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In-Vitro Meat

How Should Vegetarians See In-Vitro Meat?
by Rina Deych

About 6 years ago, when I first learned of the concept of in-vitro meat from friend and fellow vegetarian, Philip Carter, my initial reaction was revulsion. As a registered nurse/health advocate and vegetarian for many years, I could not imagine myself promoting a product I associated with pain, disease, and pollution. In my frustration at the slow progress of the materialization of my pipe dream to turn the entire world vegetarian, I decided to learn more about the process.
The technology involves painlessly taking a few cells from a live animal and putting them in a nutritious medium in which they will divide. It was initially introduced by Dutch dermatologist Wiete Westerhof, who applied for a patent on it in 2001. Theoretically, a few cells can feed an entire nation. It has taken me 6 years to get past my revulsion and seriously consider the concept. I wondered: how can we promote any meat, even meat that doesn't involve cruelty, when we have been pushing for vegetarianism/veganism for all these years? After much thought I have come to the conclusion that it's not about (the turning of) my stomach that's important. It's about the potential to spare the suffering of tens of billions of animals per year and, at the same time, improve human health, and reduce insult to the environment.
In the 21 years I've been a vegetarian I have only "converted" a handful of people. I have become more pragmatic over the years, realizing that if one angle isn't working, or isn't working fast enough, we must try others.

About 6 years ago, when I first learned of the concept of in-vitro meat from friend and fellow vegetarian, Philip Carter, my initial reaction was revulsion. As a registered nurse/health advocate and vegetarian for many years, I could not imagine myself promoting a product I associated with pain, disease, and pollution. In my frustration at the slow progress of the materialization of my pipe dream to turn the entire world vegetarian, I decided to learn more about the process.

The technology involves painlessly taking a few cells from a live animal and putting them in a nutritious medium in which they will divide. The concept was initially introduced by Dutch physician Willem van Eelen. Theoretically, a few cells can feed an entire nation. It has taken me 6 years to get past my revulsion and seriously consider the concept. I wondered: how can we promote any meat, even meat that doesn't involve cruelty, when we have been pushing for vegetarianism/veganism for all these years? After much thought I have come to the conclusion that it's not about (the turning of) my stomach that's important. It's about the potential to spare the suffering of tens of billions of animals per year and, at the same time, improve human health, and reduce insult to the environment.

In the 21 years I've been a vegetarian I have only "converted" a handful of people. I have become more pragmatic over the years, realizing that if one angle isn't working, or isn't working fast enough, we must try others.

Supporting this technology does not mean that we must cease to promote veganism as the desired ideal, the ultimate goal. We can consider it an interim compromise, and, hopefully, a stepping stone to veganism.

Interestingly, though the reaction is mixed in the vegetarian/vegan community, some people who have given it the thumbs up are:

Peter Singer (philosopher, Princeton professor, and author of Animal Liberation), Patrice Greanville (of Animals Agenda and Animal People), Alix Fano (friend, author of Lethal Laws, and executive director of the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation), Richard Schwartz (author of Judaism and Vegetarianism and president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America), and Valerie Traina (friend, fellow-activist and Director of Development, Great Plains Restoration Council).

In addition, Erik Marcus, author of Meat Market and Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating (available free online at: http://shannonburns.net/vegan.pdf

About 6 years ago, when I first learned of the concept of in-vitro meat from friend and fellow vegetarian, Philip Carter, my initial reaction was revulsion. As a registered nurse/health advocate and vegetarian for many years, I could not imagine myself promoting a product I associated with pain, disease, and pollution. In my frustration at the slow progress of the materialization of my pipe dream to turn the entire world vegetarian, I decided to learn more about the process.
The technology involves painlessly taking a few cells from a live animal and putting them in a nutritious medium in which they will divide. It was initially introduced by Dutch dermatologist Wiete Westerhof, who applied for a patent on it in 2001. Theoretically, a few cells can feed an entire nation. It has taken me 6 years to get past my revulsion and seriously consider the concept. I wondered: how can we promote any meat, even meat that doesn't involve cruelty, when we have been pushing for vegetarianism/veganism for all these years? After much thought I have come to the conclusion that it's not about (the turning of) my stomach that's important. It's about the potential to spare the suffering of tens of billions of animals per year and, at the same time, improve human health, and reduce insult to the environment.
In the 21 years I've been a vegetarian I have only "converted" a handful of people. I have become more pragmatic over the years, realizing that if one angle isn't working, or isn't working fast enough, we must try others.) has written an article entitled "Franken Meat" in the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of VegNews (available only on hard copy).

