If Florida bans cultivated meat, it will be the first in the nation to do so. With food scarcity challenging modern agriculture, those behind the development of alternative protein sources fear this will set a dangerous precedent.
That hasn’t stopped legislation from plowing forward in the House and Senate. Language completely banning the manufacturing, sale or distribution of cultivated meat now appears in larger agriculture bills in the House (HB 1071) and Senate (SB 1084).
Leaders in the cultivated meat biotech sector, an industry still in its infancy, say the push to regulate lab-grown chicken, seafood and beef out of existence flies in the face of the conservative economic policies normally embraced by Florida lawmakers. More importantly, it could literally leave the nation starved for alternatives to slow-maturing livestock.
“Food security is national security. We are in a protein arms race with demand outpacing supply,” reads a statement from Food Solutions Action, an agriculture biotech advocacy group.
But leaders within Florida agriculture, one of Florida’s largest industries, say government needs to put lab-grown meat under a statutory microscope.
“This cultivated protein, we know it isn’t beef, we know it isn’t meat. Meat comes from an animal,” said Dusty Holley, Director of Field Services for the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. “We’re not exactly sure what it is.”
He said the chief concern for the industry has to do with consumer safety. Meat products must meet federal guidelines and go through inspections, and livestock farmers for years addressed regulations to ensure the safety and quality of products landing on grocery store shelves and in restaurant kitchens.
“There are long-standing protocols that concentrate on the butchered meat market, and there is a level of certainty and safety there,” Holley said.
But makers of meat say the relative newness of cultivated meat should mean it gets regulated out of existence. Moreover, supporters of the industry say it plays a valuable role in many international matters normally treated as high priority in the Legislature, including competitiveness with China, spurring innovation and strengthening relationships with Israel.
“Cultivated meat innovation ensures America and our allies are able to meet that rising demand, not China,” the Food Solutions Action statement said. “This legislation is bad for American interests.”
There’s already research going on in Florida regarding the cultivation of meat.
At Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Drs. Kevan Main and Cathy Walsh have started work on identifying species, developing methodology and creating cell lines for optimal cultivated seafood. The goal is to create cell lines replicating redfish and whiteleg shrimp in a laboratory setting.
Meanwhile, Drs. Razieh Farzad and Sherry Larkin are at work at the University of Florida’s Florida Sea Grant program studying the growing field of cellular agriculture and exploring more effective ways to produce meat, dairy, or seafood from cell cultures in a controlled environment.
Venture capitalists in mid-January sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders opposing obstacles to growing the biotechnology sector in the state of Florida through banning cultivated meat.
“Passage of this legislation will have economic ramifications for Florida,” reads the letter from venture investment groups including Blue Horizon, SOSV, Unovis Asset Management and Better Bite Ventures.
“Biotechnology and biomanufacturing are among the fastest-growing industries in the United States, with biomanufacturing leveraging biological systems to produce goods at a commercial scale, offering innovative solutions across various sectors including plastics, fuels, foods, and pharmaceuticals. In the short life of this emerging industry, investors have already put almost $3 billion in capital to work on this product, supporting thousands of jobs in this promising industry.”
So far, there’s little commercial activity within the U.S. After the USDA and Food and Drug Administration approved the market sale of cultivated meats, two restaurants in the nation started selling it: Upside Foods in San Francisco and Good Meat in Washington, D.C. Those establishments to date only sell white meat, replicated chicken or seafood.
Earlier this month, USDA officials said, after issuing a research grant to Tufts University to launch the National Institute of Cellular Agriculture, that cultivated meats would be essential to the national food supply as the number of U.S. farms decrease.
“By supporting robust cell development, USDA will also continue to advance the field’s tools, knowledge and collaborative potential,” Sanah Baig, USDA Undersecretary of Research Education and Economics said at the grant announcement, according to Food Navigator USA.
For his part. Rep. Danny Alvarez, the Hillsborough Republican running the agriculture package, in the House, said he sees a future for cultivated meat. At a committee hearing last week, he suggested it’s simply not ready for public consumption.
“This is going to feed people probably on the way to Mars,” Alvarez said. “We just want to make sure that it’s safe.”
He also said a sign-off from the FDA isn’t enough to give him confidence that assurance has arrived. From cigarettes to saccharin, Alvarez said, the federal agency has approved and even offered public assurance on the safety of products that later turned out to be carcinogenic.
So far, Republican lawmakers in committee agreed. The House bill cleared its first committee last week on a 9-5 vote, and the mirror in the Senate advanced through a first stop on a 4-1 vote. Only Democrats to date have voted against the bill, though the cultivated meat ban was frequently cited as the reason.
“These biotech jobs can be lost,” said Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat. “I also know that we are going to be needing more food as the amount of people in this country continues to grow. And I felt as though farmers aren’t going to be able to keep up with that demand.”
Meanwhile, advances continue to be made in research overseas. In Israel, a country concerned with self-sufficiency while dealing with limits on agricultural space, the government just approved sale of the first lab-grown steaks, as reported by the Times of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made headlines as the first world leader to eat the product during a visit to Aleph Farms.
The agriculture bill as written would block the sale of Israeli lab-made meats in Florida, and it would prohibit any technology developed there to be employed in the Sunshine State.
And countries with more contentious relations with the U.S., most notably China, appear to be embracing the science of meat cultivation. The communist nation’s CellX pilot program in August unveiled a line of cell-grown meat, and plans to challenge products in U.S. markets, according to Reuters. That already has many in the sector wondering if China will dictate the future of meat around the globe.
Industry officials say in every state but Florida, the cultivated meat industry has worked in concert with farmers and traditional agriculture, believing the demands to feed a growing world population will grow as the ability to raise livestock on dwindling farmland diminishes.
Justin Kolbeck, CEO of cultivated seafood producer Wildtype, at a House committee meeting urged calm in responding to developments in the field.
“This goes way beyond meat and helping Florida’s cattle ranchers and would also include banning cultivated seafood,” Kolbeck said of the proposed ban. “Do we really believe that the government should tell us what we can and cannot eat our feed our families? While it may seem tempting to snuff out a new American industry before it is born, doing so at the expense of consumer freedom is a mistake.”