Sunday, August 8, 2010

Philosophical Conflict: Petri Dish Meat and Cloning/GMO

In case you missed it, a bit of a scandal erupted on the other side of the Atlantic this week:
Beef from a second bull bred from a clone has illegally entered the human food chain and has been eaten in the last few months, safety officials have disclosed.
Tampering with genetics ignites the fears and passions of many.  But is this opposition justified?
Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of microbiology at the University of Aberdeen, said meat and milk from cloned cows posed no health risks. "It is perfectly safe," he said. "They are just the same as their parents from the genetic point of view so there's no problem there."
Alright, I concede that one line from one story is hardly enough to conclude that cloned meat is safe. But considering the genetic variation already in our diet -- from non-genetic minerals and vitamins to plants, fungi, and a wide assort of animals -- I do wonder wonder what all the fuss about genetically modified food is about. What's a handful of mutations from cloning or genetic modification really going to hurt? All naturally born life forms come into this world with a few genetic mutations and an entirely unique genome. We're not going to ban the consumption of any individual plant or animal due to the unknown side effects of consuming its unverified genome, right? So why doesn't that principle apply to cloned or modified organisms?

But understandably at least, many people are skeptical, afraid, and hostile. Whatever. So how does this conflict with animal ethics?

This is why:
SCIENTISTS have grown meat in the laboratory for the first time. Experts in Holland used cells from a live pig to replicate growth in a petri dish.
The advent of so-called "in-vitro" or cultured meat could reduce the billions of tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year by farm animals [editorial comment: and reduce animal suffering manifold!] -- if people are willing to eat it.
So far the scientists have not tasted it, but they believe the breakthrough could lead to sausages and other processed products being made from laboratory meat in as little as five years time.
Opposition to cloned cows now is going to create legal and commercial obstacles towards the acceptability of petri-dish meat in the future.  And this will in turn will cause more animals to suffer in our factory farm systems, greater destruction of our environment, and more factory-farm-borne diseases like swine and avian flu.

No matter one's thoughts on the evil of genetically modified or cloned food, surely it is less than the evil of our factory farm system. Ergo, I plea for sanity and thoughtfulness from animal-conscience people who also oppose genetically modified food.

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