Florida could soon be the first nation to criminalize cultivated meat— and China appears thrilled.
A legislative package (HB 1071) heads to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee for a Monday vote. That bill as written would outlaw the manufacture, sale or distribution of lab-made meats, a move industry advocates say will compromise both the state’s economy and America’s food security.
“We’re running into another wall right now, and that is a protein wall,” said Bill Helmich, a lobbyist for Food Solutions Action and The Good Food Institute during a February hearing.
“We’re running out of protein. Currently the global protein demand has increased by 50% since 2000 and is projected to double by 2020. China knows this and we know this. We’re entering into a protein arms race with China. China is including cultivated meat as part of its blueprint for meat moving forward. A China that controls the protein of the world will control the world.”
And China appears to be tracking the legislation in Florida. State-run media published an article on China.com and other distribution channels last week that noted the action of Florida lawmakers. The article was titled: “China’s breakthrough in cultured meat technology.”
“In Florida, the initiative of (lawmakers) and agricultural officials has taken some conservative measures on the sale of cultured meat, slowing down the development of R&D and technology in the industry — even though the U.S. government has allowed cultured meat to be sold nationwide,” a translation reads. “This just strengthens China’s dominant position in this field. China’s firm investment and policy support for cultured meat technology has given it a leading position in the global agricultural field.”
It noted the Chinese government, in contrast to Florida, announced heavy investments in food cultivation technology in 2021. The nation since invested millions in grants for research into protein.
The chief concern behind such funding remains an expected shortage in livestock in comparison to the booming population.
But so far, Florida lawmakers considering legislation this year have treated the cultivation of meat as an existential threat to traditional agriculture. Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson ahead of the legislation supported a ban getting included in a broader package of agency priorities.
“This legislation reflects our continued commitment to supporting and protecting Florida’s farmers, ranchers, and growers, enhancing consumer protection and transparency, and building upon good governance,” Simpson said in January.
“By supporting our future farmers’ 4-H and FFA activities, banning ‘cultivated meat,’ and expanding safeguards for agricultural producers and consumers, we aim to promote a stronger, safer, and more prosperous Florida.”
Critics of the approach, though, say a ban on cultivated meat would not only help America’s adversaries but hurt its allies. Israel, a leader in cellular agriculture research and production, approved the first lab-grown steak for consumption in January. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a visit to Aleph Farms last year, became the world’s first head of state to taste-test cultivated beef.
But Israel remains largely economically isolated from neighboring countries, and any research there relies on economic support from allied nations.
“The U.S.-Israel partnership in biotechnology and food tech is a cornerstone of their scientific collaboration,” wrote Juliet Stein, vice president of investment firm WD Biotech, in a Times of Israel op-ed. “Hindering the cultivated meat sector could jeopardize Israel’s efforts to secure its future food production and potentially harm a key area of U.S.-Israel scientific cooperation.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis throughout his tenure as Governor has sought to strengthen economic ties between the Sunshine State and Israel, including through trade missions to the Middle Eastern nation.
But when it comes to cutting edge research into cultured meat, DeSantis has treated the product as a liberal threat to livestock farmers.
“The Legislature is doing a bill to try to protect our meat. You need meat, OK?” he said earlier this month. “And we’re going to have meat in Florida. Like, we’re not going to have fake meat.”
Cultivated meat manufacturers in the U.S. bristle at attacks on their products as “fake.” The Food and Drug Administration has already approved the sale of some lab-growth proteins, and restaurants now operate in San Francisco and Washington. Marc Shelley, chief legal officer for Believer Meats, told senators last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects its products and holds it to the same standards as conventional chicken.
The federal government also has invested into research into meat cultivation, notably through NASA funding that could directly benefit the economy in Florida. Scientists there have studied the generation of cultured meat since 1998.
The aerospace agency operates the Space Life Sciences Laboratory in Cape Canaveral, where scientists for now research ways to provide food for astronauts that can be created in space. Cultivated meat could be a big part of that, but bills in the Legislature as written could shut down the Florida research immediately.
A Senate bill (SB 1084) has cleared two committee votes and awaits consideration in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. The House legislation must make it through one more committee stop, the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee, before it goes to the floor.