A bioethicist has suggested genetically engineering humans to make them allergic to red meat, in order to get around people’s hesitancy to reduce their consumption. Oh yes, and shrinking them to reduce their ‘lifetime greenhouse gas emissions’. Science fiction or science fact? Let’s hope these suggestions remain the former. File this one under C for ‘cuckoo’, ‘certifiable’, ‘crazy’ – it doesn’t matter which!

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This man wants to make you allergic to meat, a privilege usually reserved for those suffering from excruciating and debilitating tick-borne diseases. Thanks!

Over the past few days a shocking and bizarre clip has been doing the rounds on Twitter, showing a ‘bioethicist’ discussing ways to reduce meat consumption and save the planet from global warming. While such discussion is now par for the course, as talk of a global ‘climate crisis’ exacerbated by cow farts intensifies, the academic’s suggested remedies are likely to shock even those who think they’ve heard it all before.

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S. Matthew Liao was speaking at the 2016 World Science Festival, an otherwise pretty obscure event, when he made the strange remarks. He begins his discussion of how to solve the ‘meat problem’ reasonably enough, by stating that people eat too much meat and then noting that most people are reluctant to give it up. 

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While we’d dispute the first point, the second is absolutely true; recently, for instance, we reported that 73% of Australian men said they’d rather die 10 years younger than give up meat! Stocks in plant-based meat-replacement brands have tumbled hard in recent months as sales have failed to meet expectations.

Bioethicist S. Matthew Liao Suggests Making You Allergy to Red Meat

The discussion then takes a distinctly sinister turn, as Liao fields the suggestion that ‘intolerances’ could be used to make people give up meat – and he doesn’t mean negative attitudes.

‘I, for example, have a milk intolerance,’ he says, ‘and some people are intolerant to crayfish, and so possibly we could use human engineering to make it so that we’re intolerant to certain kinds of meat… to certain kinds of bovine proteins.’

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Liao notes approvingly that such intolerances actually already exist, most notably in the case of the Lone Star tick, which can cause red-meat intolerance if it bites you. This condition is known as ‘Alpha-gal Syndrome’ and is the result of the eponymous Alpha-gal molecule, which when introduced into the human bloodstream via the tick’s saliva, stimulates the immune system, producing mild to severe allergic reactions if red meat is consumed.

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This delightful little critter is a Lone-Star Tick, named for the star shape found on its back

You might be thinking, ‘Wait a minute: did I just read that correctly?’ Did he really say mimicking the unwanted effects of a tick bite could help to save the planet? What ever happened to personal choice and responsibility?’ Yes, you did read us correctly: watch the video below if you still don’t believe us. Nor is this the only bizarre and quite frankly sinister ‘solution’ Liao manages to come up with in a matter of less than four minutes.

Liao also suggests that humans could be engineered to be much smaller than they currently are, again to help ‘save the planet’.

‘It turns out the larger you are – think of the lifetime… energy that’s required for larger people rather than smaller people – but if you were smaller, just by 15 centimetres… I did the math, it’s a mass reduction of 25%, which is huge. And a hundred years ago we were all much shorter, about 15 centimetres smaller. So think of the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions if we all had smaller children. And that’s something we could do…’

Many more people may suffer from Alpha-gal than have been diagnosed. Tick-borne diseases, including Lyme’s Disease, have experienced a sharp increase in recent decades

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At this point Liao is cut off by laughter from the other panellists. One asks, ‘How small?’, to which Liao replies ‘We should all be small enough to be eaten by cats.’ The clip ends.   

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So what are we to make of this? Well, for one thing, Liao is not some crank. Educated at the University of Oxford and Princeton, he has held appointments at Oxford, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown and Princeton, and currently holds the Arthur Zitrin Chair of Bioethics at NYU. This man is a well-respected international scholar whose thoughts are taken seriously in the highest circles. 

Despite what you might think on the basis of the short clip, S. Matthew Liao is somebody whose work is taken seriously

Secondly, it wasn’t the first time Liao had suggested these two bioengineering solutions and been given the time of day, rather than having his underpants pulled over his head. He put them forward four years earlier in an interview with the Atlantic, as well as other equally strange solutions such as genetically-engineering humans to have ‘cat’s eyes’ so that they could see in the dark, reducing energy usage.

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We suggest reading the Atlantic article if you want to know more of what a future world according to S. Matthew Liao might look like for you and your children and grandchildren. 

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Of particular interest are Liao’s responses to the interviewer’s basic moral objections to his proposals; no doubt those responses will strike many of you as evasive, sophistical or wilfully blind at best. For instance, he claims that having the possibility of using a ‘meat intolerance’ skin patch to bring on the symptoms might actually be ‘liberty enhancing’ rather than limiting, without considering the massive social pressure that would also no doubt attend the use of such technology – a factor a true liberal like John Stuart Mill would be only too aware of.

Whether it actually comes down to genetically engineering humans to solve the ‘climate crisis’ remains to be seen, but events of the fifteen months should have alerted all of us to the potential for scientific interventions not of our making or choice to dictate almost every aspect of our lives, even down to whether we can go out and who we have sex with.

It’s undeniable, at least, that the debate about reducing meat consumption and switching to plant-based alternatives has taken a much more emotional, even manipulative, turn in recent months. Take Oatly’s ‘Help Dad’ campaign, in which ‘enlightened’ teenagers berate their tragically unwoke fathers for choosing to drink cow’s milk instead of a liquefied mixture of oats, sugar and vegetable oil.

(20) What have we here? (English version) | Help Dad | Oatly – YouTube

There can be no doubt that this is a deliberate strategy. In large part, it’s the result of a growing recognition that taste and health appeals are radically insufficient to get people to make the switch from meat to plant-based alternatives.

Click here to read the latest admission by scientists that plant-based meat alternatives are no better than other forms of processed food.

A recent study confirmed that social pressure was far more effective than taste or health appeals in getting people to choose plant-based burger options, and the authors of the study concluded that brands would have to change their marketing strategies in light of these findings.


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Cow farts have become a central plank of the anti-beef case. In this picture a cow was rigged up to an inflatable bag by scientists to catch its emissions.

As for S. Matthew Liao’s proposed solutions, let’s just hope they remain science fiction rather than becoming science fact.

s matthew liao red meat

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