Thursday, 16 September 2010

Would You Eat McFrankenmeat?

Old McDonald's lost his farm to the land of science and white coats. Tinkering with nature is not a new phenomenon, but in the race to resolve the world's obsession with meat, is science pushing the boundaries too far? As it stands, there are two meaty options in the pipeline – the attack of the clones or lab-flesh. Frankly, both fill me with skepticism and horror. Farming consigned to the dark ages and science our new saviour? I've yet to be convinced.

No self-respecting veggie would ever consider cloned meat an alternative. For one, it still causes unnecessary suffering to the animal, such as health problems and birth defects, and two, encourages the continuance of factory farming. Worse than the latter, it's purpose-designed meat with no thought given to the sentient being concerned. Cloned animals, or humans for that matter, can't possibly have thoughts and feelings can they? Science would have us believe clones are little more than robots bred only to combat the shortcomings of humankind. I was therefore surprised to learn of PETA's $1 million prize fund to any organisation perfecting cloned meat to market by 30th June 2012. As far as I can see, there's nothing ethical about the treatment of cloned animals. A different PR spin maybe, but another meat to market all the same.

The latest scientific ruse much talked about is in-vitro meat. Still in the early stages, it's basically a cluster of cells taken from a live animal and growth replicated in a Petri dish. Literally, a lab-grown creation. The initial developments have been promising so we're told, and the whole world, it seems, is debating its merits, vegetarians and vegans included. What does the advent of lab-flesh mean for the vegetarian movement? Are we too in danger of becoming a dying breed? I recently attended a debate chaired by the Vegetarian Society on this very subject. Both sides for and against were very eloquently put. In-vitro meat cleverly uses the same arguments as vegetarianism – reduces suffering to animals, better for the environment and public health etc. Is this not a ploy to rid the world of vegetarianism? I mean if even veggies go for it then man and science has won. An excellent marketing strategy, but I take issue with a number of lab-meat's supposed benefits. The end of animal suffering and poverty being just a couple of them. Can we really trust that “donor” animals will be treated humanely? How will this and the labelling of artificial meat be policed? The idea that poverty will be solved on any scale by this lab-grown monster is also entirely flawed. Like going organic, it probably won't be economically or commercially viable. There's a reason why poverty is still alive in the third world and it's called exploitation. Poverty keeps the masses in line and forces reliance on American aid. If we were that concerned, we could have taken appropriate measures long ago, but even now we are still dragging our feet. The immediate solution is obvious: to face our evident gluttony and reduce our meat consumption. Any food wasted or used to fatten up livestock is a lost resource to millions of others.

Whether you decide lab-flesh is for you or not depends on your reasons for turning vegetarian. If like me, you're not on a crusade to convert others, then Frankenstein food may never be your future. Personally, I could never return to the taste or texture of meat, artificial or not. Sometimes I find even meat-free alternatives voids this belief. The day may come when we have no other choice but to order McFrankement and fries. What will you decide?