Florida’s Beef with Lab-Grown Meat Is Evidence-Free

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest
Pocket
WhatsApp
Florida’s Beef with Lab-Grown Meat Is Evidence-Free

Florida’s Beef with Lab-Grown Meat Is Evidence-Free

Lobbyists’ and politicians’ campaigns against lab-grown meat appeal to emotion, not logic and reason

By Allison Parshall

Republican presidential candidate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at LaBelle Winery on January 17, 2024

Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

This week Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning the production and sale of lab-grown meat, also called cultured meat, in the state.

“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 in a statement on Wednesday. “We will save our beef.”

There is, however, no indication the U.S. beef market is under threat—from cultured meat, bugs or otherwise. Red meat production and consumption are holding steady overall in the country. In contrast, cultured meat, which is grown from small numbers of real animal cells and does not require any killing, only received its first regulatory approvals in the U.S. last year and isn’t available for consumers to buy yet.


On supporting science journalism

If you’re enjoying this article, consider supporting our award-winning journalism by subscribing. By purchasing a subscription you are helping to ensure the future of impactful stories about the discoveries and ideas shaping our world today.


“No one in the field has yet scaled up to the levels you need to produce food for supermarkets,” says David Kaplan, a biomolecular engineer focusing on cellular agriculture at Tufts University. “There’s not even an industry yet. It’s just fledgling!”

But Florida’s legislature has stepped in—purportedly to prevent the cultured meat industry from competing with traditional agriculture. Alabama, Arizona and Tennessee may soon follow suit. Cultured meat’s detractors use words like “franken-meat,” “petri dishes” and “chemicals” in an apparent attempt to evoke disgust. Yet this emotional rhetoric is not founded in the reality of cultured meat production, which has already been approved for certain companies by two regulatory agencies and has the potential to be safer to consume than traditionally farmed meats, experts say.

Cultured meat starts as a small number of muscle and fat cells in samples taken from living animals. These cells are placed in giant vats that contain a broth of nutrients and hormones that encourage the cells to grow and divide. Companies developing cultured meat will sometimes compare these vats to what you’d find at a brewery.

To make products that look less like ground meat and more like a chicken breast or cut of salmon, developers will sometimes imbue their creations with edible “scaffolds” that give the cells a more structured texture and appearance. Creating these structured cuts is easier for some meats than others: some companies produce a nice cultured salmon filet, but replicating the marbled texture of a steak is a much greater challenge. “There’s a lot of tech development that has to happen,” Kaplan notes.

While there’s no reason to think cultivated meat will be any more or less nutritious than meat from a traditional farm, it could be safer to consume. “Every step of the process that we use for cultivated meat is highly controlled,” Kaplan says. “If there were any contamination [of the meat], we would know it as soon as it happens.” That’s compared with traditional agricultural methods, which often rely on copious amounts of antibiotics to prevent pathogens such as salmonella from contaminating meat. In principle, a scaled-up version of cultured meat production would require less antibiotic use because it could be so tightly controlled.

“In terms of safety, health, nutrition, we anticipate [cultured meat] will be, at minimum, as safe as current foods—and more likely safer in the long run,” Kaplan says.

But many lawmakers and lobbyists who are looking to ban cultured meat are not appealing to rational concerns about health and safety in their rhetoric. Some are instead taking advantage of an emotional response many humans have toward something they perceive as unfamiliar and unnatural, says Matti Wilks, a psychology researcher at the University of Edinburgh, who has studied attitudes toward cultured meat.

“It’s easier for people to push back on something like [cultured meat] if it’s already something that people feel a bit uncomfortable about,” Wilks says. The idea that cultured meat is unnatural comes not from analytic reasoning but from emotional responses such as disgust and fear, she found in a 2020 study. And in a paper published in March, she found that people who have negative opinions of cultured meat are more likely to value purity over other core moral concepts such as not doing harm.

Humans are particularly attuned to feelings of disgust when it comes to food, sex and other things related to the body. And the “bad feeling” some people might get when they think of an unfamiliar kind of food can’t always be reasoned away, Wilks says. “That bad feeling … might be a way to justify that it’s unnatural,” she adds.

Chris Bryant, a psychologist and director of the U.K.-based company Bryant Research, where he studies attitudes toward cultured meat, encourages people to examine their own knee-jerk feelings of disgust. “The production process for conventional meat is also pretty disgusting, if one cares to look at it,” he says. That’s especially true for factory-farmed meats, which comprise the vast majority of meats produced in the U.S. “Would you rather have to watch the production process for cultivated meats or have to watch the production process for conventional meat?” he asks. “I think that needs to be the bar for comparison.”

The idea that “natural” or unprocessed foods are healthier is deeply ingrained in our culture, but many experts say this is largely based on a very common flaw in reasoning called the naturalistic fallacy.

“This idea that ‘processed’ means that it’s unhealthy as just unscientific,” Bryant says. And that’s “not only a bit difficult as a nuance to understand, but there are people trying deliberately to get you to misunderstand them.”

DeSantis signed the bill at a press conference, where he stood against the backdrop of an idyllic red barn in the presence of members of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. And agriculture lobbying groups have long fought alternatives to animal products that now proliferate supermarket shelves. Kaplan says he sees these attempts as shortsighted.

“It’s going to take a while to have any impact” on farmers, Kaplan says. And cultured meat production still requires farmers and livestock for many steps in its production, he notes. “We see so many places where we’re going to need farmers,” Kaplan adds.

Read More

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest
Pocket
WhatsApp

Never miss any important news. Subscribe to our newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Get notified about new articles