Cultured meat, also called synthetic meat, cell-cultured meat, clean meat, etc. is a reality. It seems that the only limitation so far is the mass production of it. This might be accomplished in the next decade. If cultured meat were cheaper and equally as good as real meat would that make animal slaughter illegal? As there would be no reasons to breed animals for human consumption is it wrong to assume that in a not so far future animal slaughter will be illegal?
closed as primarily opinion-based by Mołot, Alexander von Wernherr, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica♦, James♦, Anketam Feb 21 '17 at 0:18
Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.
We can't say what it would do, but we can say what it could do.
It most likely wouldn't become illegal, certainly not within the next decade. However, it could make real meat extremely unfashionable, sort of like how wearing real fur has become - which, AFAIK, isn't illegal in most places. This would result in meat disappearing from supermarkets, and butchers would become hard to find.
If that happened, real meat would become a specialty item and so you'd have to really go looking for it, probably only available in big cities or over the Internet.
There is one possible mitigating factor. Meat is a huge industry, making up a large proportion of many economies. There would be extremely strong pressure from the farming community (amongst others) and their representatives/lobbyists to ensure that consumption of meat continues.
Having said that, once it has become unfashionable, it's possible a hard talking anti-meat Donald Trump type character could become president and try to make it illegal.
I can imagine by that time there will be a lot less resistance to stopping people slaughtering innocent animals than there is to stopping people escaping war-zones and economic disaster.
What I mean by this is that while he faced stiff resistance to his immigration ban due to the potential human rights implications, someone looking to ban real meat in a world where artificial meat is cheaper, equally good and does not involve animal cruelty might not be opposed so much (other than by the real-meat industry, which will have shrunk considerably if eating it has become unfashionable)
There will be a debate. And this is good plot fuel.
There will always a few 'enthusiasts' that will pay ridiculous amounts for their gastronomical jollies. And there will be those that try to cater to that by squirming their way around regulations. So we can assume as a fact that there will always be those that want their meat "au naturel".
But I predict there will be an intense debate about breeding animals for human sustenance once synthetic meat becomes commercially available on a large scale. The economics, the environmental impact and the ethics of it will be arguments that will be brought up. Breeding a meat animal is not cheap, synth meat may become a whole lot cheaper. The environmental impact of breeding animals for meat is significant. Depending on how far we have gotten with mitigating the climate crisis, farming animals may become a subject of environmental regulations. And the ethics of bringing a sentient being into this world for the sole purpose of killing it, butchering its body and using the parts for our own purposes will be called into sharp question if we do not actually need to do it any more. For now we can excuse ourselves with "We have no other choice, there is no replacement". But with synthetic meat, that excuse it out the window.
Will it actually prohibit animal slaughter? That is hard to tell. But considering how hard it has been to ban even practices that actually are harmful to us — like smoking and consuming alcohol — we can expect that the grandfathering and "prohibition does not work" arguments will be used as well. And the facts that meat farming is a culture and a tradition, and also an industry on all scales, from small family farms to huge multinational corporations, are other arguments that will be brought in.
During the process we can most likely assume that that some jurisdictions will ban the butchering of animals, while others will not.
All in all I would say this is all very interesting plot fuel for an author, with plenty of exciting venues to explore.
No, it wouldn't.
It might make meat cheaper, but there's a ton of reasons why meat from a cow would be tastier, have better texture and overall be just "better" than synth-cow.
What I could see is an evolution meat production and cooking. Synth-cow is ok for most purposes, but cow-grown cow could be reserved for those who can pay for it. I can also see a rise in tax and prices for cow-grown cow to "encourage" the supposedly healthier synth-cow trend.
Also, bear in mind the cost to the economy of employment. How many farmers and associated trades would be wiped out by changing to vat-grown meat substitute?
Real meat will increase in price exponentially - it would become a luxury food.
But people would pay for real meat.
