Better than roadkill

It's kind of strange when suddenly there are a lot of articles on growing meat in a vat (it's probably because there was a recent conference in Norway on the topic). Even we posted on it last week and today the New York Times tells us that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - scientists excepted), the militant and sometimes violent animal rights group, is offering a $1 million prize for the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012":

Jason Matheny, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University who formed New Harvest, said the idea of a prize for researchers was promising. Citing the example of the Ansari X Prize, a competition that produced the first privately financed human spacecraft, Mr. Matheny said, "they inspire more dollars spent on a research problem than the prize represents."

A founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, said she had been hoping to get the organization involved in advancing in vitro meat technology for at least a decade.

But, Ms. Newkirk said, the decision to sponsor a prize caused "a near civil war in our office," since so many PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, even if no animals are killed.

Lisa Lange, a vice president of the organization, said she was part of the heated exchange. "My main concern is, as the largest animal rights organization in the world, it's our job to introduce the philosophy and hammer it home that animals are not ours to eat." Ms. Lange added, "I remember saying I would be much more comfortable promoting eating roadkill." (New York Times; hat tip Boingboing)

Most observers think the deadline of 2012 is not achievable. The technical barriers are too great. Some scientists quoted in the Times article thought this was not primarily an animal rights issue anyway but more a public health and environmental issue. Nobody in the scientific community, at least those working at the bench, want to make common cause with PETA.

I will say, for my part, that the public health and environmental issues are important but so are the animal welfare issues. Along with philosopher Peter Singer I don't believe animals have rights but I do believe they have interests, and not to be treated cruelly is certainly one of them. Should we get to the point where the foodstuff we call meat can be produced in ways that don't involve raising and killing sentient animals I will be glad. I like eat and I eat it but I am not happy about it. And if we ever get to that point I also expect people will look back on the gigantic industrial killing machines we call meatpacking houses and wonder what kind of people we were, just as we look back on slave holders as somewhat less than human.

When and if that day comes. I don't expect it to be by 2012.

More like this

Hmmm. Apart from the logistical problems, why would someone NOT eat roadkill? Is it somehow more respectful of the animal you've just killed to leave it sitting there to get picked apart by coyotes or ground into the pavement?

Ewww--odd topic. Will they start out small, like, say... rat in a vat? Will this be meat that will self-marinate when it cooks, with, perhaps, fat in a vat?
All sorts of Dr. Seuss-ian animals come to mind.
Yes, I know this is serious science, but I just can't help but expand on these things when subjects like this come up. And, yes, I believe in non-cruel methods of raising meat animals, and yes, we've even signed up with the local sheriff department to be put on their roadkill deer list. (Lest you be worried, nothing that has to be scraped off the road with a spatula. Just dead.) Thanks for this side-trip onto an unusual topic. AnnieRN

AnnieRN - Once the intestines and stomach explode on impact and the contents of each are splattered about within the body, roadkill just doesn't seem appetizing to me.

Revere you like meat, you eat meat but you are not happy about it? Which part, sad because you like it, sad because you eat it, or both? Dinner at your house must be a miserable affair indeed. Also the animals that we raise for the table don't really KNOW they are destined for a honored place between the peas and carrots and potatoes. If they did know I would imagine the steer that I raise would stop gorging themselves on all the hay and oats I give them, and God forbid if I'm late feeding them, the racket and bellowing. Basically all they know is they are hungry and by the way, they are hungry all the time.

By pauls lane (not verified) on 22 Apr 2008 #permalink

up here in Minnesota people DO eat roadkill... they also have been known to raid dumpsters back of custom butcher shops for organ meats... yeah, you just really needed to know this, didn't you?

I'm posting anonymously because...

Not only do I eat meat, but years ago one of my clients was the main location in my state where thousands of lab animals are raised for the state health department's research activities. First time on that site, the guy in charge told me I needed to keep the location secret due to the risk of vandalism & sabotage. I gave him my word on that, and this posting (many years later) is the first time I've mentioned that client outside of my company.

That being said, I do believe animals have not only interests but rights as well.

And, long story short, this is the first thing I've seen from PETA that is a responsible, respectable, and fully supportable action.

