I imagined, when first hearing about cultured meat, that one needed only a cell or two from a living animal and that—like a “starter” for sourdough bread—cells from the animal could then divide and reproduce and thereby generate meat in perpetuity. That is, I thought that after initially taking some cells from a living animal, one would not need to return for more animal cells later. As it turns out, I was mistaken.
Contrary to popular belief, cultured meat involves the use and slaughter of animals. The material used to make the hamburgers served in London involved a type of cell removed from cows’ necks at a slaughterhouse and cultured in a medium of fetal calf serum taken from a slaughtered, pregnant cow. The kind of cell that scientists have used to create cultured meat has important practical advantages but cannot reproduce indefinitely, so it would reportedly “never be completely animal-free; . . . [the inventor] will always need a supply of muscle tissue from which to obtain new cells.” If this is so, then “cultured meat” does not offer the promise of an end to animal slaughter and exploitation.
At most, cultured meat offers the possibility that people might pay for the slaughter of many fewer cows than before. Slaughtering fewer animals is an improvement over slaughtering more animals, but it is still slaughtering animals. I therefore have a difficult time seeing the product of that slaughter as an unambiguously positive development, even on its own terms, and I certainly would not consider the product ethical or “cruelty-free.”
This completely ignores the fact that in vitro cells are grown on a substrate called “Fetal Bovine Serum” (FBS) (as detailed in this fact sheet from Maastricht University). Here is an excerpt from an article, “The use of fetal bovine serum: ethical or scientific problem?”. Keep in mind that the description here is derived from less than 4% of FBS…