A moral dilemma(?)

There are numerous objections to in vitro meat, both from animal welfare activists and from the meat industry. Most these objections are the result of misconceptions and can be easily refuted by providing correct information. However, some objections are of a more philosophical nature, and are hence harder to refute.

One of the ethical arguments in favor of cultured meat is that in vitro meat will reduce or even eliminate animal suffering. Since the meat is grown ex vivo, no animal needs to be killed for our consumption.

The counter argument, raised by some, is as follows. Since cultured meat does not require animals, no animals will get a chance to have a live. Hence, according to the those who bring this up, cultured meat is not as animal-friendly as is proposed.

We can, however, raise two issues with this line of reasoning. The first one is a factual thing, the second is an ethical one.

First of all, though cultured meat does not require to kill animals, they are still needed as stem cell donors. Thus in vitro meat does not mean no animals are needed, though much less are required as one stem cell could produce up to 10,000 kg of meat.

Secondly, we should wonder what is preferable: having no life at all, or to live in a factory farm? Without cultured meat, factory farming is the only method to meet the current demand for meat. And it is generally accepted that factory farming is horrible. Not only is life in factory farms inhumane, it is also short. Very short in some cases.

The hidden assumption behind this line of reasoning is that it is always better to live than not to live. However, this is far from obvious.

South-African philosopher David Benatar has argued that non-existence is preferable to a live full of suffering. In his view we have a moral obligation to prevent such lives. Though Benatar has presented his argument within the context of human anti-natalism, it also applies to non-human animals.

In this light cultured meat is morally preferable to factory farming, as it prevents the coming into existence of animals bound to live a horrible life.


Benatar, David. Better Never To Have Been. The Harm Of Coming Into Existence. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.