Res Publica

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 249–265 | Cite as

Chewing Over In Vitro Meat: Animal Ethics, Cannibalism and Social Progress

  • Josh MilburnEmail author
Winner of the PG Essay Prize


Despite its potential for radically reducing the harm inflicted on nonhuman animals in the pursuit of food, there are a number of objections grounded in animal ethics to the development of in vitro meat. In this paper, I defend the possibility against three such concerns. I suggest that worries about reinforcing ideas of flesh as food and worries about the use of nonhuman animals in the production of in vitro meat can be overcome through appropriate safeguards and a fuller understanding of the interests that nonhuman animals actually possess. Worries about the technology reifying speciesist hierarchies of value are more troublesome, however. In response to this final challenge, I suggest that we should be open not just to the production of in vitro nonhuman flesh, but also in vitro human flesh. This leads to a consideration of the ethics of cannibalism. The paper ultimately defends the position that cannibalism simpliciter is not morally problematic, though a great many practices typically associated with it are. The consumption of in vitro human flesh, however, is able to avoid these problematic practices, and so should be considered permissible. I conclude that animal ethicists and vegans should be willing to cautiously embrace the production of in vitro flesh.


In vitro meat Cannibalism Animal ethics Animal rights Food ethics Veganism 



This paper was written while I was reading for a doctorate in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast, funded by the Department of Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland. Special thanks are owed to my supervisors, David Archard and Jeremy Watkins. I would also like to thank the participants at a Queen’s University Belfast ethics reading group session—Cillian McBride, Tom Walker, Peter Schaber, Jeremy Watkins, Fabian Schuppert, Paddy McQueen, Hanhui Xu, Jamie Day and Andrew R. Thompson—for a lively discussion and some very helpful comments, and the editors and reviewers at Res Publica for selecting this paper and offering valuable suggestions. My thanks also go to David Archard and Jan Deckers for their comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Politics, International Studies and PhilosophyQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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