How I learned to stop worrying and love fake meat

“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 seethed in a statement.

Alternative meat and animal products—be they lab-grown or plant-based—offer a far more sustainable path to mass-producing protein than raising animals for milk or slaughter. Yet again and again, politicians, dietitians, and even the press continue to devise ways to portray these products as controversial, suspect, or substandard. No matter how good they taste or how much they might reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, there’s always some new obstacle standing in the way—in this case, Governor DeSantis, wearing a not-at-all-uncomfortable smile.  

The new law clearly has nothing to do with the creeping threat of authoritarianism (though for more on that, do check out his administration’s crusade to ban books about gay penguins). First and foremost it is an act of political pandering, a way to coddle Florida’s sizable cattle industry, which he goes on to mention in the statement.

Cultured meat is seen as a threat to the livestock industry because animals are only minimally involved in its production. Companies grow cells originally extracted from animals in a nutrient broth and then form them into nuggets, patties or fillets. The US Department of Agriculture has already given its blessing to two companies, Upside Foods and Good Meat, to begin selling cultured chicken products to consumers. Israel recently became the first nation to sign off on a beef version.

It’s still hard to say if cultured meat will get good enough and cheap enough anytime soon to meaningfully reduce our dependence on cattle, chicken, pigs, sheep, goats, and other animals for our protein and our dining pleasure. And it’s sure to take years before we can produce it in ways that generate significantly lower emissions than standard livestock practices today.

But there are high hopes it could become a cleaner and less cruel way of producing meat. It wouldn’t require all the land, food, and energy needed to raise, feed, slaughter, and process animals today. One study found that cultured meat could reduce emissions per kilogram of meat 92% by 2030, even if cattle farming also achieves substantial improvements.

Those sorts of gains are essential if we hope to ease the rising dangers of climate change, because meat, dairy, and cheese production are huge contributors to greenhouse-gas emissions.

DeSantis and politicians in other states that may follow suit, including Alabama and Tennessee, are raising the specter of mandated bug-eating and global-elite string-pulling to turn cultured meat into a cultural issue, and kill the industry in its infancy. 

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