Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned lab-grown meat. Why did Democratic Senator John Fetterman lend his support?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned cell-cultivated or “lab-grown” meat. Why did Democratic Senator John Fetterman lend his support?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned lab-grown meat. Why did Democratic Senator John Fetterman lend his support?0

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) walking the halls of Congress. Nathan Howard/Getty Images Kenny Torrella is a staff writer for Vox’s Future Perfect section, with a focus on animal welfare and the future of meat.

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Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law to ban cell-cultivated or “lab-grown” meat from the Sunshine State.

“Take your fake lab-grown meat elsewhere,” DeSantis said. “We’re not doing that in the state of Florida.”

Cell-cultivated meat is made by feeding animal cells a mix of nutrients to produce real meat without slaughtering an animal. It’s an emerging technology — billed as a solution to factory farming’s enormous carbon footprint and horrific animal treatment — and was approved last June by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture as safe to eat and legal to sell. But it remains far from commercial viability and is not available for sale anywhere in the US.

DeSantis banned the technology to protect Florida’s farmers and ranchers from future competition. But it was also a culture war win for the governor, as meat has become a hot topic in the right wing’s conspiracy-laden politics. The day DeSantis signed the bill, he posted a bizarre image on X accusing the World Economic Forum of an authoritarian plot to force people to eat cell-cultivated meat.

The ban, unsurprisingly, earned DeSantis praise from fellow Republicans. But in a rare moment of political unity, a Democratic member of Congress supported the ban, too: Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania.

“Pains me deeply to agree with Crash-and-Burn Ron, but I co-sign this,” Fetterman posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, last week about the Florida ban. “As a member of @SenateAgDems and as some dude who would never serve that slop to my kids, I stand with our American ranchers and farmers.”

Pains me deeply to agree with Crash-and-Burn Ron, but I co-sign this.

As a member of @SenateAgDems and as some dude who would never serve that slop to my kids, I stand with our American ranchers and farmers. pic.twitter.com/zZLYf8t5lI

— Senator John Fetterman (@SenFettermanPA) May 2, 2024

(I’ve tried cell-cultivated chicken and it tastes like, well, chicken — not slop.)

This isn’t the first time Fetterman has spoken out against various forms of alternative meat. He’s also co-sponsored a slate of bills supported by factory farm trade groups. Those include bills to ban plant-based egg and dairy companies from using words like “egg” and “dairy,” and to set restrictions on what plant-based meat companies can write on their labels.

Fetterman’s office declined an on-the-record interview request for this story and didn’t respond to detailed questions. “The Senator has heard from constituents on this issue, and that’s what informs his views…All of this comes down to consumer choice and transparency,” a spokesperson said in an email, adding that Fetterman has introduced legislation to increase access to soy milk in school cafeterias.

The soy milk legislation is important, especially since so many kids can’t digest lactose. But supporting a ban on cell-cultivated meat reduces rather than expands consumer choice.

DeSantis’s ban goes against the Republican party’s free market platitudes, though it fits neatly into his culture war agenda. But it may seem odd that Fetterman lent his support. While the Democratic party doesn’t have much to say about meat alternatives, the nascent sector aligns with many of the party’s stated values and goals. Plant- and cell-based meat startups offer an alternative to the factory farm system, which produces virtually all of America’s meat, dairy, and eggs, and is a leading contributor to climate change, air and water pollution, pandemic risk, labor abuse, and animal torture.

So why is Fetterman so opposed to slaughter-free meat?

If you don’t like cell-cultivated meat factories, you really won’t like factory farms

Allying with factory farming business interests will help Fetterman appear more moderate in the swing state of Pennsylvania — the state ranks high in dairy and egg production, and farm-state politicians tend to side with agribusiness.

And it’s a move that’s relatively safe for a Democrat to take. Despite the widespread damage that factory farming inflicts on society, Americans of both parties eat lots of meat and dairy. Farmers and ranchers hold a mythic status in American culture, and questioning their practices or calling for even modest regulation is politically dangerous, even for Democrats.

Fetterman’s opposition may also be explained by the “naturalistic fallacy”: the notion that anything “natural” — real animals slaughtered for food — is good, while anything new and “artificial,” like cell-cultivated meat, is bad.

That was evident in a follow-up to his post in support of DeSantis’s ban, where he shared a picture of a bioreactor used to make cell-cultivated meat with a caption that read “btw, this is the thing that makes lab meat.”

btw, this is the thing that makes lab meat pic.twitter.com/4GZIt4SnNN

— Senator John Fetterman (@SenFettermanPA) May 3, 2024

Users on X mocked the post, with many sharing photos of similar stainless steel machines used to make all manner of agricultural products, like milk, cheese, beer, and coffee. Some also replied with pictures of factory farms and slaughterhouses — images far more disturbing than a cell-cultivated meat factory.

I assume ordinary sausages are made in a manner all would enjoy seeing. https://t.co/Vl2cxp2qkZ

— Sridhar Ramesh (@RadishHarmers) May 3, 2024

Any critique of novel food technology must also include an honest reckoning with what it seeks to replace: in this case, conventional meat production, a highly industrialized system that depends on a slew of horrific practices, including:

  • Feeding cattle chicken feces
  • Feeding pigs feces from other pigs
  • Forcibly impregnating animals (this is technically bestiality but most states have exempted it for agricultural purposes)
  • Ripping out female shrimps’ eyes so they lay more eggs
  • Force-feeding ducks
  • Grinding up male chicks alive because they can’t lay eggs

This list just skims the surface. Factory farming also commits widespread environmental pollution and subjects its workers to dangerous conditions on the farm and in slaughterhouses, where people lose fingers and limbs and some reportedly wear diapers because bathroom breaks are so limited.

Many Democrats side with the factory farming industry. It won’t age well.

I’d venture to guess that Fetterman’s membership of the US Senate Agriculture committee should give him a clear picture of what meat, dairy, and egg production entails, so his behavior can likely be chalked up to cold political calculation. Will it work?

It’s hard to know what exactly consumers think about cell-cultivated meat, because poll methodology has varied widely, and it’s a hard issue to poll on — most people don’t know what it is and it’s not available for purchase. But we do know that most Americans are uncomfortable with factory farms, and when they have an opportunity at the ballot box to stop its cruelest practices, like locking pigs and egg-laying hens in tiny cages, they tend to take it, whether it’s in a red, purple, or blue state.

Animal agriculture accounts for 15 to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is under increasing pressure to shrink its environmental footprint. It’s poised to be one of the next fronts in the fight against climate change, and alternative meat technologies could help achieve significant emissions reductions the same way electric vehicles and heat pumps can get us off fossil fuels.

While we’ve come to expect Republicans to stand in the way of technological solutions to clean up the environment, Fetterman’s opposition to alternative meat and dairy — and that of others in his party — suggests we may need to brace ourselves for some Democrats to join them.

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Sourse: vox.com

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