The planet needs lab-grown meat, no matter what Ron DeSantis says (2024)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 18, 2024. Here’s what we’ve been doing in Opinion.

When I first heard about the criminalization of lab-grown meat in Florida and Alabama — and yes, it is criminalization, since producing or distributing the stuff within those states is now punishable by fines and jail time — my first reaction was to roll my eyes at another “own the libs” stunt by two Republican governors. Then I had the thought probably shared by plenty of other vegans and vegetarians who marvel at how far people will go to consume animal flesh: Why don’t we just stop eating meat already?

“It would be so nice and easy if everyone just cut down on their meat consumption, wouldn’t it?” said Carolyn Englar, spokesperson for the alternative-meat promoting Good Food Institute, when I posed the question to her. “Unfortunately, global meat consumption continues to rise, despite many years of environmentalists and global health experts pushing for the reverse.”


She’s right, of course. We’ve long known the environmental cost of raising and killing tens of billions of animals per year for food. In their Times op-ed article this week lampooning the Florida and Alabama bans, New York University professors Arthur L. Caplan and Jeff Sebo tally some of the consequences: 80% of agricultural land is used for raising animals and growing their food, leading to widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss. In California, we’re running out of Colorado River water largely because so much of it goes toward alfalfa used to feed livestock. Growing crops to feed to animals that will be fed to humans is an awfully inefficient way to deliver calories.

One solution is something akin to the harm reduction approach in addiction treatment: To meet people where they are and mitigate the damaging effects of their behavior. This is where lab-grown meat, also known as cell-cultivated meat, comes in.

The only way meat consumption — and this stuff is meat, approved for sale as such by federal government — can approach sustainability is by dramatically cutting the number of animals we raise and kill for it. But the practice of taking tissue samples from livestock and using them to grow meat in devices called bioreactors is still in its research and development phase. Ideally, the business will scale up over many years to the point that cultured meat might displace enough slaughtered animals to reduce the harmful effects of animal agriculture.

But that day is far off — really far off. Which makes the bans signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey so baffling.

I asked the Good Food Institute’s principal scientist for cell-cultured meat, Elliot Swartz, to give me an idea of how far off we’re from DeSantis’ vision of the “global elite’s plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish.” For someone who works at a nonprofit tracking and promoting the development of non-animal protein alternatives, Swartz’s assessment struck me as hopeful yet jarringly frank.

He noted that while global meat production is measured in hundreds of millions of metric tons annually, for cell-cultivated meat we’re still measuring the output in kilograms. It’s growing, yes, and development of this nascent industry is moving fast and attracting investment. But federally inspected facilities in the U.S. producing this meat today, Swartz said, could supply between one and 10 restaurants.


You read that right. DeSantis might see a scheme that spans the globe, but there’s hardly enough cell-cultivated meat to supply a block of fast-food restaurants in Burbank.

Which isn’t to say that lab-grown meat is doomed. By the end of this year, Swartz predicts, enough products could be approved by the federal government to supply up to 100 restaurants. He also points to Israel and Singapore, both of which recently approved the sale of lab-grown meat, as two countries taking action because both have land and water shortages that make meeting the growing demand for animal protein extremely difficult. They’re acting out of self-interest, as other parts of the world must to satisfy humanity’s taste for meat without destroying forests and fouling water supplies.

“We have reached the carrying capacity for meat production,” Swartz said. “That is why we need alternatives to meat consumption.” Getting our meat from somewhere other than dead animals is our only way to keep eating the stuff in the future. Meat pulled out of machine may have an “ick” factor, something capitalized on by Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who declared his support for DeSantis’ ban and declared he would never “serve that slop” to his children. But if lab-grown meat unsettles your stomach, wait until you see the inside of a slaughterhouse.

In the meantime, you can do the Colorado River and California’s critically stressed aquifers a favor by forgoing the occasional hamburger — as suggested in a Times op-ed article last month — or, more heroically, eliminating your meat consumption altogether. Ask a vegan or vegetarian for help — we’re everywhere.

An American doctor stuck in Gaza worries where patients will go as Israel moves into Rafah. Mahmoud Sabha, a physician from Orange County who is living in Texas and volunteering in the Gaza Strip, says his patients have asked where they should go, since they know others have been killed with their IV lines still attached as Israeli forces have moved in on other hospitals.

Will California’s new tax on gun sales reduce firearm violence? In July, the state will start taxing firearm sales, just as it does for alcohol and tobacco. The National Rifle Assn. characterizes this as an affront to the U.S. Constitution, but University of San Diego professor Topher L. McDougal says that reaction hints at the effect the tax may have on gun sales.


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The L.A. City Council just proved it can’t be trusted to fix itself. City Hall has been beset by corruption convictions and ethics complaints over the last several years, so if there’s any time for Council members to strengthen independent ethics oversight, it’s now. Instead, says The Times’ editorial board, it gutted key reforms and voted Tuesday to put a watered-down ethics reform package on the November ballot, showing its “true self-interested colors.”