About the rights of animals:

They have brains. And the cutting edge of theory in cognitive science (David Chalmers) says that it doesn't take a particularly large or complex brain to support consciousness. And we know from a paper published recently in PLoS, that even fruit flies demonstrate behavior that is measurably consistent with free will.

We as humans have an interesting paradox. We are predator animals that prey upon other animals as part of our food supply. This is part of our nature, and part of our natural relationship with the ecosystem at-large. And yet we can reasonably surmise that, at very least, *some* of the animals we eat, have minds that are similar to our own in important ways: such as the ability to feel pain, to anticipate death, to form long-lasting exclusive mating relationships, and to care for their offspring.

All other factors equal, if there is a way that we can produce the meat we eat without inflicting cruelty on animals, that should be done. Humane slaughter, if truly humane, is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is only a first step in ackowledging the moral paradox and the responsibility that goes along with our meat eating. The destination of that path is to have meat without causing pain to animals.

And although we can at present justify killing animals out of need for meat, and by extension out of needs arising in scientific and medical research, there is never, ever, ever, ANY possible justification for inflicting cruelty as an end in itself, unrelated to our legitimate needs. Those who inflict cruelty upon others *as an end in itself* are the definition of evil.

We have it within our grasp, perhaps not as soon as 2012 but almost certainly within our lifetimes, to produce meat without need of harming animals. We have the theoretical knowledge right now to begin, and there is no good reason not to do so.

As for PETA:

They have shot themselves in their own feet time and again by taking actions that strike most people as violent. They have as a result, lost any legitmacy in the eyes of even most of us who agree with some or all of what they stand for. That's a sad thing just as it is any time when the antics of protesters detract from the message they are trying to convey.

So here we have a chance for PETA to turn themselves around, and gain a fully legitimate and fully acceptable role in the public policy decisions they are so keen to influence. This is to be encouraged and supported thoroughly, though not unconditionally. The scientific community needs to step up to the plate here, and the reasonable way to do it is to say "we will take you up on your offer and we will engage fully, we will work hard for these goals, and we will not flinch from standing up for our relationship with you, *so long as* you refrain from conducting any unlawful activities beyond the level of peaceful sit-ins in the best traditions of nonviolent protest."

And then it's time to engage, and time to get to work.

Who knows, we might even have something by 2012 that could with more work be turned into a viable product. It's certainly worth trying.

I still need to see the math on cultured meat. What are the energy inputs and how much waste is generated? Is it actually more efficient than raising livestock?

Consciousness in animals, no.
Instinct, yes.

Lea: Do you mean to say humans are the only animal that exhibits anything we would call consciousness? Pretty strong statement.

What interests do animals have besides, eating, defecating, urinating, and mating? Rights? The only rights animals have is the rights we (humans) give them. They have a right not to be treated cruelly. That is it. End of the Animal Bill of Rights. Fruit flies, free will? Well I am certainly glad that the great Creator in His infinite wisdom only gave fruit flies free will for 24 hours or so. Feeling pain is more a survival trait than proof of a higher consciousness. Ohhh that smarts, won't do that again!
I agree with Lea.

By pauls lane (not verified) on 23 Apr 2008 #permalink

Lea, since you made an absolute statement, it's not hard to make a fool out of you with a single counterexample:

Language learning in chimpanzees, who are considered by most primate researchers to have intelligence equivalent to 4-year-old humans.

But of course there are others where that came from. Behavior in cattle, chickens, and other food critters that is identical to what would be expected if the individual was feeling terror, upon watching their cohorts get slaughtered. Behavior in dogs living among humans, that demonstrates an exquisite degree of social intelligence. That's just off the top of my head. And in order for you to deny that each of those instances involves some degree of self-awareness, you have to cook up a black box full of "entities" that would make Occam spin in his grave.

As an ethical matter, shame on you, no doubt you would have said the same thing about "Negroes" back in the day when they were used as work-animals. Very convenient when your own self interest is at stake.


Pauls, your statement was practically a direct quote from a racist line about black folks, uttered by a former member of a former president's administration on an airplane flight and overheard by other passengers leading to much disgrace when it hit the news. The memorable phrase in which line was "...and a place to hang their hats for the night..."


