, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 513–534 | Cite as

Meat cultures: Lab-grown meat and the politics of contamination

  • Andy MurrayEmail author
Original Article


The prospect of lab-grown meat has attracted a lot of attention. The peak of this attention occurred after the public tasting of the first ‘lab-grown burger’ in August 2013. However, the discourse surrounding lab-grown meat is limited, and largely shaped by the technology’s proponents. This limited narrative restricts the potential for public discussions and debates about the details of lab-grown meat’s development. Such restrictions clash with lab-grown meat proponents’ stated goal of openness and complicate some of their ethical claims. To begin to overcome these restrictions, this paper introduces contamination as a method that brings important excluded elements to bear on narratives of technological development, particularly those that emphasize biological immanence and plasticity. Reading proponent’s narrative alongside related discourses – the industrialization of agriculture, the biomedical history of cell culture, and the work of bioartists and science fiction writers – reveals systematically excluded contaminants that could threaten the technology’s viability. The nature of these contaminants is both material (e.g., microorganisms, fetal bovine serum) and semiotic (e.g., associations with factory farming and fictional dystopias), revealing the usefulness of contamination as a tactic that both encourages paying attention to the ways in which discourse and matter coshape each other and broadens the scope of consideration and discussion around technological development.


lab-grown/cultured meat cell culture biotechnology ethical biocapital animal agriculture biological plasticity 



The author wishes to thank both Jenny Reardon and Julie Guthman for feedback on multiple drafts of this article, as well as Jonathan L. Clark for providing the article's initial inspiration. The author also wishes to thank Oron Catts for the included image of his artwork, as well as three anonymous reviewers for their comments and recommendations. This article is composed of original material. It is not under review elsewhere, and the research has been subjected to appropriate ethical review. The author has no competing interests that might interfere with the research.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)Santa CruzUSA

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