Lab-Made Meat? Florida Lawmakers Don’t Like the Sound of It.


Lab grown meat.

It sounds like a plotline from a sci-fi movie about test-tube chicken fingers, but it’s a real thing.

Start-up companies around the world are competing to develop technologies for producing chicken, beef, salmon and other options without the need to raise and slaughter animals. China has made the development of the industry a priority. In the United States, the Department of Agriculture has given initial blessings to two producers.

Now, a measure in Florida that would ban sales of laboratory-grown meat has gained widespread attention beyond state borders. The bill, which is advancing through the Florida Legislature, would make the sale or manufacture of lab-grown meat a misdemeanor with a fine of $1,000. It’s one of a half-dozen similar measures in Arizona, Tennessee, West Virginia and elsewhere.

Opponents of lab-grown meat include beef and poultry associations worried that laboratory-made hamburgers or chicken nuggets could cut into their business.

Supporters include environmentalists who say it would reduce animal cruelty and potentially help slow climate change. Meat and dairy together account for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.

Other backers of the industry include advocates for space exploration, a subject particularly relevant to Florida, which is home to the Kennedy Space Center and the site of countless launches to the moon and beyond. Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX has its own outer space ambitions, has partnered with Israel-based Aleph Farms to research lab-grown meat on a Space X flight to the International Space Station that launched from Florida.

Lab-grown meat, also called cultivated meat, is grown from cells that have been taken from an animal. The animals aren’t slaughtered.

Then water, salt and nutrients like amino acids, minerals and vitamins are added to the cells, which multiply and eventually become minced meat.

It likely will be years before lab-grown meat is a staple on dinner plates in America, if it happens at all.

But big investors are trying to make that a reality. Billionaires including Bill Gates and Richard Branson have made investments. So has the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Start-ups have spent millions of dollars on devising products that both taste good and are inexpensive. But that takes time, and there have been stumbles along the way. At least one company has shut down and another recently said that it was halting expansion plans and laying off employees.

In the meantime, though, a handful of restaurants have put cultured meat on menus here and there.

The Agriculture Department approved the production and sale of laboratory-grown meat last year. It signed off on plans by two California companies to sell chicken produced from animal cells.

Cultured meat has some skeptics who worry about allergens or contaminants, but proponents say the government’s initial approvals should allay concerns. Other companies, too, are petitioning federal officials for approval.

Cattle and poultry associations are listed as chief supporters of restrictions, although some meat companies have also partnered with cultivated-meat firms to help meet global demand for protein.

In addition, the development of lab-grown meat has been drawn into America’s culture wars, like other ventures aimed at disrupting traditional food production (for example, the opposition to plant-based milk and meats that some politicians call anti-farmer). At a recent appearance, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, mentioned the issue saying, “We’re not going to have fake meat.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is tracking the Florida bill and has pushed for clear labeling of cultivated meat products.

Groups worried about the environmental effects of raising animals oppose the bills.

Also, not surprisingly, companies that are spending millions of dollars to create lab-grown meat are high on the list of opponents. Justin Kolbeck, chief executive of San Francisco-based Wildtype, which is working on lab-grown salmon, has traveled to Tallahassee, the Florida state capital, repeatedly to discuss the bill with lawmakers.

“I’ve got more than enough challenges,” he said. “I don’t also need Florida to ban it to make the market smaller.”

In Florida, opponents of the ban have seized on a recent report on Chinese state-owned media in which government officials cited the state’s proposed restrictions as something that would benefit China. The report this month said the proposed ban would hinder competition from American companies. “This just strengthens China’s dominant position in this field,” it said.

State Representative Lindsay Cross, a Democrat, opposes the restriction, calling it “anti free market” and adding, “If consumers want this product, they’ll have to look at other countries including China.”

Didier Toubia, the chief executive and co-founder of Aleph, the company that has partnered with Mr. Musk, said: “If the U.S. is closing their doors to innovation, companies like Aleph Farms and others will be tempted to direct global expansion to China.”

Which brings us to the outer space angle. A recent amendment to the Florida measure would allow research on cultivated meat to be carried out within state boundaries, an attempt to allay concerns about hurting the space industry.


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