Florida Prepares to Ban Lab-Grown Meat Sales

Florida lawmakers are also attempting to block cultivated meat from being served to children through school food programs.
Florida Prepares to Ban Lab-Grown Meat Sales
Lab-grown meat is presented in the Disgusting Food Museum in Los Angeles, Calif., on Dec. 6, 2018. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Florida lawmakers are advancing a set of bills seeking to prohibit the sale of lab-grown meat due to safety concerns.

Bill HB 1071 is looking to ban the sale of “cultivated meat,” defined as “any meat or food product produced from cultured animal cells.” The bill makes it unlawful for any individual “to manufacture for sale, sell, hold or offer for sale, or distribute cultivated meat” in Florida. Violations will be deemed as a misdemeanor of the second degree. Food establishments that manufacture, distribute, or sell cultivated meat will be “subject to disciplinary action.” Licenses of such establishments could also be suspended.
On Thursday, the state House of Representatives’ Infrastructure Strategies Committee advanced the bill. Its companion bill in the Senate, SB 1084, was advanced by the Senate Rules Committee.

As such, the bills are now ready for floor votes in both chambers. If passed, Florida will become the first U.S. state to support a total ban on cultivated meat.

“I want a free market that tells me when I put a product in Publix, I know that it is safe and secure,” said Rep. Daniel Alvarez (R-Fla.) according to Florida Politics, referring to the supermarket chain.

The lawmaker acknowledged that the ban won’t last “forever.” However, he said that cultured meat will take at least five years to become widely available commercially, which gives lawmakers enough time to revisit the issue when necessary.

Sen. Jay Collins (R-Fla.) wants “more testing, more safety data before we allow this [lab-grown meat] to be sold in Florida.”

Critics of the bill point out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already approved the consumption of lab-grown meat. In June last year, the USDA gave the green light to two California companies to sell lab-grown chicken products to restaurants and eventually supermarkets.

The bill is being supported by members of the traditional agricultural community and is opposed by researchers and investors. The North American Meat Institute, the largest trade association of meatpackers in the United States, opposes the bill, while the Florida Cattlemen’s Association extended support.

Speaking to Health News Florida, Rep. Lindsay Cross, (D-Fla.) said that lab-grown meat is necessary to ensure food safety. “As we run out of [agriculture] lands, we will have to look at alternative food systems ... I would rather have that come from Florida than China.”

He claimed that cultivated meat won’t be replacing traditional agriculture in the state and pointed to pressure from a growing population.

Mr. Alvarez told the outlet that “right now, we don’t have the information for a consumer to make an educated, informed consensual decision.”

“Until we have long-term studies that tell me what lab-grown immortalized cells do to your body, I challenge you to put it in your child.”

Lab Meat Dangers

Cultivated meat is produced by extracting cells from animals, a fertilized egg, or a bank of stored cells, and placing them into a culture medium. The medium is then placed into big tanks containing a mixture of fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, salt, sugars, and other elements crucial for the cells to grow.

Most lab-grown meat uses “immortalized cell lines” in their cultivation. Normally, a population of cells would not divide itself indefinitely. However, mutating some cells by genetic modification or other means allows the indefinite division of cells.

Back in 2020, the Center for Food Safety pointed out that a “particular concern” with cultured meat is the “genetic engineering of cells and their potential cancer-promoting properties.”

“The scale required for making lab-cultured ‘meat’ feasible for mass consumption will be the largest form of tissue engineering to exist and could introduce new kinds of genetically engineered cells into our diets,” it said. Genetically modified cell lines could “exhibit the characteristics of a cancerous cell.”

“Unlike animals, cells do not have a fully functioning immune system, so there is a high likelihood of bacterial or fungal growth, mycoplasma, and other human pathogens growing in vats of cells.”

Even though companies engaged in cultured meat production claim their products are more sterile than traditional animal agriculture, “it’s unknown how that is true without the use of antibiotics or some other pharmaceutical means of pathogenic control,” the organization stated.

Other states are also taking measures against cultured meat. The Alabama Senate recently passed legislation to prohibit the sale and manufacture of lab-grown meat.

Last month, Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced the “School Lunch Integrity Act” that aims to ban cultured meat from being provided through the government’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP).

At present, the USDA sets nutritional requirements for meals served to students through these programs. However, the agency has not issued guidance on the use of lab-grown meat in the NSLP and the SBP. The bill seeks to fix this gap by banning such meat.

“Our students should not be test subjects for cell-cultivated ‘meat’ experiments,” Mr. Rounds said. “With high quality, local beef readily available for our students, there’s no reason to be serving fake, lab-grown meat products in the cafeteria.”

“The lack of nutrition and allergen research related to lab-grown proteins creates unnecessary risks for children,” said Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.