Florida bans lab-grown meat, adding to similar efforts in four states

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Wednesday banning and criminalizing the manufacture and sale of lab-grown meat in the state.

The legislation joins similar efforts from three other states — Alabama, Arizona and Tennessee — that have also looked to stop the sale of lab-grown meat, which is believed to still be years away from commercial viability.

“Florida is fighting back against the global elite’s plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish or bugs to achieve their authoritarian goals,” DeSantis said. “We will save our beef.”

Lab-grown meat, also known as cultivated meat, has attracted considerable attention in recent years as startups have raised millions of dollars to improve the technology meant to create a climate-friendly alternative to traditional meat sources. Cultivated meat is usually grown in a metal vessel from a sample of animal cells. They multiply in a container called a bioreactor while being fed with water, amino acids, vitamins and lipids — a process that can be difficult to do at scales large enough to create enough food for commercial sale.

Still, some companies have made strides, with two California startups receiving approval from U.S. regulators last year to sell lab-grown chicken.

Those companies said Florida’s bill stifles innovation in a space that is becoming competitive globally.

“The United States has a tremendous lead in terms of alternative proteins right now. We have 43 cultivated meat companies in the world. But this kind of political rhetoric and these laws put that in jeopardy,” said Tom Rossmeissl, the head of global marketing at Eat Just Inc., the company behind cultivated meat brand Good Meat.

Upside Foods, another cultivated meat startup, said the ban could put the resilience of Florida’s supply chain at risk by hindering the state’s ability to address the projected doubling of global protein demand by 2050.

“This type of discriminatory legislation jeopardizes the United States’ leadership in biotechnology and enables countries like China to gain unfair advantage,” Upside Foods said in an email to NBC News.

The main competitor in the cultivated meat industry is China, which included the technology in its latest five-year agricultural plan as a way to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and stave off food scarcity.

Lori Berman, one of 10 Florida Democratic senators who voted against the bill, expressed similar concerns about China. She called the bill “shortsighted,” seeing cultivated meat as a solution to future food shortage problems.

“The cattle industry lobbied against cultivated meat, so we are now banning an entire industry in our state,” Berman said. “We’re just short-changing an entire industry.”

Dean Black, a cattle rancher and one of the Republican Florida representatives who pushed for the bill’s passage, told NBC News that cultivated meat is a national security concern. He fears concentrating protein production in factories could lead to famine if those facilities are struck by a missile.

At the bill’s signing, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said the ban was meant to protect “the integrity of American agriculture.”

Advocates say the ban is pre-emptive because cultivated meat is still far from competing with regular meat. Good Meat’s product is still more expensive than even high-end organic meat products. It may take decades before production can be scaled up to reach price parity.

Paul Shapiro, author of the book “Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World,” likened Florida’s bill to banning video streaming to try to protect Blockbuster video stores. Shapiro is the CEO of The Better Meat Co., which makes plant-based “meat” from fungi.

“The legislation that was enacted in Florida is seeking to kill this industry while we’re still in the cradle,” Shapiro said. “Even under the most optimistic estimates, meat grown from animal cells is not going to be on the market in any meaningful way for another five to 10 years.”

Good Meat spent three years working with federal regulators to ensure food safety, but the ban’s supporters still have health concerns. Black said more research is needed to assess whether lab-grown meat contains the same micronutrients as real meat.

“Although the FDA has said that this type of product is safe, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” Black said. “In Florida, we don’t want our citizens used as guinea pigs.”

Justin Tupper, president of the United States Cattlemen’s Association, called the bill a “win” for similar reasons. Although he said he doesn’t fear competition, he is concerned about chemicals in the new product.

“We don’t want lab-grown meat weighing on the backs of our good reputation of the safest, best protein on the planet,” Tupper said.

But Rossmeissl and Shapiro said there’s little merit to health concerns, because cultivated meat has near identical nutritional value to real meat. Furthermore, conventional meat often has fecal and intestinal pathogens, and antibiotic residues, that need to be cooked out for safe consumption, Shapiro said.

“With clean meat, you don’t have to worry as much about intestinal pathogens when you’re not growing intestines at all,” Shapiro said.

Rossmeissl added that consumers should be free to choose whether they trust the product.

“This isn’t about safety. This is a culture war,” Rossmeissl said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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