Biden still trails Trump in the polls. His problem goes beyond inflation, Gaza and age. Popular policies will translate into popular support, the thinking goes, and many Democrats believe President Biden can catch former President Trump in the polls by getting it right on issues such as the Israel-Hamas war, student loans and more. “That might be true to some extent,” writes columnist Jonah Goldberg. “But I think focusing on the issues misses Biden’s real weakness: vibes.”

More from this week in opinion

From our columnists

  • Robin Abcarian: “Diaper Don”? Trump’s supporters turn the tables on his puerile critics
  • Jackie Calmes: The Supreme Court’s conservatives onstage, unplugged and unrepentant

From the op-ed desk

  • A job can’t always lift someone out of homelessness. What more is needed?
  • Alice Munro’s stories gave voice to women’s unspoken, almost unspeakable, inner lives

From the editorial board

  • Critics say Prop. 28 arts funding is being misspent. School administrators need to show their work
  • China embraced electric vehicles. The U.S. didn’t. Now we’re paying the price

Letters to the editor

  • At long last, USC valedictorian Asna Tabassum gets her due
  • Clarence Thomas starts using the “fake news” defense
  • Remembering Sam Rubin, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” pitchman

Stay in touch.

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The planet needs lab-grown meat, no matter what Ron DeSantis says (2024)


Is lab-grown meat bad for your health? ›

The FDA has approved some lab-grown meat as safe for human consumption. 4 Eating meat created in a lab may still sound a little odd. You're not alone if you're skeptical about the prospect of lab-grown poultry. Some people have expressed concern that cell-cultured meat could pose unforeseen health risks.

What are the negatives about lab-based meats? ›

Cons of lab-grown meat

The cultured cell is alive and prone to picking up infections or mutations, just the same as its ancestors did when they were in a live animal.

Is lab-grown meat actually better for the environment? ›

The study found that the global warming potential of lab-based meat using a purified media is four to 25 times greater than the average for retail beef. Under the same scenario, researchers found that cultured meat is more environmentally competitive, but with a wide range.

Why are people against lab-grown meat? ›

Why Do Some Critics Dislike Lab-Grown Meat? Lab-grown protein is costly to scale and more funding — both government and private — is needed to create a viable industry. Further, some believe that the energy needed to produce lab-grown meat at scale will keep it from being a truly environmentally sustainable option.

Is McDonald's using lab-grown meat? ›

Haracz stated it's highly unlikely that McDonald's will be selling artificial meat products any time soon, primarily due to the cost of such products. Consider that lab-grown meat can sometimes cost approximately $17 per pound, while the 2023 average cost of beef per pound is $4.92.

Does McDonald's use cloned meat? ›

Yes, every patty is 100% real beef with no fillers, additives or preservatives. Curious about our burgers? We have answers to all of your questions about McDonald's burgers and beef. Whether you're wondering if McDonald's uses real beef or does McDonald's have a veggie burger -- we've got an answer in our FAQ.

Why did Italy ban lab-grown meat? ›

Lab-grown meat allows the production of food from animal cells, removing the environmental and ethical concerns related to livestock. Italy's move to ban the products been praised by Italian agricultural groups, keen to protect the country's €9.3 billion ($10.1 billion) meat-processing industry.

What does PETA think of lab-grown meat? ›

However, since keeping animals off our plates has always been a cornerstone of PETA's philosophy, we support creating meat through new technology, rather than continuing to rely on cruel and destructive factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Are animals killed for lab-grown meat? ›

But people who don't eat meat for animal welfare or environmental reasons may want to give cultivated meat a try. There are a number of ways to collect cells for cultivated meat that don't kill the animal, like through a biopsy, fertilized egg or even a feather.

Will lab-grown meat be cheaper than real meat? ›

Lab-grown meat is also expensive. Per-unit costs are presently significantly higher than the traditional alternative—according to one analysis, lab-grown beef may be eight times as expensive to produce—although they have plummeted since the first lab-grown burger a decade ago.

Should vegans eat lab-grown meat? ›

Is cultivated meat vegan? Because cultivated meat is taken from real animal cells, it is not technically vegan. But that said, because it's slaughter-free, some vegans have said they'd be open to consuming it.

How to tell if meat is lab-grown? ›

When the products do hit supermarket shelves, Chen says, “they will actually bear the stamp and seal that you expect on a piece of meat”: a little round tag certifying USDA inspection. The labels will also include the prefix “cell-cultured” to distinguish the meat from conventional barnyard fare.

Who invented lab-grown meat? ›

First public trial. The first cultured beef burger patty was created by Mark Post at Maastricht University in 2013. It was made from over 20,000 thin strands of muscle tissue, cost over $325,000 and needed 2 years to produce. The burger was tested on live television in London on 5 August 2013.

Is Tyson chicken lab-grown? ›

Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN)

As one of the largest meat producers in the world, Tyson Foods produces about 20% of the beef and poultry in the U.S. The company has invested in several lab-grown meat companies, and as such, is seen as a potential leader in the lab-grown meat industry.

How much will lab-grown meat cost? ›

Selling lab-grown meat at Andres' and Crenn's restaurants makes sense. Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured or cultivated meat, costs about $17 a pound, making it unaffordable for most consumers. Good Meat parent company Eat Just says the company is taking a loss on sales to allow people to try it.

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