Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Cultivated meat could help decarbonize food. Florida wants to ban it

The state’s Republican-led legislature could ban the emerging tech, which some see as a long-term pathway to fixing the meat industry’s huge emissions problem.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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an overhead view of a table set with many dishes of food. A plate of meat skewers at center has a red prohibition sign on it.
(Binh Nguyen/Canary Media)

It’s not very easy to get your hands on cultivated meat at the moment. In fact, even though U.S. regulators approved the sale of cultivated chicken for the first time last summer, today there are only two restaurants in the country where you can buy the futuristic product.

Despite this limited availability, Florida, along with several other Republican-led states, is pursuing an outright ban on cultivated meat ever being sold in the state.

Cultivated meat is made by taking live cells from an animal and then reproducing those cells to create a piece of tissue that is identical to, say, a chicken breast or a piece of steak. The production process remains extremely expensive and unproven at scale, but some see it as among the most promising pathways to dealing with the staggering environmental and emissions impact of commercial meat production — not to mention the positive impact that widely available slaughter-free meat would have on animal welfare. As it stands, more than 150 companies worldwide are working to produce cultivated meat and seafood.

But in recent weeks, legislation to ban cultivated meat has gained momentum in Florida’s Republican-dominated Senate and House. The bills, part of a larger agriculture and consumer services package, contain language that would prohibit the manufacture for sale, sale, holding or offering for sale, or distribution of cultivated meat in this state” and impose criminal penalties,” disciplinary action” and licensing penalties” on any person or institution that holds or sells the products. Stand-alone bills to ban cultivated meat products have also been introduced in both chambers.

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has not formally commented on or endorsed the legislation, but he signaled his support during a recent speaking engagement.

The legislature is doing a bill, they are trying to protect our meat,” DeSantis said, alluding to the effort. And we’re gonna have meat in Florida; we’re not gonna do that fake meat — that doesn’t work.”

If the bill passes, it would go into effect this summer, immediately banning cultivated meat products — including their research and development — in the state of Florida. It would be the first in the country to outlaw the early-stage technology, but perhaps not the last. Legislators in Arizona, Tennessee, West Virginia and Alabama have introduced similar bills to ban cultivated meat products and production this year.

Other states have previously taken aim at cultivated meat, though they have not pursued outright bans. Since 2019, many states including Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas and Wyoming have passed laws that regulate the labeling requirements for cultivated meat and other alternative protein products.

Sponsors of Florida’s bills have cited health and safety concerns as their reason for cracking down on cultivated meat products. It comes down to product safety,” Florida Senator Jay Collins (R), a bill sponsor, said in front of the Senate appropriations committee last week. This is how we are going to approach it: We want to ban it and then scale back from there.”

But the product is subject to the same regulatory processes as conventional meat products, from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which handles labeling requirements and inspection of production facilities, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees safety assessments. Collins also mentioned ethical concerns” when it comes to producing cultivated meat, including the use of growth hormones and antibiotics,” though conventional animal agriculture uses both hormones and antibiotics as well.

Cultivated meat is just as safe as the meat you eat every day,” a representative from Upside Foods, one of the two companies with approval to sell cultivated chicken in the U.S., told Canary Media via email.

Representatives of Upside Foods, Wildtype and Mission Barns — three companies that make cultivated meat — appeared at a Florida House hearing in January opposing the bill, along with a spokesperson for pro-alternative-protein think tank the Good Food Institute. Staff from the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida Poultry Federation and the Florida Farm Bureau Federation were there to voice support of the bill.

Both the Senate and House bills have made it through committee votes along party lines, but they have additional committees to work through before they go to the floor for final votes. The Florida legislative session ends in early March.

This ban is a result of a fear that we’re going to displace the conventional industry, and that is misguided. Our goal is to be an and’ and not an or’ solution, and we are going to need other solutions to meet demand for meat where the conventional industry is not able to keep up,” said the representative from Upside Foods.

As it stands, cultivated meat is in no position to challenge the conventional meat industry. Upside Foods’ California production facility can make up to 50,000 pounds of cultivated meat products a year. The world’s largest cultivated meat plant — currently being built in North Carolina by Believer Meats — is expected to be able to produce at least” 22 million pounds of cultivated meat per year. The U.S. produces more than 100 billion pounds of meat per year.

A small plate adorned with blackened strips of chicken, herbs and orange flower petals engulfed in smoke from dry ice
Upside Foods' cultivated chicken prepared in a dish at San Francisco's Bar Crenn, which was one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to serve cultivated meat products. (Upside Foods)

The industry’s long-term aim is, of course, to dramatically scale up this capacity while dropping prices to a level that can eventually compete with conventional meat, but that reality remains far off — and it might even be technologically impossible.

A ban from one of the most populous states in the country could make the uphill battle to mass-produce slaughter-free, low-carbon meat even steeper, though in the near term, it may not impact the industry much, according to Breanna Duffy, research operations and outreach director at New Harvest, a cultivated-meat research institute.

Because of the limited supply of cultivated meat, companies wouldn’t be able to sell their products in all 50 states even if they wanted to, she says — and that’s especially true given that there is currently low demand and consumer trust for cultivated meat products.

Still, experts say the decision would be a mistake not only from the industry’s standpoint but for the state itself.

In their rush to antagonize those working to reduce the harms our archaic food system wreaks on the climate and farm animals, Florida’s leaders are considering a foolhardy proposal that would impair the free-market innovation and limit the consumer choice they claim to hold dear,” Abhi Kumar, a researcher at Open Philanthropy, told Canary Media via email. Depriving Floridians of the right to buy FDA- and USDA-approved food they want would be a surefire way to ensure other states will benefit, to Florida’s detriment and shame, from future transitions in our food economy.”

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.