Sanctuary to Table Dining? Cellular Agriculture and The Ethics Of Cell Donor Animals

Cellular agriculture – the process of growing animal tissue from stem cells – is a novel technology touted as a potential alternative to conventional animal agriculture. While it is frequently described as cruelty-free or animal-free, however, cellular agriculture will, for the foreseeable future, require living livestock as a source of cells. The arguments in favor of cellular agriculture, usually rooted in utilitarianism, are clear: its widespread adoption would reduce the harms caused by animal agriculture, including reducing the number of animals killed for food. What is less clear is whether cellular agriculture offers a path toward animal liberation or decommodification, least of all for cell donor animals. This article examines how the use of cell donor animals might be ethically justified and practically enacted. We argue that cell donor animals should be raised in settings akin to animal sanctuaries where minimal harm can be squared with a broader goal of decommodification.

The article’s first section introduces cellular agriculture production technology and the ethical debates surrounding its adoption and its relationship to animal liberation. The second section lays out the ethical argument for using the animal sanctuary model of care as the basis for raising cellular agriculture donor animals and outlines what this model would look like in practice in terms of animal treatment. We conclude by reflecting on the impossibility of completely reconciling cellular agriculture with a vision of complete animal liberation as long as it requires donor animals.