There's already plenty of groups all over the world that want to stop all animal breeding and slaughter. If you provided cheap, decent quality animal products (meat, milk, eggs, leather, ...) that most people would prefer them in daily use, those people would no longer care quite as much about preventing those groups from carrying on with their agenda. And we've already seen that tiny vocal groups can influence restrictive laws when most people simply don't care about the matter.
The economical reality is a lot more complicated than fashion trends, though. Would the synth-meat really be cheaper and more desirable? Where does it come from? If you can synthesise it from organic waste (refuse, grass, ...), it would be a great boon, since raising animals is a very inefficient process. If you need ingredients that are more problematic (oil, gas, nitrous oxides...), it might very well be that the real savings are rather small. In that case, people would probably tend to use both meats alternately, perhaps keeping "real meat" for "higher" meals, the same way leather is today preferred to fake-leather.
No. Feeding animals growth hormones and keeping them in mass-stables in bad conditions is not necessary for producing meat. It's just cheaper, the animals be damned.
Lab meat will either be cheaper to produce than real meat, in which case the market will take care of phasing out real meat. Or it won't, in which case it will keep off the market. Ethical considerations are unable to influence the market and legislation now in order to guarantee a certain quality of life for meat animals, so there is no reason to assume that the availabilty of lab meat would make a difference.
Either it will be cheaper to produce, in which case you won't be able to escape it, or it will be more expensive, in which case it will never make it on the market.
That's the way the patty crumbles.
Animals Slaughter Will Remain Legal for a Very Long (100+ Years) Time
People would talk about eating only synth-meat, primarily vegan/vegitarian groups, but at the end of the day it seems very unlikely. I have laid out what I believe to be the top real reasons for this.
The Labor Crisis
Any government that simply bans the old-fashioned production of meat would suddenly discover that everyone in the agriculture industry (and the farmers would stick by the ranchers on this one) is voting against them in the next election. Or, in non-democratic countries, demonstrating/revolting against them. You also can't simply make the argument that the ranchers could go work in artificial meat plants; laboratory/highly sterile work is not in the training set of most, nor would they be inclined. Raising livestock (on a farm, at least) is a way of life, not a job.
There is no path that allows politicians to ban farm-raised meat, at least in the next 100 years.
At the end of the day, the primary concern for most consumers is cost. If the taste is the same, the cleanliness is superior, and the cost is lower then consumers will go for synth-meat. The person doing the shopping/cooking doesn't even have to tell the rest of their family that it is synth-meat; they won't know the difference anyway. That makes it very easy to substitute in as a way to save a few dollars towards something else.
However, at this point we have a LOT of cattle in the world... a STINK LOT OF CATTLE. If synth-meat were to ever start becoming price-competitive, the cattle industry could (and would) start a price-war and bankrupt the large synth-meat producers. They might not be able to keep it up everywhere, but in many parts of the world synth-meat would not be viable until it had already taken over somewhere else and was produced at such a large and cheap scale that it could overtake meat.
Realistically, this is at least a 50-year path on this vector alone. And I think 50 years is being very aggressive, and that's really just seeking parity.
OK, even if synth-meat costs the same as normal meat or a few cents less per pound, marketing departments are going to ramp into overdrive on both sides. The synth-meat side would be running constant advertisements showing young animals with big eyes all day long. And that would probably work very well on the upper and upper-middle classes. On the other side though, I think farmers would sweep the middle and lower classes, which comprise the majority of people. Some marketing advantages that farmers have include:
- Everyone already eats "normal" meat. They don't have to get people to switch sides, and it's much easier to maintain momentum than to gain it.
- People do not have a blind trust in technology; it's much the opposite. Look at fruits/vegetables as an example where the great majority of GMO products are perfectly safe but everyone still prefers non-GMO. They won't necessarily pay more for it, but they sure won't buy GMO products that cost more or if they are at the same cost.
- Farmers/ranchers have many established venues that attract large amounts of people everywhere in the world. From farmers markets to rodeos to county fairs and parades, they have a huge presence.
