Letter to the Editor: In vitro meats not economical

Chris Saunders, Class of 2012

In vitro meats certainly do represent an “interesting” solution to both environmental and ethical issues concerning animals but as is almost always true when using the word “interesting” as a primary descriptor, there certainly are some issues that have yet to be brought up.

While I’m no economist (I switched majors freshman year), it seems to me that even when implemented on a large scale and after the technology to produce the initial $500,000 hamburger is available, the process – given all of the additives that will have to be both grown and applied – will still be too expensive to be economically viable.

When considering how relevant this “schmeat” would be in the food market, one must consider the cost of humanely raised and slaughtered grass-fed beef or truly free range (as opposed to the FDA’s lackluster definition of the term “free range”) chicken as a benchmark. One might well argue that a chicken, pig, cow or turkey given food, water, shelter and a generally good life might potentially “agree” to eventually be used as food, in exchange for this guaranteed, easy life. If you are one who subscribes to this train of thought, there go your ethical issues with eating meat. While I’m sure some members of PETA would disagree with this line of thinking, I’d be surprised if anyone besides the most zealous of animal-rights activists would think that such progress in the treatment of animals raised for food is disappointing or not worth considering given the appalling conditions of modern factory farms.

Furthermore, with an increase in the cost of raising and slaughtering animals for meat in this hypothetical humane farm, fewer animals would be raised and eaten. This change could potentially reduce environmental impact even below the difficult to measure “up-to-60 percent” figure, without need for a laboratory. Although disappointing to certain companies who specialize in dishing out cheap meat and those of us who enjoy buying five-pounds of hamburger for $8, the decrease in the overall consumption of meat could hardly help but be healthy for the American public and more easily adopted as a system than full integration of schmeat that tastes kind of OK.

Speaking of laboratories, the process of creating this meat sounds like it might contain its own ethical issues. Tissues “taken from an animal and stem cells” are used to create this schmeat, but those have to come from somewhere. Stem cells harvested solely from the unborn calf of humanely slaughtered pregnant cattle? Sounds unlikely. To achieve the hypothetical end of schmeat replacing meat, an absurd amount of stem cells would have to come from somewhere. In my mind, and I’m sure in the minds of others, that’s a little messed up.

I would be surprised if, assuming the meat tastes good, it would not be served to the guilt-ridden elite but what about so-called 99 percent? We’ll all have to get our guilt-free (or guilt-reduced) meat elsewhere, and I for one will be looking for it in the local farmer’s market, even if it is a little bit more expensive.

-Chris Saunders, Class of 2012