And for anyone here who doesn't think humans are driven by instincts, take a very close look at the population growth curve and the various graphs relating to human impact on climate. "Really ought to know better" doesn't even begin to cover that topic.


Fruit flies and free will: Here's the citation for you:…

You may have to cut & paste that into your browser, depending on what this site does with the URL. And it would be interesting to discuss methodology. Personally I think the tests they came up with were, as I said when I read the paper, "hella' clever."


I am frankly shocked at the tone of the Lea and Pauls reactions.

I did after all say in my posting that I eat meat (with great joy, if anyone wants to know) and that I had no qualms providing technical services to a lab that is known as "the mouse farm" and raises critters for experiments. You'll have to trust me that I'm not a secret member of PETA or anything like that.

And here's what's shocking:

On a site where the mean IQ of participants is probably at least two standard deviations above population mean, the inability of some people to live with ethical paradox is amazing (and frankly sad). Keyword search "Keatsian negative capability."

The ethical paradox is that we a) are predatory animals who by nature eat meat, and by extension of this, use animals in scientific & medical research, but b) have more than sufficient information to recognize that animals are "like us" in important ways.

And to my mind the way to resolve that paradox is to a) take all reasonable steps for the humane treatment of animals we use for food and for research, including humane slaughter, and b) take all reasonable steps to seek alternatives where available, including research toward producing artificial meat and similar tissue for research.

Eating meat and using animals in research is not in itself an ethical/moral transgression. Inflicting arbitrary and superfluous suffering is. And denying inconvenient truths is as well.

Anon pardon my ignorance, but I would have assumed that those with remarkably high IQs would be just a little unwilling to compare the 'lower' animals with human beings, expecially a specific race of human beings as you have done. Congratulations Anon, of course now we know why you posted as anon.
I cannot believe I've (and Lea too) been accused of being a racist because of my earlier posts on animals. Nice going Anon, quite the way to spin an argument. You compare animals with Negroes and then call others racists.
Where did you learn that form of debate? Progressive 101?

By pauls lane (not verified) on 23 Apr 2008 #permalink

pauls: I think anon's point was pretty clear and the comparison of racial groups with animals is a classic right wing tactic, historically and through to today. More importantly, I don't think you really answered the points about primates, domestic animals, cattle, etc., etc., the question of form of argument aside. I think we have just as much reason to think many animals are sentient beings (not all animals, necessarily) as we do of other human beings being sentient.

The memorable phrase in which line was "...and a place to hang their hats for the night..."

I remember the quote in question, from Earl Butz, word for word (I'll reproduce it on demand though it's quite rude), and the above is *not* the peroration.

With regard to cultured meat, there is a science fiction short story in which a "meatbeast" is described: a big brainless, nerveless genetically engineered lump that sits in the basement and eats the organic trash from the household. Periodically someone goes downstairs and carves off a few steaks.

I believe the credit for that coinage goes to Paul di Filippo.


Ouch anon! Could you please be a little more hateful? Such a predictable cycle of destructive behavior.
Amazing that people who live and breath by their level of intelligence can fall to such an arrogant low.

Such assumptions and remarks over anothers opinion. Indeed sad that you've chosen to integrate a beautiful race into your inflammatory remarks.
Proper behavior dictates that one would respond otherwise, guess you missed the memo.

To answer your question revere, I dont believe humans are animals. It was a spiritual response, one that you dont care to hear nor will I attempt to explain.

If youre trying to eliminate certain posters on your site please have the good character to politely and humbly state so. Otherwise ...

I've found myself grappling with this particular issue as well. I am willing to eat meat, and am also willing to consider animals may be sentient beings. I can't say that I've come to a reasonable conclusion for this particular paradox as I don't believe that the ability to hold my thoughts in a state of cognitive dissonance really counts as a conclusion...

I find it very difficult to discount all animals as solely instinctual beings. Some may consider this simply a basic case of animorphism (projecting my thoughts onto another being), but I don't believe that is the case. Take language, for example... Just because I can't understand the way my cat communicates doesn't mean that she isn't trying to communicate with me. Heck, I knew a particular researcher who was looking into dolphin communication, and had actually identified different sounds and the meaning of those different sounds (i.e. language). I would think that language is a fairly strong argument for at least some sense of consciousness.

