Ethical implications of the Stem Cell Burger

I am  writing a short piece on the Stem Cell Burger which was unveiled early last month.  The Cultured Beef website is eager to point out the many benefits this technology could have for global research usage and animal ethics.  Opponents are just as quick to point out the possibility of unknown side-effects.

An animated video of how the burgers are grown from cultured cells.

Cultured Beef may change the world- but maybe not in ways people expect.  I’ve jotted down a few of the more extreme implications for Cultured Beef.  I’m not an actual proponent of all these ideas: this is really just a thought experiment for possible ethical issues downstream of culturing just beef.

1)  Eating endangered species.

Why limit ourselves to cows?  If we can string together cow cells grown in culture, why not the cells of a Bald Eagle?  It would be arguably the most American burger possible, and wouldn’t require death or suffering from of our favorite bird of prey.

Bald Eagle Burger is a real band!  The burgers aren't real.  Yet.
Bald Eagle Burger is a real band! The burgers aren’t real. Yet.

2)  Eating extinct species.

With scientists pondering the implications of cloning extinct species, such as the woolly mammoth, why not clone these extinct species into the Cultured Beef pipeline?  I imagine lots of people would be very excited to eat woolly mammoth burgers.

Mammoth ribs, the original family meal.
Mammoth ribs, the original family meal.

3)  Eating people.

Cannibalism is one of those taboos that people love to joke about, but when push comes to shove, few in our modern society would seriously consider.  But what if there was a meat you could buy that came from people, without anyone being hurt or killed?  And we aren’t just limited to eating any old person.  Cultured cells of celebrities, dead and living.  Bill Clinton hot dogs.  Miley Cyrus patties.  American celebrity culture is ready.

Forget energy drinks, stem cell burgers could be the next big endorsement.

4)  Eating ourselves.

Why stop at eating other people?  We could custom-sell Cultured Beef to be made from an individual customer’s cells.  Depending on the source of broth nutrients, this could be an entirely new movement in veganism.  No more annoying jokes about murdering vegetables.  I’m 100% self-supporting, subsisting on only genuine Me-burgers grown in bacterial broth.

Note that I don’t condone cannibalism, or Miley Cyrus, and I think that Cultured Beef is a great idea.  What about you?  If you could culture an organism’s cells and eat them, what would you pick and why?


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