I predict that the animal welfare movement will expand dramatically in the next several decades as in-vitro meat becomes widely available. In-vitro meat is "made in the laboratory" meat – it’s real meat but grown in "vats" rather than on animals. In-vitro meat has already been grown in thin slices, thick steaks are harder because fresh meat must be fed nutrients by a blood supply and that requires an incredibly complicated network of capillaries and veins. But really, who is going to notice the difference in a McDonald’s patty? I bet thin meat tastes a lot better than tofu.
I think that many people have an idea in the back of their minds that something is not quite right about the treatment of animals (see Tyler’s post) but so long as they taste good and there are few substitutes why bring the idea to the forefront when it will just make you feel bad? In-vitro meat will change this equation. With a ready substitute suppression will no longer be necessary and the question of animal welfare will explode into the public consciousness.
Forget PETA, animal welfarists should be sending their money to researchers working on in-vitro meat.
Aside from animal welfare, in-vitro meat could be economic. In an article in 1932 Winston Churchill argued:
Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.
This quote is often put forward as an example of foolish prediction but my bet is that Churchill was off by no more than a factor of ~2.
Addendum: No, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke!