Animal Instinct: A Pragmatic Manifesto For Synthetic Meat

Synthetic meat is on the rise— and this shouldn't just be big news for vegans. Philosophers and activists agree that closing slaughterhouses is vital for our animals, our planet and ourselves.

On the way to a slaughterhouse in Germany
On the way to a slaughterhouse in Germany
Gaspard Koenig


PARIS — By 2040, the majority of the meat we will consume won't come from animal flesh. According to a recent report by the firm by the firm AT Kearney, it will be cultivated in a laboratory or made from plant compounds.

Let's call this new fare "synthetic meat," as the official name is still up for debate. Its manufacturing techniques are constantly improving while the cost of production is predicted to drop below that of traditional meat— great news for Buddhist monks and animal activists alike. Yet the rest of us can't deny that synthetic meat paves the way to a world free of animal suffering, combining technology and innovation with respect for sentient beings. As we fight for equal rights for all classes, skin colors and gender identities, we must also transcend human-first thinking and focus on equal rights for all living creatures.

Until 2015, animals were treated more like commodities than living beings under the civil code. Now, it's time for further progress as individuals accept and take seriously things that will seem so obvious to future generations. Giving up meat is not just a fad, but a cause defended by great thinkers. Personally devoid of any sentimentalism for the subject and ready to quote Deleuze, who believed "those who love cats, dogs are idiots," I was finally convinced by the bible of the genre, Peter Singer's incontestable Animal Liberation. Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that it is not the faculty of reasoning, but the capacity to suffer that gives rights. As a consequence, he believes, equality does not imply equality of treatment, but equality of consideration.

"You would no longer need to become vegan to be virtuous' — Photo: Free To Use Sounds

Animal rights doesn't mean giving them the right to vote, it means eliminating cruelty towards them — as Montaigne wrote in his famous essays. Not only are the conditions of industrial farming unsustainable — rightly denounced by intellectuals like Jonathan Safran Foer as well as associations like L214 — they also produce a scale of suffering that has likely never been rivaled in the history of life on Earth.

Animal rights need to transcend selfish motives.

Animal Liberation argues that if an animal really were to spend its existence in a healthy environment and be slaughtered without pain, there is no ethical reason not to consume it. Singer, an Australian moral philosopher, is careful not to establish vegetarianism as a hard rule. He does point out, however, that it's impossible to know the exact origin of our meat in today's food production system. Therefore, he believes a complete boycott of meat is the best mode of political action we can currently take against animal cruelty.

This is where synthetic meat could stir things up. Imagine the possibility of artificially and economically producing most of our culinary desires. (I say "desires' rather than "needs' because proteins can just as easily be found in beans as in rib steaks.) With the same taste, why not have the nuggets, lasagna, hamburgers and other Bolognese sauces come from polished laboratories rather than from bloody slaughterhouses? Nothing could prevent us from enjoying the occasional flank of beef or a scrumptious roast chicken.

Though it may cost more, you could enjoy it with the knowledge that the animal was raised in open meadows or sunny backyards, and ideally slaughtered on the spot (which is currently illegal). You would no longer need to become vegan to be virtuous.

When we say that we want to "save the planet," many of us are really seeking our own salvation— for the human race to perpetuate despite the climate's instability. Animal rights need to transcend these selfish motives. The real motive should be to free the 74 billion farm animals, the group the most unjustly and universally oppressed, from exploitation. As a bonus, this plan is also incredibly beneficial to our planet.

Reducing meat consumption will reduce methane emissions, free up clean water resources, cut back the production of cereals for animal feed and provide significant space for reforestation. By saving the animals, we are also saving ourselves.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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