If lab-grown meat were the norm on supermarket shelves, vegetarians would have a strong argument for legislation banning the slaughter of animals for food.
It is possible that by the end of this year Heston Blumenthal will have cooked the first lab-grown burger for human consumption.
The prospect of 'In vitro' meat has grown over recent years but in 2010 The Vegetarian Society Supporters Conference voted against the motion "In vitro meat - is it the future of food?".
A statement from the society ends: "Alongside all of these technical issues, the biggest question for many vegetarians is why? Why go to this much trouble and expense to replace a foodstuff that we simply do not need? Wouldn't it be simpler, cheaper and more sustainable to just stop eating meat altogether?"
When I spoke to Su Taylor of the Society she told me: "There's never going to be one opinion because people become vegetarians for different reasons.
"More environmental vegetarians will think "great", but none of the factory processes have been looked at yet.
"Others are vegetarian out of respect for animals but some of the methods still use animal cells. And there will also be an issue of testing on animals.
"Also if they're going to create something that's like [animal] but not from animals how do you differentiate between the two if there's still farming going on? It's about labelling," she said.
A host of unknowns remain about the environmental impact, cost effectiveness, legal position, health consequences, food safety, public reaction etc. But were in vitro meat on the supermarket shelf to become a reality, it could be beneficial for animal welfare.
The Society's statement poses the question: "Wouldn't it be simpler, cheaper and more sustainable to just stop eating meat altogether?"
On paper the answer may or may not be "yes" but winning that argument with the world's population will at best be slow, at worst impossible.
However, were in vitro meat to become the norm in our groceries, it could drive the price of cattle meat up to such an extent that it would become marginalized (and perhaps the preserve of the wealthy), and if this happened the argument for outlawing slaughter for food altogether would be a strong one to put to a government.
Attitudes would change, but the majority of the population would not need to care more about animal welfare to support such legislation anyway - since such legislation would not impact on their lives.
There is a view held by some moral philosophers that people will look back on the slaughter of animals for food as a stage in moral development as we may look at, say, slavery today - a social norm at the time that is abhorrent to later generations - but by what process this progression may come is an open question. It could be that food shortage itself will do the job, but it could be that in vitro meat does so without the same hardships.
We shall have to wait and see whether the road of in vitro meat does indeed lead to the supermarket shelves, and what winding path it might take. There is also the possibility that synthetic meat, created from vegetable matter, will get there first. But it may be that in vitro meat leads to an ethical revolution.
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