Lea: You've been around here long enough to know I am not purposely trying to eliminate you or others from the site. I am frankly surprised by your response about humans not being animals because I had no hint that was your position. Of course it cannot be argued. You don't believe humans are animals and that's the end of that. It is not up for discussion. However you didn't say that. As for your response being spiritual, I think many people who are also spiritual would not agree with you regarding animals also being sentient, other matters aside. Obviously you have no pets. What would be the point? You could just as easily have a mechanical doll. But lots of us do have companion animals, even people who are spiritual (which I am not).

We are not worthy of eating animals, as most of us are no better than animals ourselves, so our elite say'eth. Animals should be reserved for sacrifice to the Gods, as in the Old Testament. The Gods today being our elite class. They will eat meat, we will get what comes from the vat.

That said, much as I like real meat, knowing how the animals from which that meat are treated is kind of sobering. The question I have, is how much of that suffering is due to pure greed, and how much is due to necessity meeting demand. I suspect it's the former.

Much of what we are lead to believe is simply not true. This current food shortage is certainly induced by agri-business cartels, who like their Big Oil counterparts, have intentionally limited supply by means such as reducing refinery capacity and food stocks, that were meant to meet demand when there were shortages due to crop failures, brought on by mother nature. Net result is higher prices, bigger profits. Too bad some people have to starve or freeze as a result, or go broke.

I believe in Free Markets and deregulation, but only when there is competition in the market. When the markets are controlled by cartels and monopolies, then regulation is required, or the cartels need to be broken up.

It is sobering to know that the FTC, which was set up during the Wilson era, was founded out of a concern for large corporations being subjected to unfair trading practices, by smaller competitors who sold the same products at lower prices, thereby reducing the industries profits. In those days, we had no inflation, since the Fed had not existed until 1913, about the same time as the FTC and Income Tax were given to us.

In the 60's, the FTC did a study, and found that when less than 60% of an industry were controlled by the top 4-5 companies, prices would be lower by 25%. In other words, the more competition, the lower the price. They really have a concern about lower prices brought on by the evils of competition.

All capitalists detest competition of course, so we have deregulation and markets largely devoid of competition, and allow such inhumane practices as our animal factory farms. And we have done globalized it. Mussolini called it corporatism, another name for fascism.

Darn revere, well Ive learned my lesson. I have a business trip this weekend in Denver, leaving tomorrow.
I should know better than to respond when Im busy preparing for a trip. Id love to discuss this issue further but instead will let it fall away with these last few scribbled words.

Do appreciate your clarification in your last comment, although it still carries a mean streak.
Remember? mean people suck.
You judge me and others based on your own experiences.

Do believe humans can and do act like animals but are NOT animals.
I wont disagree that animals cant experience suffering however that does not imply they have consciousness.
Just to clarify, Ive had two dogs, the last one died 12 years ago and I still have a picture of him on my dresser. Havent gotten another dog because of the emotional pain over his translation. I also rescued an abused pet rabbit and spoiled it for the remainder of her years. The frakking owners didnt even name her, I named her Hey Bunny. I had a pet turtle as a child, and two parakeets, one named Elvis and the other named Sally. Ive had cats too, my favorite was a jet black cat named Panther.

Appreciate and read your response Tasha.
Pft, very sad the direction the american public is being led in. Important topic too. Too bad its gone this far.

Revere, you said

And if we ever get to that point I also expect people will look back on the gigantic industrial killing machines we call meatpacking houses and wonder what kind of people we were, just as we look back on slave holders as somewhat less than human.

With the world population as high as it is, what choice do we have? The First world can't stuff its fat face fast enough, and the third world is lucky if they get one meal a day. It is a sick old world!

The reason I posted as Anon is to preserve confidentiality re. a client relationship involving a "mouse farm" that breeds lab animals by the tens of thousands. That relationship was years ago but I am not going to leave any footprints that might be used by a sufficiently interested person to track them down. I could have been dishonest about it and made up a plausible psuedonym, or even a less-obvious userID. In any case, ideas stand or fall on their own merits regardless of the identity of the person advocating for them.

The point of the racial comparison is this:

One of the rationalizations for slavery was that black people were "animals" and did not have human consciousness. Read your history, it's all there in the pro-slavery arguements. It will make you sick to your stomach.

