Legislation banning the manufacture of cultivated meat took another step forward in the House. But lawmakers did approve an exception for scientific research.
Rep. Danny Alvarez, a Hillsborough Republican, said he never wanted his legislation (HB 1071) to stop laboratories from studying whether meat can be safely grown in laboratories. But he maintains Florida still should not allow the product to be commercially sold and consumed. The legislation still would prohibit the manufacture of meat for sale.
“That way our researchers can continue to perform their safety studies and protocols so that we can continue to advance the research in cultivated protein,” Alvarez said.
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee approved the change in language.
Rep. Thad Altman, an Indialantic Republican and Subcommittee Chair, said protecting researchers would be especially important on the Space Coast. There, NASA agency operates the Space Life Sciences Laboratory in Cape Canaveral, where scientists research ways to provide food for astronauts that can be created in space.
The cultivated meat ban appears in a Department of Agriculture legislative package and has the support of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. But Altman said livestock farmers face no threat from outer space.
“You’re not going to have cattle grazing on Mars anytime soon,” he said.
But Bill Helmich, a lobbyist for Food Solutions Action and The Good Food Institute, said the bill still poses an economic threat to the biotech sector.
He pointed to a letter sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year by more than two dozen venture capitalists. Investors from Blue Horizon, SOSV, Unovis Asset Management and Better Bite Ventures in that message made clear they could not invest in cultivated meat research in a state where sale of that product was against the law.
Justin Kolbeck, CEO of Wildtype, said the bill, even after the amendment passed, would be death knell to the research at NASA, and to other critical studies needed to address a shortage of livestock compared to the growing human population. His company specialized in creating seafood products from animal cells, and when it comes to fish, the economic balance of domestic farming to international production is completely different than for red meat.
“Unlike chicken and beef production, where the United States is the second largest exporter globally, we import 70% to 85% of our seafood,” he said.
Pepin Tuma, of The Good Food Institute, said there’s no evidence cellular agriculture produces goods that are any less safe to eat than butchered meat. That leaves him aghast that a Republican Legislature wants to shut down the industry in its infancy.
“It’s the most anti-Republican, anti-free market piece of legislation I’ve honestly seen in my entire 20 years of working on these sorts of issues,” he said. “It makes Florida be an anti-business state and anti-competition state.”
But traditional agriculture advocates have said artificial products should not be sold alongside products on the market for decades. The Florida Poultry Association, Florida Cattlemen’s Association and Farm Bureau all supported the organization, though they did not speak directly to the legislation at the hearing.
Altman notably said he would like the industry to do a better job of vocalizing its case for a ban. He still voted for the bill. “It’s good to be cautious,” he said.
Rep. Lindsay Cross, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said she supports traditional agriculture, but thinks the industry has mistaken cultivated meat as a threat.
“Frankly, our human population is increasing at a rate where our traditional or conventional forms of agriculture just cannot keep up,” Cross said.
But Rep. Keith Truenow, a Tavares Republican, said the agriculture industry faces plenty of threats already.
“It would be great if more of our agricultural producers were getting $10 per ounce for the meat they produce,” he said. “We might not have a problem with growth in Florida. But right now, this is a good package.”
The House legislation heads now to the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee. A companion bill in the Senate (SB 1084), sponsored by Sen. Jay Collins, a Tampa Republican, awaits consideration in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee.