Meat, Freedom and Ron DeSantis

It’s possible to grow meat in a lab — to cultivate animal cells without an animal and turn them into something people can eat. However, that process is difficult and expensive. And at the moment, lab-grown meat isn’t commercially available and probably won’t be for a long time, if ever.

Still, if and when lab-grown meat, also sometimes referred to as cultured meat, makes it onto the market at less than outrageous prices, a significant number of people will probably buy it. Some will do so on ethical grounds, preferring not to have animals killed to grace their dinner plates. Others will do so in the belief that growing meat in labs does less damage to the environment than devoting acres and acres to animal grazing. And it’s at least possible that lab-grown meat will eventually be cheaper than meat from animals.

And if some people choose to consume lab-grown meat, why not? It’s a free country, right?

Not if the likes of Ron DeSantis have their way. Recently DeSantis, back to work as governor of Florida after the spectacular failure of his presidential campaign, signed a bill banning the production or sale of lab-grown meat in his state. Similar legislation is under consideration in several states.

On one level, this could be seen as a trivial story — a crackdown on an industry that doesn’t even exist yet. But the new Florida law is a perfect illustration of how crony capitalism, culture war, conspiracy theorizing and rejection of science have been merged — ground together, you might say — in a way that largely defines American conservatism today.

First, it puts the lie to any claim that the right is the side standing firm for limited government; government doesn’t get much more intrusive than having politicians tell you what you can and can’t eat.

Who’s behind the ban? Remember when a group of Texas ranchers sued Oprah Winfrey over a show warning about the risks of mad cow disease that they said cost them millions? It’s hard to imagine that today, meat industry fears about losing market share to lab meat aren’t playing a role. And such concerns about market share aren’t necessarily silly. Look at the rise of plant-based milk, which in 2020 accounted for 15 percent of the milk market.

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