Thoughts on Lab Grown Meat


“If you are not at the table as an equal, you are on the menu”

— Tony Gonzalez, American Indian Movement

Vegans are a diverse bunch. Some Vegans are enthusiastic about lab grown meat and some, not so much.

From an ethical perspective, Veganism is about abolishing animal slavery/objectification and respecting all life. To understand the situation of lab-grown meat from the standpoint of ethical Veganism, I like to put myself in the shoes of the victim and see how that feels:

I imagine that a group of aliens have taken over the Earth and like to eat humans for food. I finally manage to persuade the most progressive among the aliens to stop enslaving, objectifying and eating humankind. However, some among the aliens ask if they could take a few cells from my body instead and use that to grow my meat in the lab, because they really, really like to eat the meat of human beings for food. It’s a matter of taste, tradition and fond memories of their childhood days for them.

How would I feel about this?

Personally, I don’t think I would be too happy about this. From a practical standpoint, I would be concerned that if they had a power outage in their industrial facilities for making lab grown meat, they would revert back to eating me and my friends again, even if the lab grown meat movement is wildly successful.

I would be concerned that as long as my body is falsely considered as “essential food” by the aliens, a subset of them would find it cheaper to grow me and my friends directly instead of growing my meat in the lab.

I would be concerned that many of the aliens would see me as the “real meat” and consider the lab grown stuff as “fake meat”. Therefore, the lab grown meat might be used as a means to perpetuate the continued enslavement and oppression of human beings for food by the Alien Meat industry.

Finally, I would be concerned that lab grown meat wouldn’t address the fundamental root cause of the factory farming and oppression of humans by the aliens: the systemic promotion of Greed, Animal foods and Selfishness (GAS) among the aliens, which is also causing tremendous inequity, injustice and ill health among the aliens themselves.

Therefore, I would urge the aliens to abandon the idea of lab grown human meat and develop all the necessary infrastructure for a nonviolent plant-based Vegan world instead.

What do you think?




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Sailesh Rao
  • JoAnn Farb
    Posted at 14:31h, 15 December Reply

    I think you have clearly articulated the fundamental problem with lab grown meat quite well.

    Now add to that the fact that there is theoretically way around the need to continually harvest new cells from animals to culture this lab grown meat. In fact this other possibility is what many vegans are hanging their hat on as the, "solution" that will enable lab grown meat to no longer require continued exploitation of a animals. Scientists know that if they can, "transform" the cells so that they will endlessly divide in culture, then they will not need to continually harvest new cells from animals.

    We have a special name for transformed cells that divide endlessly — CANCER.

    Oh — and there’s one other, "little" problem with lab grown meat, currently the meat cell cultures need this little additive in order to grow, it’s called fetal bovine serum. They harvest it from the unborn babies of pregnant cows killed in slaughter houses.

    Aside from all these problems with lab grown meat, there is one other that gnaws at me — the fact that any of my fellow vegans, who claim to be motivated by justice and wanting to create a culture of normalized non-violence could be, "educated" to support the lab-grown meat efforts, which are clearly being driven by huge investments from a financial entities with a history of facilitating systemic injustices.

    • Sailesh Rao
      Posted at 17:51h, 15 December Reply

      Thank you for your input, JoAnn! Yes, huge investments by large corporations always triggers my curiosity to delve deeply into the matter.

  • Priya
    Posted at 16:54h, 16 December Reply

    There are so many problems with lab meat–from the ethics onwards.

    If we promote this, we continue to promote the commodification of animals, and that philosophy extends to everything else we do in a violent society. We treat animals as expendable–the needs of the many is a common argument. But the few who are tortured (and yes–muscle biopsies are torturously painful, just ask my patients) are individuals and we can’t sweep their lack of consent under the rug because it is convenient or the numbers look better. This doesn’t begin to address the need for FBS (fetal bovine serum) as growth media.

    Yes, we would all willingly donate our own flesh–but we can give consent, they cannot. Imagine if we said, "Ok, we will keep 10-20 women in sexual slavery for ISIS or solders in DR Congo–because it saves tens or hundreds of thousands from being raped." Or, "Ok, the Nazis were great, they kept 50 Jews, Gay people, disabled people to experiment on to save thousands." We would never be okay with something so horrific. The fact that it seems less of a big deal to sacrifice a few when we think of animals speaks our deeply ingrained speciesism.

    Also, as a Lifestyle Medicine, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Physician, how can I recommend something that will have the same health risks, land my patients in the same ICU, drain the economy through healthcare spending?

    People keep saying, "not everyone will go plant based, so we need lab meat." I find that lack of hope and faith sad. And, given the rise in plant meat popularity, false. My patients find plant based chicken substitutes taste better than actual flesh.

