Alabama Senate Passes Bill to Ban Cultivated Meat, as Legislative Opposition Heats Up in Election Year

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Alabama has become the latest US state to take legislative action against cultivated meat, with the Senate passing a bill to ban these proteins. The bill will now move to the House of Representatives, where it could become law.

It’s election year in the US, and the political charades are full at play. Some Republican lawmakers are using their power to block a climate solution that could potentially help safeguard the future of food. And now, senators in Alabama – a majority red state with over three times as many Republicans as Democrats – have passed a bill to ban cultivated meat from being sold.

Sponsored by senator Jack Williams, SB23 makes it a Class C felony to manufacture, sell or distribute cultivated meat in the southern state. If you’re the owner of a restaurant hoping to offer cultivated meat to patrons, you could be convicted and your establishment could have its food safety permit suspended or even revoked.

The bill was voted for by 32 of the state’s 35 senators, while nobody opposed it. This means it now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives. “If you were on Mars, you have to grow what you have to grow to eat,” Williams told Alabama Daily News. “The problem with this is we have plenty of food in the state. We have plenty of cattle and chicken. There’s no reason for us to bring this product in here.”

The senator, who is a cattle farmer, raised concerns about the safety of cultivated meat, seemingly ignoring the USDA and FDA‘s assessments deeming cultured chicken from two companies as safe for consumption, or the fact that Alabama is home to a chicken farm where nearly 48,000 birds were killed due to a pathogenic avian flu less than four months ago.

“Anything that is artificial and not to do with our animals comes up on my radar,” he added. “I don’t want Alabamians eating that.” But cultivated meat does have something to do with animals: it’s meat made from animal cells, just without any of the killing or much of the environmental footprint.

Alabama’s bill to ban cultivated meat ignores some home truths

alabama lab grown meat
Courtesy: Alabama Senate Republican Caucus

Speaking to 1819 News, Williams said people want to know what they’re eating. “That’s why people are going to the farms so much to get their food now. This is all made from nothing, cells. You don’t know what you’re getting. You don’t know what it’s going to do to you later, I think. It’s a pretty simple bill, but I had big, big support on it. It just keeps it out of the stores in Alabama and keeps them from manufacturing it here.”

He continued: “We don’t know what’s in this. We don’t know what it’s going to do to your body yet. There hasn’t been enough research done. They’re doing chickens in California, I know, and shipping them overseas, not here, but we just don’t want it in Alabama.”

The “they” he referred to here are Californian cultivated meat companies UPSIDE Foods and Eat JUST, the two companies that are allowed to sell cultured chicken in the US. But they’re not shipping these products overseas – that’s not how it works. As a novel food, every country you want to sell your cultivated meat in must approve it through their food regulatory bodies. These two startups have had their chickens in restaurants before, and will soon make them available again.

“UPSIDE Foods strongly opposes the proposed bill aiming to criminalise cultivated meat in Alabama, as it threatens the free market, stifles innovation, and limits consumer choice,” the company told ABC 33/40. “This legislation not only jeopardises the United States’ leadership in biotechnology and Alabama’s supply chain, it also hinders our ability to address the projected doubling of global meat demand by 2050.”

Williams told the same publication that he watches “all the chemicals that are put in meats today, and everything else”. We have more and more people going straight to the farm and buying stuff, from their meats to their vegetables… it’s not altered in any way,” he claimed.

Except that, quite often, it is. Sales of antibiotics for livestock use increased by 12% from 2017-22, according to the FDA. In 2020, the meat industry bought 69% of the US’s medically important antibiotic supply. This has had implications for human health, with 35,000 Americans dying as a result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 2019 alone.

Cultivated meat has been identified as a pillar of the future food system. If it can overcome its challenges of scaling up and driving down costs – which are no doubt stifled by legislative bills like Alabama’s – it could present remarkable benefits to the climate, human health (it has already been certified as safe to eat by three countries) and food security.

“If that’s what we have to survive, I would re-entertain looking at something,” said Williams. “But I think there needs to be a lot of test work done on it. The people I represent, we don’t want this meat coming to Alabama and being in our stores.” (Although he was arrested on bribery charges for a corruption scheme affecting those very people in 2018).

Cultivating the culture(d meat) wars ahead of 2024 elections

upside foods
Courtesy: Upside Foods

Alabama is far from the only state hoping to inhibit the cultivated meat sector. Florida has introduced two bills hoping to ban the production, sale, holding and distribution of cultured meat within the state. One of them suggests imposing criminal penalties – including facing misdemeanours of the second degree, fines of $500 to $1,000, and license suspensions or stop-sale orders – on anyone violating these rules.

In Texas, governor Greg Abbott signed a bill requiring clear labelling of plant-based and cultivated meat, seafood and egg products, while Nebraska’s Real MEAT Act would mandate the word “imitation” on alternative protein if passed. Policymakers in Tennessee are making their case for a $1M fine as part of its proposal to outlaw cultured meat.

Arizona House representative Quang Nguyen drafted HB 2244, a bill that would make it illegal to “intentionally misbrand or misrepresent” an alternative meat product as meat, while fellow Republican David Marshall went a step further with HB 2121, attempting to ban the sale or production of cultured meat. On similar grounds, Wisconsin State Assembly representative Peter Schmidt – a Republican dairy farmer – proposed two bills against alternative protein, one of which put restrictions on the labelling of cultivated meat.

Just last month, senators Mike Rounds (Republican) and Jon Tester (Democrat) proposed a federal bill to ban these proteins in school meals. The reality is that cultivated meat has become a political hotrod in the election year, with lawmakers turning their tirade away from plant-based meat for a second to attack the newest alternative protein they view as a threat to the meat industry. It mirrors similar moves in Europe, with Italy already having banned cultivated meat.

The hope in the US is to mobilise support from voters in heavy farming states, and protect a livestock sector deeply entrenched in America’s political fabric. The meat industry has deep ties with state players – it spends 190 times more money on lobbying and receives 800 times more public funding than alternative protein companies.

It’s a reason why, despite nearly all of the chicken and pork Americans eat coming from confined factory farms, Republicans (and some Democrats too) will have you believe that all meat is grown in a ‘humane’ manner with animals who have tons of free space and good living conditions, all facts be damned. “We want to be supportive of our cattlemen and that’s a huge industry in Alabama and income for our small farmers,” said Rick Pate, Alabama’s agricultural commissioner.

Really, though, the real threat farmers face is the changing climate and all its implications – droughts and floods, irregular harvests and crop failures, extreme heat and extreme cold. But can you blame these politicians, who belong to a country where 74% of people don’t think eating meat affects the climate? For a country that – even for a while – considered a vehement climate change denier as a presidential candidate, the answer is yes. Yes, you can.


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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