The Ethics of In-Vitro Flesh and Enhanced Animals

Abstracts and call for participation: The Ethics of In-Vitro Flesh and Enhanced Animals (sponsored by the Wellcome Trust)

When will this conference take place?
18-19 September 2014

Where will the conference be held?
Rothbury, Northumberland, England

The conference will take place at the Rothbury Golf Club, starting at 9.00 hrs on Thursday and finishing at 17.00 hrs on Friday.

Call for participation
Everyone who is willing to discuss the conference themes is invited to participate. As places are limited, early booking is advisable. Speakers will generally present papers in 30 mins, followed by 30 mins of discussion.

How do I register?
Registration is made by paying the fee of £ 30, using the following link:
Registration includes the conference dinner on Thursday night, as well as lunches and refreshments on Thursday and Friday. Lunches will comprise a main course, with an option to purchase dessert. For any specific dietary or access requirements, please email Please note that, for administrative reasons, it is not possible to register for part of the conference. Please also email Jacqueline to inform her whether you would be interested in participating in an informal, pre-conference meeting for drinks and/or dinner on Wednesday evening.

Who are the speakers?
Bernice Bovenkerk, Philosophy Group, Wageningen University.
Amanda Cawston, Faculty of Philosophy and Downing College, University of Cambridge.
Jan Deckers, School of Medical Education, Newcastle University.
Clemens Driessen, Cultural Geography, Environmental Sciences Group, Wageningen University.
Arianna Ferrari, Institut für Technikfolgenabschätzung und Systemanalyse, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
Linnea Laestadius, School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Clare McCausland, Human Rights & Animal Ethics Research Network, University of Melbourne.
John Miller, School of English, University of Sheffield.
Lars Øystein Ursin, Department of Public Health and General Practice, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Kay Peggs, School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies, University of Portsmouth.
G. Owen Schaefer, Lincoln College, University of Oxford.
Barry Smart, School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies, University of Portsmouth.
Cor van der Weele, Department of Communication, Philosophy and Technology, Wageningen University.

1. Jan Deckers
Welcome and introduction
The consumption of animal products has received increasing bioethical scrutiny for a number of reasons. These include rising levels of obesity, environmental degradation, climate change, zoonotic disease, and moral concerns with the treatment of animals. A novel technology that is being developed, partly to address some of these concerns, is the production of ‘in vitro flesh’ or ‘cultured flesh’, which relies on the isolation of animals’ stem cells and their stimulation into growth in laboratories. This project has already led to the creation of the world’s first in vitro burger, eaten in London on 5 August 2013. Other methods to reduce some of these concerns rely on the modification of farmed animals, either by means of conventional or new (genetic) breeding technologies. For example, some animals have been created with reduced capacities to experience pain, including blind chickens, and various novel technologies are being used to create animals with particular benefits, for example reduced levels of saturated fats, that could be beneficial for the human beings who consume them. This introduction will sketch the potential benefits and concerns of these technologies.

2. Cor van der Weele and Clemens Driessen:
Workshop: Cultured meat and hidden moral concerns: on pathways of transition
The goal of this workshop is to define and compare different pathways of “protein transition”.
In our introduction, we will report on focus group discussions on cultured meat, which show that moral concerns about meat are widespread, also among people who on the surface seem to be happy as meat eaters. Our findings suggest that many of these people are ambivalent about meat consumption and that they put their hopes for solutions on collective rather than individual changes.
Such ambivalent concerns and hopes are typically not credited with much moral interest. But what if we take them seriously? What difference might that make, for example, for our views about pathways of protein transition?
As a next step, we propose to make a joint effort (with all participants) to define and discuss our assumptions on pathways of change. A typology of pathways might be the outcome of this workshop.

3. Linnea Laestadius
Public perceptions of the ethics of in-vitro flesh: What are the implications for development and promotion?
While in-vitro flesh (IVF) is not yet commercially available, the public has already begun to form opinions of IVF as a result of news stories and events drawing attention to its development. As such, we can discern public perceptions of the ethics of IVF prior to its commercial release. This affords advocates of environmentally sustainable, healthy, and just diets with a unique opportunity to reflect on the desirability of the development of IVF, as well as potential modifications that could be made to improve its acceptance. This presentation draws upon an analysis of public perceptions of IVF in 814 U.S. news blog comments related to the August 2013 tasting of the world’s first IVF hamburger. Specifically, I address three primary questions: 1) How does the public perceive the ethics of IVM development and consumption? 2) What do these perceptions mean for the viability and desirability of developing IVF as a solution to high levels of conventional animal flesh consumption? and 3) What do these perceptions mean for strategies to promote IVF? Through these questions, areas for future research are also highlighted.

