Florida Legislature continues to show no taste for 'cultivated meat'

'I'm calling it 'cultivated protein,'" state Rep. Danny Alvarez says
Posted at 6:19 PM, Feb 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-12 18:19:36-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It's called "cultivated meat" — protein not from an animal but grown in a lab using cells from livestock — and Florida is now inching closer to banning it.

A large agriculture bill that includes the restrictions cleared another committee in the House on Monday. If signed by the governor, the change would ban the manufacture, sale or distribution of "cultivated meat" in Florida, under threat of criminal and civil penalties.

"I'm calling it 'cultivated protein,'" state Rep. Danny Alvarez, R-Riverview, said. "It's not even cultivated meat because that would allude that there's some sort of parity between real meat and what is being produced in a lab."

Alvarez is sponsoring the legislation. It's a fairly new science and budding industry that the Republican lawmaker fears could be potentially dangerous.

"Simply put, it's safety," he said. "There's no long-term safety data on cultivated protein. We know that it can happen, and we know that it's been approved by the USDA for human consumption. But after that, we don't have any idea what it'll do. So until then, we're just gonna pump the brakes."

To date, only two companies in the U.S. have been green-lit to sell "cultivated meat" and neither are in Florida. Alvarez noted his bill would still permit research of the product. Plus, it has the backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"You need meat, OK?" DeSantis said at a recent news conference. "We're going to have meat in Florida. We're not going to have fake meat. Like, that doesn’t work."

Critics have numerous concerns. Not only could the ban limit a source of cheap, renewable and environmentally friendly food in the future, the restrictions could chill investment in technology that might help astronauts with long-term habitation on planets like Mars.

"To ban and criminalize the manufacturing and distribution in our state is absurd," state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said.

Eskamani is one of the few vegans in the Florida Legislature. She said her opposition was largely because the bill tastes too much like anti-freedom.

"It's anti-free market," Eskamani said. "It is clearly designed to protect an industry that doesn't want competition. We need to embrace new technologies, not criminalize it."

The ban has one more committee to clear in both the House and the Senate. With the GOP majority on board, it seems likely to reach the governor's desk, who's already signaled cultivated meat won't be on Florida's menu.

The bill does a whole lot more than just ban the sale of cultivated meat in Florida. Its 90-some pages include state preemption of local governments on the regulation of electric vehicle charging stations, helps protect palmetto berries and a whole bunch more.