“Clean Meat”? – Two Animal Rights Advocates Say “NO”

Why “growing meat without animals” is NOT a solution: two views

“The public mind already does not identify animals empathically with food. Most people who claim to love animals switch gears where eating is concerned. If ‘clean meat’ can significantly eliminate animals from being born into the misery and murder of meat, this, in my view, is 100% better than the present disconnection in most people’s minds between living creatures and cuisine, the result of which is a daily global animal holocaust. Surely, non-sentient cellular flesh is better than this.” – Karen Davis

In January, Karen Davis’s internet comment, expressing provisional support for meat grown in a laboratory without animals, drew fire from several animal rights advocates including Joan Harrison, whose letter, “When Even ‘Clean Meat’ Isn’t Clean Enough,” appeared in The Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2018. Joan wrote:

Regarding Matthew Scully’s review of Paul Shapiro’s [new book] Clean Meat: I’m afraid I cannot agree with my fellow activists’ enthusiasm about so-called clean meat. The new technology may relieve animal suffering to some extent in the short term by using donor herds, who would suffer and be enslaved to provide cells out of which meat is then laboratory grown. Though this may end factory farming, which would be a blessing, it will do nothing to end the public’s identification of animals with food. Indeed, it will likely confirm this.

The object is not to end factory farming; the object is to end animal farming as such. The promoting of meat of this sort is thus a pernicious undermining of animal liberation. According to psychology professor and animal activist Bill Crain, experiments show that people eating the flesh of animals generally perceive animals in a negative light in contrast to people who don’t. Is this something we really wish to encourage? . . .

And what about developing meat from human cells? If the latter is repulsive to you, and clean meat from cows, pigs, chickens and lambs nevertheless seems okay, you are still under the sway of speciesism, the evils of which are well known. A simpler solution is available, though it’ll take some time, one that is consistent with and would facilitate the liberating of animals both nonhuman and human: adopting a plant-based diet. It’s already happening.

Joan Harrison
New York


On January 25, UPC President Karen Davis asked Philosophy Professor, John Sanbonmatsu – a speaker at our March 10, 2018 Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley, CA – what he thought of “clean meat.” He wrote back:

“Clean Meat” I think is folly, for several reasons:

  • I think too many vegans are thinking of this as the Holy Grail, which may subtly be taking pressure and urgency off of other modes of action and analysis.
  • The framing of the discourse as “clean” vs. “unclean” meat aestheticizes meat, which is already an aestheticized commodity. The reality is, one form of “meat” is based on genocidal violence, exploitation, and injustice, and the other isn’t. So it should be framed as a choice between violence and nonviolence, not “cleanliness” in either a “morally virtuous” or aesthetic sense (as in, I have a “clean conscience”). One of the cafes here in Cambridge, Massachusetts is called “Clear Conscience Cafe,” and naturally they serve grassfed Angus beef, etc.
  • I think it’s a terrible mistake to confuse the issue in consumers’ already confused minds between “good” and “bad” forms of animal products. I was in New York City recently, and one of the grocery stores had organic turkey and pig sausages mixed in with the vegan “meat” products. So the messaging is, “This is where you get the ‘alternative’ and ‘healthy’ stuff, take your pick.”
  • Most higher-end consumers will continue to choose “organic” and “local” animal flesh over synthetic, lab-grown meats. Why? Because it is marketed as “authentic.” Michael Pollan sneers when the topic of “synthetic” meat comes up: like, who would want THAT? Just think about how educated Americans have been steering away from “processed” and “artificial” foods for a generation. And now we want them to eat burgers made with lab-grown cow cells? The meat industry will turn right around and promote “authentic” meat even more heavily than they do now.
  • The whole synthetic meat movement is perpetuating the lie that the only reason, or main reason, we can’t have universal veganism and an end to animal agriculture is because there are no “good” alternatives. That, and the lie that the reason people “can’t” (or won’t) give up eating animals is because animals just taste TOO GOOD. Well, I don’t believe that. Yes, there are undoubtedly some people so hooked on the exact specific taste of bacon or whatever that they will cling to it until Doomsday. But I don’t think that accounts for most or even a big part of resistance to Animal Rights or to veganism specifically.
  • What’s going to happen with this stuff is precisely what happened to Whole Foods and the whole “humane meat” industry: synthetic meats will not be competing with cheaper meat; this industry will be competing with the market for specialized foods. So the price point is going to be set high, because that’s where the market is going to be most lucrative. Meanwhile, as I said, if the typical consumer is faced with a menu of “real” chicken and “synthetic real” chicken, he/she is going to choose the “real” chicken most of the time, or so I believe.
  • If humans think so little of the dignity or suffering of animals that they can’t or won’t countenance giving up farmed animal flesh until and unless there is an exact, one-to-one replacement, in taste, texture, availability, etc., then what are the odds that they will make any concerted effort to switch to synthetic meats at all?

Against the odds, somehow, we need to smash speciesism as an idea and a set of institutions and beliefs and interpellated identities. If we don’t challenge that, if we can’t undermine it, I think it’s going to continue to be Game Over for animals, and all the synthetic meats in the world won’t amount to anything.

John Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Department of Humanities and Arts
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA 01609


Could “clean meat” eliminate this?

hens hanging from shackles with their necks cut open
Millsboro, Delaware chicken slaughterhouse photo by Carol McCormick