4. Bernice Bovenkerk
How to articulate objections to ‘enhanced properties’?
Responding to societal objections to the animal suffering resulting from meat prodcution, scientists have proposed the creation of animals with reduced sentience. Even if this could take away welfare problems, one could still ask whether this is a desirable solution that would be accepted by society. Many people object to interfering in animal lives, for example through genetic engineering. In societal discussions, such objections to ‘tampering’ with animal species figure largely, but remain unarticulated. In my view, traditional approaches in animal ethics with their focus on individuals cannot adequately articulate or justify with these objections. As the modification takes place before the animal is born, utilitarian or deontological accounts have difficulty pinpointing the problem. The objections seem to focus on our interference with a species rather than individual animal. Moreover, they seem to focus on our role as humans and what such interferences say about us as one species between the species. I will argue that animal ethics needs a new new perspective that focuses on 1) species as well as individual and 2) the question what our actions mean for our relationships to other species and in turn for our self-understanding as human beings (connecting to philosophical anthropology).

5. Clare McCausland
Moral attitudes towards nonsentient animals
Sentience is a cornerstone of the two mainstream moral attitudes towards nonhuman animals: utilitarianism and rights-based approaches. The former considers that we have obligations to all and only those who have the capacity to experience pain and pleasure and the latter assumes that only sentient creatures have moral rights – indeed some animal rights scholars attribute rights to all sentient beings. The development of nonsentient animals therefore poses a challenge to these views. In this paper I consider the work of Adam Shriver who argues that breeding mice with a genetically modified anterior cingulate cortex may challenge utilitarian arguments against animal exploitation and potentially legitimise factory farming. I suggest both that his arguments may be applied equally well against a theory of animal rights, but more importantly, that there are sound utilitarian reasons for thinking that we ought not to revise our moral attitudes towards animals, whether modified or not, too quickly.

6. Lars Øystein Ursin
The ontology of meat
The double separation of animals from humans and meat from animals has in the 20th century been accompanied by a growing concern with animal welfare. These new views and valuations on animals and meat has taken place alongside an exponential growth in the world’s population and a steady growth in the meat consumption per capita, that has led to an enormous growth in the world’s population of livestock. This has led to an unresolved ethical tension for modern carnivores: Meat is nutritionally beneficial and tasteful, but comes with an unpleasant ethical after-taste. The promise of cultured meat is to remove such a gnawing moral doubt by means of technological innovation. Critics of cultured meat argue that its promotion would be restricted to a mitigation of some unpleasant symptoms of the flawed modernist way of relating to nature, animals and food. It is deeply problematic to aim for an escape from our past and traditions in hunting and farming animals for their meat. We should rather be concerned with and proud of our place in nature as bodily beings in complex interaction with other species, and reflect on the proper – limited – scope of justice in nature. In this paper I will reflect on the ontology of meat in light of the ethos of cultured meat.

7. G. Owen Schaefer
Overcoming the ‘yuck’ factor: the ethical need for an in vitro meat marketing campaign
While the development of in vitro meat is in its infancy, there is some reason to expect it to eventually become a marketable product. Ethical vegetarians should rejoice at this prospect, as it would allow a wide swathe of the population to consume their desired meat products without the degree of animal death and suffering (not to mention environmental damage) associated with factory farming. However, there is a major impediment to general market uptake: general reluctance to eat lab-grown meat. A recent Pew poll found that, in the US, only 20% of those surveyed would be willing to eat in vitro meat. This implies it would be relegated to a niche market akin to current meat substitute products. Those concerned with animal suffering and the environment should hope for much greater market penetration. Ideally, every McDonald’s would use in vitro meat patties – but this requires much greater public willingness to eat the lab-grown burgers. To this end, there is strong ethical reason for animal welfare and environmental organizations to devote resources to marketing and lobbying campaigns aimed at ‘normalizing’ in vitro meat and inducing public interest in its consumption.

