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The Ethics of In Vitro Flesh and Enhanced Animals

The consumption of animal products has received increasing bioethical scrutiny for a number of reasons. These include rising levels of obesity, environmental degradation, climate change, zoonotic disease, and moral concerns with the treatment of animals. A novel technology that is being developed, partly to address some of these concerns, is the production of “in vitro flesh” or “cultured flesh,” which relies on the isolation of animals’ stem cells and their stimulation into growth in laboratories. This project has already led to the creation of the world’s first in vitro burger, eaten in London on August 5, 2013.

Other methods to reduce some of these concerns rely on the modification of farmed animals, either by means of conventional or new (genetic) breeding technologies. For example, some animals have been created with reduced capacities to experience pain, including blind chickens, and various novel technologies are being used to create animals with particular benefits, for example reduced levels of saturated fats, that could be beneficial for the human beings who consume them.

What the creation of animals with reduced sentience and the production of lab-grown flesh have in common is that they may reduce a range of animal welfare concerns associated with the consumption of animal products. However, not all moral concerns may be resolved with these developments.

This conference, sponsored the Wellcome Trust, will bring together a number of scholars working on the ethical and legal dimensions of these new developments.

  • What Two-day conference (with optional pre- and post-conference activities)
  • When Thursday and Friday, September 18 and 19, 2014
  • Where Rothbury Golf Club, Rothbury, Northumberland, England
  • Cost £30 (includes dinner Thursday, lunch/refreshments Thursday and Friday)
  • Registration Please register via Newcastle University by August 1, 2014
  • More Information Jan DeckersJacqueline McAloon (lodging and dietary assistance)

Key Questions

  1. What are the ethical issues associated with the creation of “cultured flesh” and flesh from animals with “enhanced” properties, including reduced capacities for sentience and increased nutritional benefits?
  2. How do we assess the costs and benefits of these technological developments?
  3. Are there any alternatives that could be developed to provide the benefits that may be associated with these biomedical technologies and, if so, might these be preferable?

The full program is yet to be finalized and will be announced in due course. Speakers include:

  • Bernice Bovenkerk
    Ethics Institute, Utrecht University
  • Amanda Cawston
    Faculty of Philosophy and Downing College, University of Cambridge
  • Jan Deckers
    School of Medical Sciences Education Development, Newcastle University
  • Clemens Driessen
    Department of Communication, Philosophy and Technology, Wageningen University
  • Clare McCausland
    Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne
  • Cor van der Weele
    Department of Communication, Philosophy and Technology, Wageningen University

If you are interested in participating in an informal, pre-conference meeting for drinks and/or dinner on Wednesday evening, please e-mail Jacqueline McAloon.

While the conference ends on Friday, there is a social program on Saturday for those who wish to extend their stay for fun and informal discussion. Options for activities include: walking (e.g., ascent of Simonside Hills via Lordenshaws); tennis at the Rothbury Lawn Tennis Club; coffee at various coffee shops or art galleries. Feel free to contact Jan Deckers to discuss.

Please note that, for administrative reasons, it is not possible to register for part of the conference.