Denying that another living entity has consciousness is one of those propositions that can be asserted in such a manner that is almost impossible to disprove, and having done so, the next step is to inflict all manner of obscene cruelties upon the living entity so described.

It's a rationalization often used by groups of humans who wish to exploit other humans mercilessly for economic gain or even kill them for sport.


I am not a right winger. In point of fact I'm a progressive libertarian with a green streak eight miles wide, and pretty well agree with PFT above on many of these points.

As for the cartels, you might be interested to know that there was recently a large slaughter of hogs in Canada for the express purpose of keeping them off the market to keep the price of pork up.

The current goings-on with oil prices and food prices though, are direct and indirect effects of peak oil. We have passed the peak, welcome to this new world of ours. And this is easy stuff compared to what happens when CO2 levels go up another handful of parts per million. Tick... tick.. tick...


As for Lea's "spiritual" belief that humans are not animals, combined with skepticism that animals have consciousness: what an odd paradox for someone who was emotionally attached to the animals in their own family. And I'll stick my neck out and say that the idea that "humans are not animals," if you use the definitions of "animals" that are used in biology, is simply wrong, like asserting that the Moon is made of green cheese. And if you try to torture the definitions so they fit the assertion, that is no better.

Back to PFT here: one place I'll differ is with respect to who gets what meat. At first, vat-meat will be kinda' nasty stuff and no doubt foisted on those too poor to object to anything that provides nutrients and doesn't involve cannibalism. After a while it will be much better than "real" meat: no lumps of fat, no gristle, no sharp bones in unexpected places. We forget that "machine-made" has often been a blessing, starting with "interchangeable parts" and extending also into our food supply. Up to a point of course, and not too far beyond.

Anyway, "vat-meat"' will soon enough be better than "the real thing," and then we will see quality control standards for the latter begin to evaporate, and then the poor will be fed the worst of the "real" stuff.

The wealthy will still be able to choose. And some will choose "real meat," and so be it. At which point we can hope that the "real meat" produced for the wealthy will for its hefty price tag also have been raised humanely and slaughtered as humanely as possible.

Personally I'll take vat meat as soon as it's demonstrated safe to eat.

Please revere, you haven't responded to any of my comments on any topic in a month or so, and you choose this one? And defending anon? You and anon compared the 'quandry' of animals with human slavery. Anon compares my opinion of animal interests/rights to an Earl Butz derogatory quote about black people? And anon is SHOCKED at my reaction to his/her original comment? That, as we say, takes the cake! You both are using the PETA tatics that you state you abhor. To even suggest what Lea or I would have thought about slavery or black folks in the 18th or 19th centuries is outrageous. And anon's explanation does not even come close to explaining his audacity in leveling those charges at either of us.
For the record. I raise meat. I believe humans are animals. Animals eat other animals. We just happen to be at the top of the food chain. Sorry for the luck of the other speciecs of animals and plants that populate this planet. I went turkey hunting this very morning, and a tom turkey made a complete fool out of me by doubling back not once but twice, so I know certain animals are intelligent or just damn lucky. (I certainly hope my lack of success this morning is not a reflection on my intelligence - although my hunting buddies seem to think so). In addition, I will not raise pigs/hogs for slaughter because of, in my opinion, their intelligence. Cattle though are a different story.

By pauls lane (not verified) on 24 Apr 2008 #permalink

pauls: I have responded to very few people as I am dealing with some family issues (and I often don't respond to comments anyway as I have very little time to spare). I wasn't referring to you on the slavery issue but rather making a general comment about how history will see us. Maybe I'm wrong, but they would tar me with the same brush as you and I'd deserve it if it comes to pass as I suggest. I think that you took anon's remarks in a narrower way than they were meant. I think he/she was making the same kind of more general statement as I was about slavery, but again I could be wrong. That's just how I read it, but I am reading stuff very quickly these days while I attend to more difficult personal business.

PFT you said, "That said, much as I like real meat, knowing how the animals from which that meat are treated is kind of sobering. The question I have, is how much of that suffering is due to pure greed, and how much is due to necessity meeting demand. I suspect it's the former."