8. Kay Peggs and Barry Smart
Suffering existence: the ‘enhancement’ of nonhuman animals and the question of ethics
A significant number of species experience moments of suffering in the form of pain and distress, but for some species existence is virtually all bound up with the prospect and reality of pain and suffering. In this paper we explore the plight of domesticated nonhuman animals who are used as resources for food and for experiments and we do so by drawing on the ‘antinatalist’ view that ‘coming into existence is always a serious harm’. In particular we centre on the genetic modification of nonhuman animal species who are ‘enhanced’ to ‘not suffer’. We centre on this because genetically modified nonhuman animals exemplify the ways in which assumptions about nonhuman animals as commodities are so deeply embedded in contemporary social life and because the acute and growing public disquiet about the treatment and use of nonhuman animal subjects has led to expressions that they should be treated ethically and that due consideration should be given to their welfare. Such concern has given momentum to the pursuit of technological solutions to what are ethical matters concerning the treatment of nonhuman animals, to the genetic engineering of nonhuman animals designed to better fit (in human terms) existing institutional practices and be less sensitive or vulnerable to the pain and suffering to which they are exposed.

9. Amanda Cawston
In vitro meat: a problem dressed up as a solution
The development of in vitro or synthetic meat promises a future of genuinely cruelty free meat, offering a way out for those who are concerned about animal welfare but crave those chicken nuggets. Critics argue that if one is concerned about eating meat (e.g. because of concerns regarding animal welfare, health, environmental issues, etc.), a ready solution already exists: simply abstain from eating it. However, supporters of in vitro meat counter that widespread abstention is at best a far-off goal and, in the meantime, in vitro meat would prevent much non-human animal suffering and hence should be supported on these pragmatic grounds – in vitro meat might not be the ideal solution, but it is better than simply advocating wholesale vegetarianism. In this paper, I take issue with this pragmatic argument for in vitro meat. While I agree that there is a simplistic sense in which in vitro meat would be better for non-human animals (because it reduces their suffering), in vitro meat as a commodity is significantly ethically problematic. Particularly, the development and celebration of in vitro meat risks co-opting the growing awareness of the ethical problems of insatiable and unnecessary consumption: it transforms these anti-consumerist concerns into support for a new product to consume.

10. Arianna Ferrari
Saving animals through technology? Ethical and political reflections on in-vitro meat
In-vitro meat has been occupying the imaginary of natural and social scientists, ethicists as well as some animal welfare and animal rights scholars for a good decade. Through the advancement of tissue engineering and stem-cell research scientists have succeeded to create processed meat products using muscle cells from cows. In-vitro meat holds the promise to save nonhuman animals from suffering and death, to massively reduce the ecological footprint of animal food production, and, at the same time, to allow humans to continue enjoying the taste of meat. However, around this almost perfect “technological fix” there are many ethical and political questions which remain largely undiscussed, such as for example: how will nonhuman animals be kept and treated in order to gain the necessary cells to build in-vitro tissues? Is in-vitro meat really a way to overcome animal exploitation? What is the rationale behind investing large resources for the development and commercialization of in-vitro meat instead of distributing more information around plant-based food and investing in ways of rendering it possible worldwide? My contribution aims to disentangle the normative values in which the research and development of in-vitro meat are embedded.

11. John Miller
Being-with Sub-Organisms: Art, Affect and Cultured Flesh.
As tissue culturing technologies continue to advance, it has become increasingly clear that the world is now inhabited by a growing number of entities with an ambiguous relationship to established taxonomic frames. Even before in-vitro meat (IVM) reaches commercial availability, the biomass of animal tissue living outside of conventional bodies has been estimated at several million tons. Ethical debates surrounding IVM’s emergence often focus on its possible environmental and health benefits (reduced carbon emissions and land-use, lower-fat ‘meat’ et cetera), or on the liberation of animals from violent food production practices. Less attention has been paid, however, to how we might categorise and relate to a new generation of ‘sub-organisms’. What does it mean to share the world with so much insentient flesh? Are the ‘semi-living’ themselves (and not just the animals from which they are derived) worthy of ethical consideration? Since the late 1990s, the artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr have been interrogating these (and related) questions in their Tissue Culture and Art Project with installations including Tissue Culture and Art(ificial) Womb (2000), Victimless Leather (2004) and NoArk (2007). Exploring these ‘tissue engineered sculptures’ in relation to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, this paper investigates the role of experimental art in imagining the new ethical terrain demanded by cultured flesh.

2 thoughts on “The Ethics of In-Vitro Flesh and Enhanced Animals

  1. This looks so interesting…I was moved to emotion reading several of the abstracts!!! It’s a bummer the conference may as well be on another planet, for me (I’m in the midwest.)

    Thank you, Dr. Jacobson, for posting! I will now be on the lookout for these philosophers and these issues, because of this post.

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