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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Is it moral to eat Bald Eagle meat that was grown in a lab?

Is it safe to assume that any moral problem with eating meat comes from animal killing? If you remove the killing, and the harm it causes the animal, the moral problem goes away, right? Not necessarily.

 

The prospect of lab-grown meat separates two activities that have been inextricably linked for virtually all of human history: Eating meat has always required animal killing. But with the development of lab-grown meat, these two activities can be separated, and the morality of each activity assessed on its own.

Now, we can think about eating animals without killing them, opening up a whole realm of previously taboo possibilities. Why stop with chickens? Why not develop cultured meat from all sorts of exotic animals? Thanksgiving tiger? Christmas chimpanzee? Fourth of July bald eagle? What about extinct animals like the woolly mammoth, passenger pigeon, or dodo bird? Using scientific techniques like cloning and gene editing, scientists may be able to bring these animals back from extinction within the next several years, meaning we might finally be able to go on an authentic Paleo diet.

But is it safe to assume that any moral problem with eating meat comes from animal killing? If you remove the killing, and the harm it causes the animal, the moral problem goes away, right? Not necessarily…

The most prominent ethical argument against eating animal meat comes from the philosopher Peter Singer. In his highly influential 1975 book Animal Liberation, Singer argues against eating meat because it requires animal suffering and, he says, we ought to care about the suffering of animals for the same reason we ought to care about the suffering of people. Both animals and humans have certain capacities—for pleasure and pain—that matter morally…

It follows from Singer’s argument that we ought to be vegan, or at least vegetarian, in order to avoid contributing to animal suffering by killing animals for meat. However, insofar as cultured meat doesn’t cause animal suffering, it would seem to be perfectly fine for an “ethical vegan” to eat.

Yet while Singer’s argument is ostensibly about eating, the moral problem he cites is causing animal suffering (more specifically, “frustrating its preferences not to suffer”), not the actual eating of the animal. Thus, in Singer’s view, it would not be morally wrong to eat a cow (or a gorilla) that was struck by lightning and died, because we would not have caused it to suffer. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising on its own. But suppose we consider a different “exotic meat”: human…

Cannibalism has a long and complex history, as both a cultural practice and a last resort during times of famine. It is taboo in most cultures, which has been variously attributed to biology and religious influence, and was used to justify colonial expansion. However, distaste toward a practice is not itself a reason to think it immoral…

A slightly different argument, from philosopher Cora Diamond, doesn’t rest on the possession of certain capacities. For Diamond, the reason we don’t eat people is because they are “not something to be eaten.” This isn’t a consequence of persons having certain morally relevant characteristics (e.g., the capacity for suffering)…

Just as our relationships with our pets explains why we treat them as we do, Diamond maintains that we might relate to other animals as “fellow creatures,” which will in turn shape the way that we treat them. She argues that treating animals as fellow creatures is inconsistent with regarding them as mere stages in the production of meat. However, she acknowledges that treating animals with respect and compassion does not necessarily rule out eating them…

How, then, can we apply Diamond’s ideas to the question of eating lab-grown meat?.. Would lab-grown human meat still be something “not to be eaten”? I think the answer to this question depends on how far we are willing to extend the concept “person.” Clearly, lab-grown human meat is not itself a person; we need not treat it as we would a person. Is it a part of one? I don’t think so either…

While our food choices probably have a greater moral component than we typically acknowledge, this moral dimension is embedded in a broader social and cultural context. If nothing else, the possibility of lab-grown meat should encourage us to think carefully about what we choose to chew. SOURCE…

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