I don't think, in a climate of paranoia about Mad Cow and Avian Flu, it's any accident that in-vitro meat has been in the news recently.

Using this technology, a pure product minus hormones, steroids, antibiotics, and pesticide residues would be created. In addition, since it would be produced in a completely controlled environment, there would be no Mad Cow, Avian Flu, Salmonella, E-Coli, and other flesh-borne diseases in the meat.

A 12/11/05 NY Times article by Raizel Robin stated: "...if in vitro meat becomes viable, the environmental and ethical consequences could be profound. The thought of beef grown in the lab may turn your stomach, but in vitro meat would avoid many of the downsides of factory farming, most notably pollution: in the United States, livestock produce 1.4 billion tons of waste each year. What's more, once a meat-cell culture exists, it could function the way a yeast or yogurt culture does, so that meat growers wouldn't need to use a new animal for each set of starter cells -- and the meat industry would no longer be dependent on slaughtering animals."

In November, CBS aired a short piece on Dr. Vladimir Mironov, tissue engineer working on this technology at the Medical University of South Carolina. It highlighted the fact that due to lack of funding, progress is slow. Dr. Mironov and co-author Jason Matheny (a doctoral student and a vegan) have founded New Harvest, a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes, including cultured meat.

About 6 years ago, when I first learned of the concept of in-vitro meat from friend and fellow vegetarian, Philip Carter, my initial reaction was revulsion. As a registered nurse/health advocate and vegetarian for many years, I could not imagine myself promoting a product I associated with pain, disease, and pollution. In my frustration at the slow progress of the materialization of my pipe dream to turn the entire world vegetarian, I decided to learn more about the process.
The technology involves painlessly taking a few cells from a live animal and putting them in a nutritious medium in which they will divide. It was initially introduced by Dutch dermatologist Wiete Westerhof, who applied for a patent on it in 2001. Theoretically, a few cells can feed an entire nation. It has taken me 6 years to get past my revulsion and seriously consider the concept. I wondered: how can we promote any meat, even meat that doesn't involve cruelty, when we have been pushing for vegetarianism/veganism for all these years? After much thought I have come to the conclusion that it's not about (the turning of) my stomach that's important. It's about the potential to spare the suffering of tens of billions of animals per year and, at the same time, improve human health, and reduce insult to the environment.
In the 21 years I've been a vegetarian I have only "converted" a handful of people. I have become more pragmatic over the years, realizing that if one angle isn't working, or isn't working fast enough, we must try others. http://www.new-harvest.org/resources.htm .

I recently spoke with Dr. Mironov at length to learn more about the process and to determine an estimate of his needs over the next five years (which is roughly one million dollars). The NIH has, thus far, refused to issue him a grant based on the fact that they do not consider this a public health priority. My point is: not only is it a health priority, but, with Mad Cow, Avian Flu, Salmonella, Trichomonas, E-Coli and other flesh-borne diseases in the news, now is the perfect time to introduce this concept.

Promoting this technology would also give us the opportunity to highlight the horrors (ethical, health, and environmental) of agribusiness.

Much of the general public is still not aware (or willfully ignorant) of the suffering of billions of farm animals per year, not to mention the antibiotics (70% of which are pumped into the livestock industry), steroids, hormones, and pesticide residues in factory-farmed meat.

Aside from having a profound impact on tens of billions of animals' lives, the product would be healthier (or less unhealthy, depending on how you look at it) than factory farmed meat. In addition, the insult to the environment would be minimal compared to that caused by the huge amounts of waste and pollution generated by agribusiness. There is even a buzz in the meat industry about how, after an initial investment, this technology could rapidly become cost-effective, with no maintenance of live animals (including feed and veterinary care), no medications, and no waste management problems.

Naturally, I wish the whole world would become vegan overnight. Since this is not likely to happen (now or in the near future), I find myself more sure that the support of this technology is essential.

Rina Deych is a registered nurse and vegan. She has been active in the animal rights community for many years. Her web site is: http://www.rrrina.com/