Tag Archives: in-vitro

In-Vitro Meat: Some Metaphysical Questions

10 Oct

In November 2012 the world’s first burger grown in a laboratory will be eaten in a press conference.

The tech was first inspired as a way to feed astronauts on long space missions to places like Mars, but was quickly picked up as a possible future commercial venture for feeding the ever growing human population.

On the surface it has many logical benefits:

  • It could be a sustainable food product for an ever increasing global population;
  • it could hugely reduce carbon emissions, as farming is one of the highest carbon producing industries ;
  • it would be engineered without all the growth hormones and antibiotics given to our domestic animals;
  • it could be engineered leaner with better food safety;
  • it would cease all land clearing for animal farming and destruction of rainforests for meat cattle.
  • but first and foremost (for me) – no living animal would have to be killed.

However…there are several questions this new food source throws up.

What happens to the cattle and the farming knowledge?
There are billions of animals on farms all over the world, these cattle would presumeably be petered out.

This might be beneficial for the environment, less deforestation, less desertification, less destruction of habitats by grazing. But what about the thousands of years of farming and land management knowledge that would be lost? and what, if for some reason we were suddenly unable to produce any more in-vitro meat, would we do? how could we suddenly start farming again? Knowledge of the land and of animal husbandry is something which takes generations to acquire, what would happen in the interim? war? mass starvation?

And what about the other ethical issues?

To quote:
One researcher recalls a student, a vegan, who asked if she could just biopsy herself, grow up a steak and eat it. If you want to eat truly victimless meat, perhaps it is time to put yourself on the menu.”

This of course would be entirely possible.. but without knowing the exact reasons *why* this would be wrong, I think many of us  would feel that it is, on some fundamental level.

Is there something about the genetic code we don’t know yet?(well yes lots and lots) We know the genetics of reproduction has a huge impact on who we are, but does the genetic code we eat also have an effect on us? Can the dead genetic code of a digested animal somehow influence our body?

Some scientists have recently worried about one particular strain of GM wheat which has the potential to modify human genes and cause liver failure if ingested:


“‘What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat, intended to silence wheat genes, can match human genes, and through ingestion, these molecules can enter human beings and potentially silence our genes’, said Heinemann in a press conference on the threat of GM wheat”

So if scientists are suggesting that something  ingested has the potential to influence our DNA, what are the repercussions of a global population potentially eating the exact same meat from the same cow? over and over again, for an indefinite time period?

Are there any repercussions to eating the flesh of animal that’s still alive? For both the animal and the human? Is part of the consciousness retained in the genes and so whilst we are growing the cows flesh, does it have any minute concious attachment to it?

Here I’ll delve into the metaphysical and fantastical world..

One argument about genetic memory suggests that our actual experiential memories are stored in the body and not the brain. So using Ockhams razor – that all being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one… Then…
the body stores the memories for 2 attribues:

1) how to build a body
2) And how to fight disease (memories are actively created and stored over time)

So why not a third?
Why not experiential memory?

Surely, in evolutionary terms, using the same memory system (the body) for  experiential memories is easier than creating a whole new system of storage. In that scenario, the brain would function like the processor and RAM of a computer, processing the experiences as they come in through the various senses like the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, then forming them into some kind of coherent experience/data – which the body “feels” as an experience and somehow remembers akin to the computers hard-drive.
Then to recall that experience/memory the brain simply functions a bit like a tv, retrieving a signal from the body and reorganizing it back into a coherent, audiovisual memory which we perceive.

You can see this type of thing in action if you are asked to think about someone who makes you feel a certain way, the feeling is always there with the image. If you have no feeling about a person they are harder to recall.

And again, looking at visual memory techniques that people like  Derren Brown employ, they state often its not enough to simply link a string of images together, you have to make them funny or strange so they evoke a feeling so you can remember them. Creating a reaction in the body is key to remembering.

After all, storing the memory/information on how to build a body is surely far more vast and complex than anything we might see or do in our life? We grow a body quite well without a brain for a good length of time, so surely it would be easy enough to retain our strongest life experiences in there?

Anyway, I digress – what if there is any truth to the Morphic field theory and the grown flesh, being genetically identical to the animal, is still linked to it somehow? In the same way that twins feel linked or can tell if something bad happens to the other? what are the implications for the animal to be eaten over and over again?

The reality of these lab-grown meats hitting the supermarkets is still not in our immediate future, as the cost of producing just this one lone burger was €250,ooo. But it is certainly worth starting to think about and discuss the implications.

What do you think? do you have any ethical issues? it would be great to erradicate animal suffering – but maybe becoming vegetarian is a better option!