Lab-grown meat bans: states taking action and the future impact

Several U.S. states, including Florida and Alabama, have recently banned the sale of lab-grown meat. Lawmakers are pushing to keep cultivated meat, grown from animal cells, out of grocery stores and schools, while federal efforts to restrict it are also underway. 

With these bans in place, the future of the lab-grown meat industry faces significant challenges and uncertainties.

The rise and fall of lab-grown meat

In June 2023, the U.S. approved the sale of lab-grown meat, allowing two California startups, Good Meat and Upside Foods, to sell cultivated chicken. Despite initial optimism, the industry faced setbacks as lawmakers in seven states introduced legislation to ban cultivated meat.

Florida and Alabama recently passed bans on the sale of lab-grown meat, citing concerns over safety and the desire to protect traditional farming. Tennessee shelved a proposed ban after lawmakers argued it would restrict consumer choice. The bans have caused frustration within the industry, with companies considering legal action to challenge the restrictions.

"It’s a shame they are closing the door before we even get out of the gate," Tom Rossmeissl, the head of global marketing for Good Meat, told the Associated Press last month. 

In the U.S. Senate, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Republican Mike Rounds of South Dakota introduced a bill in January to prohibit the use of lab-grown meat in school lunch programs. Internationally, Italy banned the sale of lab-grown meat late last year, and French lawmakers have introduced similar legislation.


FILE - A piece of lab-grown meat being brushed with sauce as it cooks on a grill.

What is lab-grown meat?

Lab-grown meat, also known as cultivated meat, is produced by growing animal cells in steel tanks using cells from a living animal, a fertilized egg, or a storage bank. 

These cells are fed a mixture of water, sugar, fats, and vitamins. Once grown, they are formed into cutlets, nuggets, and other shapes. This method aims to provide an alternative source of protein to meet the world's growing demand.

Industry response and future outlook

Despite the bans, the cultivated meat industry is committed to proving the safety and benefits of their products. Upside Foods launched a petition to oppose the bans, and other companies are considering their legal options. The industry argues that cultivated meat must meet rigorous government safety tests and aims to supplement, not replace, traditional meat.

"We're throwing up barriers to something that could be really important to our economy and food security," said Tom Rossmeissl, head of global marketing for Good Meat. The U.S. currently leads the effort to develop cultivated meat, but international competition is growing.

While some meat producers support state-level bans, national organizations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Meat Institute do not support outright bans. Some large meat companies are even developing their own cultivated meat products.

The battle over lab-grown meat continues, with the industry navigating legal, political, and market challenges to bring their products to consumers.

"We do not support the route of banning these outright," Sigrid Johannes, the director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said. "We’re not afraid of competing with these products in the marketplace."

The Meat Institute – which represents JBS, Tyson and other big meat companies – sent a letter to Alabama lawmakers warning them that the state's ban was likely unconstitutional since federal law regulates meat processing and interstate commerce.

The founders of Wildtype, a San Francisco-based company that makes cultivated salmon, traveled to Florida and Alabama to testify against the bills but weren’t able to sway the outcome. 

They hope someone will challenge the bans in court but say it’s not realistic for their tiny company to take on that battle.

"We are David and on the other side of the aisle there is a gigantic Goliath," Wildtype co-founder Arye Elfenbein said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.