At a Labor Day party earlier this month, I was among the lucky guests filling a plate with an array of tasty picnic food ranging from the traditional cook out items to exotic salads and fruits, all washed down with a blueberry martini. (NO, I do not have the recipe.) Food represents many things in our culture and expresses values in subtle ways – and not so subtle ways. Bidding farewell to summer and enjoying the blessings of some great local produce, I noted that the centerpiece of my meal was a thick grilled hamburger. Unless otherwise stated, it is presumed to be made of beef. And I had to wonder: will burgers like this one become scarce in my lifetime? With the recent production of meat grown from bovine stem cells, there is speculation that lab-grown meat product will someday replace animal meat as a primary food source. It seems important to consider what is, um, at stake for consumers, for science, and the evolving culture of lab grown food.
As for this new use of stem cell technology, I think we need to question whether or not this was the best use of resources. At an estimated cost of over $300k, it was terribly expensive to create, but many new technologies come at a price. This Petri dish patty was reported to not taste very good, a shortcoming blamed on the absence of fat in this manufactured patty. However, it was deemed safe to eat and as far as I know, none of the taste testers became ill from ingesting the “schmeat.” Engineered beef might find a welcome in areas where there is mistrust about food safety and where food supply for meat products is limited. Yet, refrigeration needs may still prove a formidable barrier even if cost of manufacture and shipping could be assured.
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