In the Free State of Florida, Republicans have banned public investments, racial education, and books in school libraries. Now they are trying to ban awakened meat.

Legislation that would criminalize the sale of meat grown from animal cells is advancing in the state House and Senate, even though cultured meat is not currently for sale anywhere in Florida, or, for that matter, anywhere. another place. Gov. Ron DeSantis, eager to get back to owning libraries after the fiasco of his presidential campaign, has said he’s fine with banning the new technology, even though the federal government has already approved meat grown in fermenters instead. of in feedlots as safe.

So what is the problem?

The cattle industry has always had a huge influence on Florida politics (the term “cracker” originated with whip-wielding Florida ranchers) and some Republicans hope to curry favor with the state’s ranchers by strangling potential competition in the cradle. . But the crusade against cultured meat is largely just the latest skirmish in DeSantis’ culture war against what he sees as a progressive plot to make Americans feel guilty about the status quo.

In his only public comments on cultured meat (sometimes described as “lab-grown meat,” though the ultimate goal is to grow it in breweries) DeSantis made clear that his main objection to the nascent industry is that its leaders hope to limit consumption of animal meat. the damage of agriculture to the climate and the environment. For the governor, growing meat outside of an animal is like taking into account “social governance, environmental” considerations in investment decisions or teaching “critical race theory” in the classroom, a left-wing assault on tradition .

“They really want to attack agriculture because they blame it for global warming,” DeSantis said. “You need meat, okay? Are we going to have fake meat? That does not work. “There is a whole ideological agenda that persecutes a large part of our society.”

Leaving aside the merits of the governor’s anti-woke crusade against “ESG,” “CRT,” and gay-themed books in public libraries, the cultured meat and seafood entrepreneurs trying to harness capitalism and technology to disrupt a trillion-dollar industry famous for Government influence peddling fails to see what’s leftist about innovation or competition. They don’t want to be part of any culture wars, and as the legislative ban has moved forward in Tallahassee on partisan votes, they’re trying to remind Republicans that they’re supposed to be against the nanny state.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, for example, a key supporter of the ban, in fact boasts on his website that he has “taken on politicians who treat Floridians like children incapable of making their own decisions.”

“How does banning our products promote consumer choice?” Blue Nalu CEO Lou Cooperhouse, whose San Diego startup grows bull bluefin tuna, told me. “It is un-American and anti-Floridian to stifle innovation and attack free market principles.”

It is true that cultured meat has extraordinary potential to limit the impacts of livestock farming, which now uses a quarter of the Earth’s land and is by far the largest driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss. But even if you don’t care about the climate or the environment (or the looming public health crisis created by the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, or the tens of billions of animals that are slaughtered each year), there is a proposal convincing commercial behind the crops. meat: Animal meat is inefficient. Why waste feed, land, water, energy, and other resources that help livestock stay warm, defecate, burp methane, have babies, and do other things that don’t produce meat?

That’s why a part-time futurist named Winston Churchill, not generally considered a woke man, predicted in a 1931 essay titled “Within 50 Years” that “we will avoid the absurdity of raising a whole chicken to eat the breast or the to the”. But it’s been 93 years, and while more than 150 startups around the world have begun producing chicken cutlets, burgers, pork meatballs, salmon nigiri and even woolly mammoth meat from cells, they still aren’t doing so at a price economical enough to compete with conventional ones. meat and sea food.

Last year, Bay Area startups Upside Foods and Good Meat served America’s first farmed chicken to restaurant customers in San Francisco and Washington, but only for a limited time and to a very limited number of customers. diners. (Some journalists have tried it, too, and I can report that both companies make chicken that tastes like chicken.) For now, you can’t buy cultured meat anywhere on Earth, and although its costs have plummeted more than 99% in a decade, many skeptics doubt it will ever be cheap enough to make a dent in the 350s. million tons of animal meat that the world consumes every year. In recent months, cabling, Bloombergand The New York Times All have published quasi-obituaries for the industry.

Plant-based meat, hailed five years ago as the next big thing in food, is also struggling. Global sales have stopped skyrocketing and are actually declining, and the share price of industry darling Beyond Meat is down more than 95% from its peak. Meat substitutes have faced an avalanche of attacks (some from meat industry water carriers, some from natural food ideologues, and some reflecting genuine discomfort with the idea of ​​consuming so much technology) as “food ultra-processed” with long lists of ingredients. .

But the problems that meat substitutes are designed to address aren’t going away. Cattle burps (and, to a lesser extent, farts) produce methane, while manure is a major source of nitrous oxide and water pollution, and the world is on track to deforest another two Indian lands by 2050 to satisfy the flesh tooth of humanity. DeSantis may think it’s silly to blame agriculture for global warming, but overall it generates a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of them from livestock. It’s still not as big a problem as fossil fuels, but it is a big problem. And with meat consumption expected to increase by at least 50% by 2050, the problem is getting worse.

Meat alternatives made from plants, fungi or animal cells can use much less land and generate far fewer emissions than meat made from slaughtered animals, which is why supporters see them as the agricultural equivalent of energy. solar, wind and other clean energy alternatives. fossil fuels. They argue that cleaner meat should receive the kind of public support that governments have long given to cleaner energy, which has begun to happen in the European Union, China and even the United States, which provided $10 million for a cultured meat research center at Tufts. University early in the Biden administration.

Obviously, this is not happening in Florida. Educated meat lobbyists have been circulating an excerpt from a Chinese newspaper gloating about the Sunshine State’s restrictions, saying they will help ensure Chinese dominance of the new industry. Rini Greenfield, who runs an agtech venture fund called Rethink Food in Miami, told me that the ban would send “a clear message to tech companies to take their operations elsewhere.” In fact, all of the companies that testified against the bill were based in California, the state that DeSantis consistently cites as the epitome of wokeness.

But culture wars are bad for business, no matter where you’re based. The industry doesn’t want to make Bidenburgers any more than the EV industry wanted to make Obamamobiles. Today they don’t sell to anyone, but one day they will want to sell to everyone.

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By Sam