DeSantis makes ‘cultivated’ lab-grown meats illegal in Florida

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DeSantis makes ‘cultivated’ lab-grown meats illegal in Florida

It was a few months ago when Gov. Ron DeSantis first announced his support for preventing “cultivated” lab-grown meat from being made or sold in Florida. “You need meat, OK. And we’re going to have meat in Florida,” the Republican governor said, adding, “We’re not going to have fake meat. Like, that doesn’t work.”

He wasn’t talking about soy- or vegetable-based meat substitutes. Rather, as The Tampa Bay Times reported, cultivated meat “involves a process of taking a small number of cultured cells from animals and growing them in controlled settings to make food. Industry officials have argued the cultivated meat process has been closely scrutinized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure safety.”

This week, as the NBC affiliate in Miami reported, DeSantis banned it anyway.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a controversial measure that will bar selling or manufacturing lab-grown meat in Florida and prevent local regulation of electric-vehicle charging stations. DeSantis said the bill (SB 1084), which includes a series of changes related to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, will protect the state’s cattle industry against “an ideological agenda that wants to finger agriculture as the problem.”

In keeping with his usual high-minded approach to policymaking, the far-right Republican added at the bill signing, “Global elites want to control our behavior. … Florida is saying no.”

Going forward, to sell or manufacture cultivated meat in the Sunshine State will be a second-degree misdemeanor. (The local report added, “The measure doesn’t prohibit cultivated-meat research because of concerns that such a ban could affect the space industry, which is looking at cultivated meats for long-term space journeys.”)

Just so we’re all clear, DeSantis and GOP legislators have taken bold steps to address an issue that doesn’t really exist — at least not in any meaningful way, since it’ll be a while before lab-based meats are common in restaurants and/or grocery stores.

That said, some companies have gained approval to sell lab-grown chicken, and related products are in development. Those products will not be available to consumers in the Sunshine State, where it will be illegal to sell such meats.

What’s more, it’s not just Florida: Republicans in Alabama, Arizona, and Tennessee are eyeing similar statewide bans.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, I won’t pretend to be an expert on the matter, though my general understanding is that the leading private companies in this space have high hopes for the future of the industry. Cultivated meat isn’t yet competing with its traditional rivals, but it has the potential to make a positive difference when it comes to environmental impacts and animal welfare.

If Republicans wanted to pursue new government regulations related to labeling, that would probably be a reasonable approach to informing consumers. If GOP officials wanted to impose limits on government subsidies for companies working on cultivated meats, that would at least be worthy of some public conversation.

But the Republican proposals in some states are instead focused on imposing bans on an industry that hardly exists. For all the talk about the GOP and its free-market principles, this is the latest example of the party preferring government restrictions and prohibitions to consumer choice.

We’re accustomed to thinking about the Republican Party’s culture war as focused on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. Evidently, lab-based meats are working their way onto that list.

The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell recently asked in a column, “What happened to the Republicans who wanted the free market to choose winners and losers? Where is the party of limited government?”

Those need not be rhetorical questions.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”

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