become financially viable for the general public and start showing up in grocery stores and butcher shops (but would they still be called butcher shops?). The “real” meat industry would still exist, with the lab-grown variety simply being supplemental and optional.
Even vegetarians who say they would not eat the artificial meat would be hard-pressed to deny that the process would ultimately help their cause. Surely growing meat in a lab is a preferable alternative to slaughtering millions of animals, not to mention it could provide a more sustainable supply of meat to feed the world.
Scientific innovation such as this isn’t as new of territory as it may seem, and could very well become the way of the future for all food supplies. However, for now, the decision rests with each individual.
Would you feel comfortable eating a “lab-burger?” If you’re a vegetarian, could you eat artificial meat without violating your morals? Or do you see this as even being a viable option in the future?