- Farmers/ranchers are willing to spend more time as activists than the marketing department of SynthCorp and all the vegan organizations put together, by a huge amount. There are simply orders of magnitudes more people who live as ranchers, and they are all willing to put in all their free time into fighting synth-meat (where the guy in marketing for synth-meat is willing to put in 9-5 and that's about it).
At the end of things, if someone is trying to disenfranchise the meat producers of the world they will encounter forceful resistance. I suspect that a number of militant pro-synth groups would come out as well. The difference though is that all a farmer has to do is drop a few dead rats into the middle of a synth-meat production floor to force a full shutdown and decontamination of the factory (costing the company days of production), but it's hard to stop the normal meat trade without harming the animals.
In addition, once you start talking about adding poverty to an already poorer (comparably) group of people, you start making ANGRY poor people. And when you talk about people in agriculture, you are talking about disproportionately well-armed angry people. There will be fatalities, almost entirely on the synth-meat side.
If you have the technology to produce synthetic meat but not synthetic milk, you still have to find a way to deal with the 50% of new born animals which are never going to produce milk.
If it became illegal to kill them, presumably the cost of milk production would double, and you would still need to dispose of them somehow when they died of natural causes.
Some groups of humans would probably consider selective abortion as morally wrong as killing the animals after birth, so that solution might not be acceptable even if it was cost-effective.
The same problem would arise when using eggs for food, of course.
If humans still wished to keep carnivorous animals as pets, how would they be fed if there was a ban on intentionally killing animals? (Not to mention that producing pet food is one way to dispose of the milk and egg producing animals which don't provide high quality meat at the end of their working lives).
No, meat is not the only product of animal slaughter.
We also collect the hides, bones, fat, and pretty much everything else as an utility.
Plus, steak isn't the only eatable thing in a cow, bone marrow and guts are also eatable and ate.
There's much more to meat than steaks, sausages and hamburguers, you know. By the time we get synth-meat to substitute everything meat-related (and I'm not including leather and bones) coming from cows and pigs, a Star Trek's replicator would be something ordinary.
Hunting is critical in some ecologies at this point. Because humans have removed all the top predators in various places, it is only the hunting that culls prey species and keeps them healthy. So this kind of hunting would, in my opinion, continue.
Breeding for food is the only thing keeping several species from going extinct. If it is no longer profitable to keep a species alive, its ranges will be sold off for land. I can easily imagine ecology-minded folks campaigning heavily for "real meat" in order to preserve grazing lands.
Basically, artificial meat might decrease the slaughter for food, but it might result in a lot more animal deaths. Economics isn't in animals' favor, and this might make them even less relevant.
In Germany, unnecessary cruelty towards animals is illegal. Several legal precedents have established that breeding and slaughtering animals for food is necessary cruelty and hence legal.
Introduce unquestionably safe vat meat and this changes.
Even if it became widely available, not all countries would adapt to it and a lot of poorer/primitive countries would not be able to afford or obtain the technology.
It might become illegal in some places, but in general I'd say no.
Even if growing synth-mean will be possible, there is no reason to expect it to be cheaper to produce kilogram of synth-chicken than kilogram of real chicken (which need about 2 kg of insects, which can grow by eating food scraps and gardening trash).
So it might be feasible in say local space travel, where you do not have vast structures needed. But again in long-distance space travel, where you have whole ecosphere, adding facilities to grow insects and chicken would be trivial.
And this is before comparing taste of rotisserie chicken with your synth burger.
Evolution in few billions of years optimized many processes related to biological growth, and beating it will take comparable time.
It would collapse the ecosystem
None seems to have brought up this point. Even if everyone on planet was agreeing that slaughter of animal should be illegal. What do you do with all the chickens, cows and pigs on this planet. Livestock makes up a huge part of the animal on this planet. Here is an illustration.
