A vegetarian entrepreneur’s take on test tube meat
This week’s New Yorker has an article on test tube meat — that is, meat produced outside a body. I’ve been talking about it for a while, as someone who doesn’t eat meat and as an entrepreneur.
I’m looking forward to reading the article. I first read about the idea on a nerdy site called Slashdot a couple years ago. Technology recently made it possible.
I think most people’s reaction is that it makes them queasy. It can’t be that palatable, right? Then people think of the ethical issues — is it cruel or not? Are we doing something we shouldn’t?
To me these issues are clear. Whether it’s palatable or not now is merely an engineering question and a matter of time. If it doesn’t taste good now (if you eat meat, I guess), it will soon. The queasiness will also disappear in no more than a generation, as people grow up with the stuff.
As for if it’s cruel, you soon learn PETA supports creating meat in a way that doesn’t hurt animals. People I’m aware of want not to hurt animals, not mere animal cells. With no nervous system connected to a brain that can feel pain from the meat, few who oppose eating meat for ethical reasons will object to in vitro meat.
Regarding environmental issues — well, I’ll have to comment on them later. In the context of nearly exponential population growth, making food production more efficient, like any technological improvement, only extends how long before human overpopulation overrides other considerations. Still, I imagine in vitro meat pollutes less. If so, you’ll putting less smoke and poisons in children’s faces in the short term.
If you’re familiar with my blog, of course, you know I say your beliefs are your beliefs. What you consider ethical is your business for whatever reasons you want. If you believe meat now is ethical or that even lab-produced meat isn’t — or whatever your view — I have no beef with your beliefs (behavior is another issue, but let’s leave that for now). I suspect many people’s views on lab-produced meat will differ from their views on animal meat.
The entrepreneur in me sees huge potential here. It can’t be long before engineers eclipse whatever qualities Kobe beef has and can create whatever sushi lovers love so much about expensive sushi without the mercury risk and cost. Whether entrepreneurs can profit, which means creating a sustainable competitive advantage or acting efficiently and quickly, is another story. I’m sure some will figure it out.
What I’m looking for the most out of this technology is something I haven’t seen anyone mention. I’m sure someone has, but I haven’t searched much.
In vitro fur — a lab-produced fur coat no animal felt pain for — is what I’m most interested in most. When I was in grade school, before forming independent ideas about fur, I had occasion to feel and try on someone’s fur coat. I was amazed at its softness and warmth. It’s amazing what billions of years of evolution can create for insulation. If science could create the same thing causing less pain than alternatives, I’d see that as progress.
Whatever queasiness people have with eating lab-produced meat, I imagine a small fraction will have queasiness over a mink coat that no mink felt pain for. I have no appetite for meat, however it’s produced, but I’d be happy to wear fur that no animal felt pain for. I’m sure there are other considerations I haven’t thought of yet, but on first glance, it seems technologically achievable if meat is, and I’d go for it.
So I’m putting the idea of lab-produced fur out there for people to act on since I’m not going to do it. Good luck, entrepreneur!
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