I have a solution for you PFT. Buy your beef from me. I'll sell you an entire steer and you will know the animal was not mistreated, never fed or injected with any chemical, fed on natures own grains (oats mostly) and hay and green grass and drink fresh mountain water. These steer have a barn to flee to saftey when mother nature lets loose with her nastiest weather. They have a pasture where they can frolick in the sun. (Although truth be told, cattle seldom frolick - they might chase each other around once in awhile but that is the extent of it - mostly they just eat and when they are not eating they are still eating). These steer are treated with the utmost respect, well except for the occasional verbal abuse tossed their way such as, "Can't you wait, you big oaf?", as the steer in question pushes against the stall gate as you are trying to lay some oats in or, "Jeez I can't wait to see you next to the mashed potatoes." Thats about as rough as it gets around here with the animals.

By pauls lane (not verified) on 24 Apr 2008 #permalink

Pauls: "In addition, I will not raise pigs/hogs for slaughter because of, in my opinion, their intelligence. Cattle though are a different story."

In 1984-7 I had involved with a project of Mars Inc. (M & M's, chocolate) which was developing the feed for shrimp and fish. (The feed will not be melt in the water, but in the gut of fish) The proposition of this project was based on what we have felt that our consumption on the cold- blooded animals produced in the water is less guilty on the consumption of warm-blooded animals like cattle and pig.

For nutritional consideration and energy in food web, aquatic animals indeed are more favorable than terrestrial ones. But the shift of eating habit is not a one day job. It would take several decades to adjust the consumption and production program.

Perhaps you know that the price of rice has been jumped more than 50% over last four months in Asia, one of the reason that people accuse is the conversion of rice land into fuel-oriented plant such as palm oil plantation.

Now, the concern of guilty perhaps is less than the concern of hunger for human beings in the foreseen future. Alarming!

Annon said: "As for Lea's "spiritual" belief that humans are not animals, combined with skepticism that animals have consciousness: what an odd paradox for someone who was emotionally attached to the animals in their own family. And I'll stick my neck out and say that the idea that "humans are not animals," if you use the definitions of "animals" that are used in biology, is simply wrong, like asserting that the Moon is made of green cheese. And if you try to torture the definitions so they fit the assertion, that is no better. "


It is a big topic, next few days there is a conference talking about "What makes us human". We can go visiting the site and continuing this discussion. Paleontology, Anthropology, and new discovery in human evolution, etc., plus our common sense knowledge are responding to this quest. Interesting!

Hope all is well Revere......


By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 26 Apr 2008 #permalink

I DITTO that Randy.

I have to side with Lea and Pauls Lane.

The point was brought home to me last night when I was watching the most amazing dog trainer on Foxtel. The Trainers name escapes me for now. The dog trainer goes into homes where the dogs are biting, peeing, behaving badly, not to train the dog so much, but to train the dog owners. The dog trainer teaches the owners about the instinctual behavior that their dog or dogs are exhibiting. The owners, by the end of the program, became the pack leaders in the home.

I am sure that all animals exhibit instinctual behavior, it is up to we humans to find out what that instinctual behavior is, and how to change the behavior of our animals.

I am also sure that animals have feelings, but I don't equate those feeling to be on an equal level to my own.

Giving human emotion and feelings to any animal is a recipe for disaster.

Victoria, that took a lot of guts to proclaim to all that you side with me on an issue. I know this much, anon's talk about chimps having the intelligence of 4 year old humans - I have my doubts - but even if it is true, that chimp may reach 40 years old, but still have the so called intelligence of a 4 year old human. An average 4 year old human will probably have the intelligence of an average 40 year old human when he/she reaches 40 years old. Plus I don't know how much work, I imagine a great deal, goes into 'teaching' a chimp to reach that 4 year old human intelligence level. As for the average 4 year old human to reach that level, basically they just have to reach the 4 year old mark.

By pauls lane (not verified) on 27 Apr 2008 #permalink

Pauls Lane - it did not take guts - this is supposed to be an intellectual discussion. I agreed with your point of view.

I believe, that one of the fundamental rights given to all Americans is the right to free speech. I also believe that some people on this blog practice censorship through intimidation and humiliation. It is entirely unnecessary. When I read something that I find objectionable, it is incumbent upon me to politely put an alternative point of view. Humiliation only alienates, it is not inclusive.