Livestock has been one of the cornerstones for human civilization for as long as it has existed. Removing that is a huge change to ecosystem and not something that can be done lightly or fast. It would probably take decades of research just to come up with a plan on how to do it (somewhat) safely. And then we are probably taking centuries to implement this.
I sure hope not.
For better part of history, animal products were to precious to waste, thus cooking traditions have recipes for nearly all parts of animals.
It wasn't until recently that meat became plentiful and world became obsessed with meat, ignoring other body parts. Obsession with meat, means that even today proper fatback (important cooking ingredient) is hard to come by, because pigs are bred and fed to maximise loin and leg meat at expense of other parts, especially fat subcutaneous tissue. In turn, people forget how to cook properly, and how to utilise other parts of animal, which only feeds the supply/demand feedback loop.
If cultured meat became the only one, this obsession and market forces would literally eliminate every other animal part from market. There would be no
- bones for soup (gelatin and collagen improve the taste considerably, yum)
- fatback to garnish and control fat content of dish
- blood sausages (blood, entrails and buckwheat, just fry with onion yum)
- liver (liver and blood are excellent sources of iron. Who needs idiotic supplements if you can have fried liver?)
and other I can't remember immediately. I admit, I focused mostly on pigs, but same would apply to all kind of meat animals, we use a lot more than just meat, I would say that sometimes those other parts are tastier than meat itself.
Also, I would like to point out that the way animals are raised influences the taste - it depends on what animals ate, how they were raised, how cramped or stressful the conditions were. I would expect cultured meat to be quite bland.
Cultured meat is just one step...
Animals bred for other products are also killed eventually; also slaughter is out: now it's called euthanasia
One important point still hasn't been considered at all: animals are also bred for products like dairy, wool, manure or labor, which doesn't really need for the animals to be killed, but in practice almost always results in them being slaughtered when they become unfit for their purpose or the material they provide. The problem arises as many heavily breeded species (like dairy cows) are often naturally unfit for longer life-cycles (e.g. incurable painful diseases), which ethically asks for premature killing of them. Now this killing already has a different quality than a slaughter for meat and can also be considered euthanasia, so let's check out the differences:
"Animal slaughter is the killing of nonhuman animals"1
... usually for food, but also when diseased or unfit for their purpose (see chick culling).
"Euthanasia methods are designed to cause minimal pain and distress."2
But even here "in some cases the procedure is the same"2 to slaughtering. Also note that respectful killing of animals used for research purposes is considered euthanasia if performed painlessly.
Euthanized animals have even been sent to commercial rendering, making the distiction from slaughter even foggier.
I imagine animal slaughter could be quite easily prohibited, by replacing it with euthanasia, though I believe this is independent of the use of cultured meat, as animals bred for meat could also (and sometimes already are) killed painlessly.
Considering the great numbers of animals bred primarily for meat, it would still be a significant progress to total animal killing illegalization if the use of natural meat would be limited (or even prohibited) in favour of cultured meat.
I doubt the prevalent use of cultured meat would lead to an illegalization of general animal killing including euthanasia without a replacement of the various other uses of animals.
First off, the meat industry is massive. The majority of the world consumes meat as part of their diet; the illegalizing slaughter of animals would slash a major industry. Then you have to consider the rising trend of anti-synthetic food lobbyists, who, from xenophobia, will tend to be against this new "synth-meat", paired with larger grocery companies who want the money of these lobbyists, and the farmers whose jobs are at stake.
Second, this would also damage the ecology. Letting lose hundreds of livestock which are dependent on a human food source is not good; without the aid of people, they're likely to die in nature, not to mention that many people rely on animal-based fertilizer (though this industry is considerably smaller). And, as Frozendragon showed up above, livestock makes up a majority of animals; letting them all die would probably be a change for the worse.
There's also no political reason (besides to appease animal rights activists). Two consecutive industries simply mean more revenue and thus more tax money; what government doesn't want tax money? Unless a leader whose personal beliefs exceed his economic views comes into power (or lobbyists take action), it's not very likely they will outlaw grown meat.
