Jan Dutkiewicz & Anne Barnhill, « Cellular Agriculture and Techno-Pragmatism in the Anthropocene » (online | en ligne)

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31 mars 2021 @ 12:30 – 14:30 America/Toronto Fuseau horaire

Jan Dutkiewicz (Concordia University) & Anne Barnhill (Johns Hopkins University), « Cellular Agriculture and Techno-Pragmatism in the Anthropocene »

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If we understand the Anthropocene as first and foremost a “human-dominated, geological epoch” = where our species’ “activity is now global and is the dominant cause of most contemporary environmental change,” then perhaps nowhere is our collective, planet-altering footprint more visible than in meat production. Over the past century and a half, and especially over the past 50 years the industrialization of land-based animal production and fishing has dramatically reshaped food production value chains, humans diets, and the planet. Modern meat production is the anthropocene incarnate. Addressing our global over-production and over-consumption of meat gets at the heart of the question of how to address the myriad harms associated with humans’ increasing geological and ecological impacts. What is especially telling is that most efforts to reduce meat consumption have failed, and it continues to rise globally. It is a microcosm of politics in the anthropocene: the solution is clear but is seemingly politically and socially unachievable.

One proposed solution to this dilemma is the development of cellular agriculture, or using synthetic biology to grow animal tissue from stem cells. This process theoretically makes it possible to reduce switching costs for consumers by replacing one product for a virtually identical one, thereby replacing a moral wrong with a moral right. A growing literature in applied ethics suggest that this is a morally desirable solution. However, the technology has also faced growing pushback from scholars and activists concerned with the political economy of food production, including questions about corporate control of the food system, the desirability of increasing the role of synthetic biology in food production, and questions about the Silicon-Valley style fetishization of disruption and “solutionism” that marks the development of novel technologies under contemporary capitalism. This paper argues that the political-economic concerns constitute second-order ethical concerns compared to the first-order concerns of addressing grievous environmental harms. Approaching the question of meat consumption from a point of view of pessimism about the potential for rapid and widespread political and social change, it argues for a pragmatic approach that harnesses markets and novel technologies to achieve systemic change despite and in the face of valid critique.