    We should be putting our limited resources into subsidies for healthy foods (fruit and veg), and yes, plant based meats–not lab grown animal flesh (Which most nonvegans find cost prohibitive, and freakish). And in changing the system–getting rid of meat subsidies and/or a meat tax through legislative changes. Imagine if the resources going towards lab meat were all directed to eliminating meat/dairy/egg subsidies. The true cost of meat (including water using, carbon footprint etc) would impact far more people and animals. Imagine diverting money towards reclaiming grazing lad to grow food. I’d rather GFI used their lobby power for that than products that still objectify our fellow earthlings, and still harm humans.

  • Lisa Barca
    Posted at 21:43h, 15 January Reply

    Thank you Sailesh,Priya, and Joann for so eloquently expressing the many problems with lab-grown meat, from the ethical horrors of biopsies and blood drained from cow fetuses, to the continued health harms caused to humans by eating the flesh of other animals. I agree with you that the pursuit of lab meat reinforces the erroneous and speciesist idea that humans need to eat other animals, and takes us away from the clear and true message that we all must go vegan.

  • Carla Golden
    Posted at 20:26h, 01 February Reply

    As a vegan, I disagree. Supporting cultured clean meat and promoting a vegan world are not mutually exclusive. We can support one and still continue to promote the other simultaneously. Right now many more people could be eating plant-based foods occasionally, periodically, or exclusively, and they are not. Yes, progress has been made but not fast enough to mitigate climate change and environmental destruction. We desperately need a speedier change.

    "Walmart sells 25% of groceries in American. 8 in 10 Americans eat fast food at least monthly, with half eating it at least weekly. And lest you think the lines in fast-food restaurants are comprised of those who can’t afford anything better, the Gallup poll found that the lowest income respondents (earning less than 20K a year) ate the least amount of fast-food while higher earner (more than 75K per year) at the most. In other words, most Americans are quite content simply to buy cheap meat from fast-food and big-box grocers much of the time." Clean Meat, Shapiro 2018

    It would come as great benefit to people, animals, and Earth for these people to switch from animal products to clean products (meat, dairy, and eggs). I predict that the transition for massive numbers of people to switch from slaughterhouse meat to clean meat will be much quicker than the transition from slaughterhouse meat to plant-based options based on food-safety concerns alone.

    These cultured foods have the capacity to be safer for human health as they will not be exposed to fecal material and other bacteria, steroids, or antibiotics. Unsaturated fats can be substituted for saturated fats and cholesterol levels can be manipulated. It is arguable which of clean meat or processed vegan meat substitutes is the more healthful choice based on ingredients and nutrition alone. If I aligned with the line of reasoning in this blog post I would say that vegan meat analogs also perpetuate the normalized violence of eating animal bodies.

    These clean products, while not perfect for 100% of animals, will greatly reduce animal suffering. "Because stem cells multiply exponentially, a herd of about 150 cows would be sufficient to feed the entire world, versus the 1.5 billion cows currently on the planet. Fresh samples of stem cells would be periodically removed from live cows and proliferated, since stem cells can become genetically unstable after many divisions. Several companies are exploring options for maintaining genetic stability so that animals can be removed entirely from the process." (1)

    "Gibbons performed a biopsy by removing a piece of turkey muscle the size of a sesame seed, which contained roughly twelve million satellite cells. After some simple calculations and measurements, she and Mozdziak found that with sufficient production capacity, there’s be no reason a single biopsy of that size couldn’t theoretically produce enough turkey muscle to supply the current global annual meat demand (if we were content to eat no meat other than turkey) for more than two thousand years." Clean Meat, Shapiro 2018

    As for unethical and expensive fetal bovine serum, “many biomedical companies have developed synthetic or plant-based growth media to avoid ethical issues and problems with batch-to-batch consistency associated with fetal bovine serum.” (1) Using plant-based or synthetic serum is a large part of bringing down the cost of clean meat, dairy, and eggs.

    Lastly researchers estimated that the production of 1,000 kg of cultured meat would require 7–45% less energy, 99% less land, and 82–96% less water, depending on the species of meat, compared with the same mass of regular meat produced in Europe. The researchers predicted that cultured meat would produce 78–96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than regular meat." (1)

    If one is going to make the argument that eating clean meat perpetuates the normalization of exploiting and consuming animals, what should we do about the booming plant-based milk industry? Should we tell vegans and lactose-intolerant consumers that their choice is perpetuating dairy cow abuse? It seems to me that the plant-based milk options have opened many people’s eyes to the possibility of plant foods being just as desirable if not more so than animal based options.

    Clean meat is not a perfect solution, yet I do believe it will be a quicker solution to getting massive numbers of people off factory farmed products. Personally I have not desire to eat or drink it yet I will recommend it to everyone who is not ready to go vegan. Any innovation that has the potential to shut down factory farms and slaughterhouses gets air time in my messaging.


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