There are also disadvantages with the synthetic meat itself. Currently, there's still no way to grow specialized cuts (wings, etc.) because synthetic meat is bland tissue. No bones, organ meats, leather, or feathers. Considering how farmed animals have a lot of purposes other than meat, there's not really an advantage to switching to this method.
You seem to assume that once an animal no longer has mass economic value, killing it could become illegal.
If we exclude endangered and protected species, we find that it is typically possible to kill anything that you own, provided that you do so humanely and not in an unusual way that would attract attention (ex. Public execution style).
For example, it is perfectly possible to have your pet put down by the local vet, even if there is nothing wrong with them. They are unlikely to be eaten.
Furthermore, synthetic meat is mostly suitable for mince meat. But even if it became the perfect replica of all meats currently consumed (And possibly a few 'designer' made up meats of animals that never lived or have gone extinct. Who wouldn't want to taste dinosaur?), many people would still prefer the real thing. And we still need leather for shoes and bags and car seats and many other things. Synthetic leather is really rather terrible.
- We need all the products we get from slaughtering animals.
- Even if we didn't, we would want all the products we get from slaughtering animals.
- Even if we didn't, we could still slaughter animals. It wouldn't happen on the current scale, but we could. Unless the cow became an endangered species. Which is, if nothing else, an amusing concept.
No, not without a lot of other replacements.
Assuming, that synth-meat is awesome and tastes the same, there are a ton of other products, that animals are used in that are not meat related.
Leather for example.
Fats are another example.
Plus you have the fact that people would be scare of synth-meat. I know it would be a really ling time before I would eat it. Look at the results of the "corn products" on calorie density if current food products. Were just now seeing that play out an it's been about 50 years.
Corn products are actually a good analogy. A surprising amount of food (including tru-meat) are made with corn because it's cheaper (at least in the US). There have been some serious side effects, and some "hard to define" side effects.
Sugar isn't illegal, but we sure have plenty of synth-sugar. (as an example)
Something like this has already happened in fact. Less than 100 years ago most people on the planet would have considered outlawing hemp absurd since it was used extensively in industry. Despite that, through manipulation of the public and political corruption, vested interests achieved that ban and became global chemical superpowers.
People forget how easy it has become for powerful lobbies to control laws without regard for public interest. All it would take is a "synth-friendly" government whose members stood to gain personally.
A technical development can't change the law. The development of cultured meat might lead to pressure for a change in the law, but could not itself make real meat illegal.
I personally would not want fake meat, even if it is "just as tastey". Take a look at the meat industry currently.... we have animals eating a wide variety of grains and foods that simply do not belong to their natural eating habits for the sake of "taste" or being "plump". Have meat in another country with less regulations like say Mexico. The meat tastes 1000 times better and it isn't because of the cooking. I have bought raw meat there and cooked it up as I would at home.
All these additives to their food source along with our regulation putting in various preservatives and chemicals really makes me wonder if doing something that is completely cultured from chemicals/genetics is really the way to even go. For example.... many super markets place red dye in the meats to make it more appealing to primal instincts. Feeding Cow and fish things like corn for example, is adding carbs and starch to foods that should have very little of either and have thrown off our diet balance in the name of having fattened animals.
I would rather see better regulations on what they feed the animals and how they are bred than to see us completely neglect real meat. In the end, humans are the top of the food chain. In some ways self-inserted due to our ability to make weapons so we can kill things stronger than us, but still we are at the top and have caused many species like wolves to become almost non-existent. Of course this is all speculation, but I would imagine a drastic reduction to the meat industry would cause an over population of some animals as many areas allow for deer hunting during certain times of the year to help population control.
To conclude though, I would not be opposed to synthetic meat as long as people who choose to have real meat are still able to without scrutiny. It would be like yelling at a vampire for having real blood when there is a new synthetic substance out.