Cultivated Meat and the Prayer of Saint Francis

When my mother went to England two decades ago, she came back with a framed illustration of the Prayer of Saint Francis, which still hangs in her kitchen. It’s a beautiful painting by the Scottish artist Alison Merry. I hadn’t put much thought into the words until recently, when I began my own spiritual journey.

While the passage is frequently attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, it actually appears to have been written by an anonymous author in the lead-up to the First World War. The misunderstanding can be traced back to a mass-produced prayer card featuring an image of the Italian friar with the relevant text.

Whoever wrote it, the passage offers a great deal of timeless wisdom in a small number of densely-packed lines. The opening is particularly important: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” As someone who cares about our treatment of animals, especially those we use for food, I’ve thought about this quite a bit in recent months.

In the current moment, I don’t think there’s a more effective way to be an instrument of peace than pushing for federal funding for cultivated-meat research. For those who don’t know, cultivated meat is grown from animal cells, without slaughter. It has the potential to relegate so much violence to the history books.

Get ready for some big numbers. We kill over a trillion aquatic and land animals every year for food. To put that in perspective, according to the Population Reference Bureau, only about 117 billion humans have ever lived. So the suffering we inflict on our fellow creatures dwarfs any human atrocity or injustice.

In addition to animal-welfare benefits, cultivated meat is better for the environment and public health. It requires a fraction of the greenhouse-gas emissions to produce that raising livestock does. Since animals are removed from the process, the risk of zoonotic viruses making the jump to humans is eliminated.

Cultivated meat might sound like science fiction, but it should arrive in American supermarkets sooner than you would expect. The new protein has been granted regulatory approval in Singapore and is even available for home delivery. An Israeli company has reduced production costs for a quarter pound of cultivated chicken to less than $4.

I was happy to learn the U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving $10 million over five years to Tufts University, which will establish a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture. The institute will conduct open-access research into cultivated meat. This will hopefully address ongoing challenges, such as reaching price parity with slaughtered meat.

“USDA’s historic funding for a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture is an important advancement for cultivated meat research and science,” said Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “I am pleased that USDA’s leadership continues to recognise the important role these technologies can play in combating climate change and adding much needed resiliency to our food system.”

This is wonderful news and a great start. But given the technology’s potential to reduce animal suffering — in addition to greenhouse-gas emissions, and pandemic risk — the government should be allocating billions of dollars to the effort, not millions. All those seeking to be instruments of peace should push legislators to increase funding.

Of course, there are many ways to be an instrument of peace. However, in this period of history, I don’t think any is more effective than pressuring lawmakers for further investment in cellular-agriculture development. We can move towards a slaughter-free America, and, eventually, a slaughter-free world, with all the good that entails.

Jon Hochschartner is the author of a number of books about animal-rights history, including The Animals’ Freedom Fighter, Ingrid Newkirk, and Puppy Killer, Leave Town.