States Split on Cultured Meat: FL & AL Ban, TN & AZ Falter

The landscape of meat alternatives has seen significant developments in the first half of 2024, with state and federal actions shaping the future of this burgeoning industry. Meat alternatives, encompassing both plant-based products and cell-cultured meat, have been at the center of legislative debates and regulatory scrutiny. These products aim to mimic traditional meat but are derived from non-livestock sources, such as chickpeas in vegan burgers or cultured animal cells in lab-grown meat. As these innovations gain traction, they face growing regulatory challenges and legislative hurdles.

In a notable move, four states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Tennessee – have introduced legislation targeting the manufacture and sale of cell-cultured meat. Florida and Alabama have successfully passed these laws, setting a precedent for other states. On May 1, 2024, Florida became the first state to ban cell-cultured meat through SB1084, an appropriations bill that included a provision prohibiting the manufacturing, sale, holding, or distribution of “cultivated meat.” The law, effective July 1, 2024, defines cultivated meat as any product produced from cultured animal cells. Violations are classified as misdemeanors, and establishments could face license suspensions for non-compliance. However, the law does not restrict research on cultivated meat.

Alabama followed suit on May 7, 2024, with Governor Kay Ivey signing SB23 into law. This legislation mirrors Florida’s, banning the manufacture, sale, and distribution of cultivated food products, defined similarly as those derived from cultured animal cells. The law, effective October 1, 2024, imposes Class C misdemeanor charges for violations and allows for the suspension of food safety permits for non-compliant establishments. Like Florida, Alabama’s law exempts research conducted by government entities or educational institutions.

In contrast, Tennessee’s legislative attempts to ban cell-cultured meat through HB2860 and SB2870 did not progress before the session ended. Arizona’s HB2121 passed the House but failed in the Senate, leaving the state without a ban for now.

Amidst these state-level bans, Iowa has taken a different approach by focusing on labeling requirements for meat alternatives. The new legislation mandates clear labeling for “manufactured-protein food products,” which include cultivated-protein, insect-protein, and plant-protein products. The law defines cultivated-protein as products derived from agricultural food animal stem cells, resembling meat tissue. Insect-protein and plant-protein products are similarly defined but derived from insect and plant parts, respectively.

The Iowa law prohibits the use of “identifying meat terms” on manufactured-protein food products unless accompanied by a “qualifying term” that clarifies the product is not traditional meat. For instance, a cell-cultured product labeled simply as “burger” would be considered misbranded unless it also includes a term like “lab-grown” or “plant-based” in close proximity. Violations incur civil penalties up to $500.

The law extends similar labeling requirements to “fabricated-egg products,” which are plant-based or otherwise non-traditional egg substitutes. Identifying egg terms like “scrambled” or “quiche” must be paired with qualifying terms such as “vegan” or “egg-free” to avoid misbranding.

Additionally, the legislation restricts state education providers, including schools and universities, from purchasing misbranded meat or egg products. It also mandates that the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services request a waiver from the USDA if federal nutrition programs like SNAP or WIC include cultivated-protein or fabricated-egg products.

On the federal level, the EPA, FDA, and USDA have published a joint regulatory plan for biotechnology, addressing the regulation of cell-cultured meat. This coordinated effort aims to provide a comprehensive framework for the oversight of these innovative products, ensuring safety and transparency for consumers.

As the meat alternatives industry continues to evolve, these legislative and regulatory actions highlight the complex interplay between innovation and regulation. The decisions made in 2024 will undoubtedly shape the future of food technology and consumer choices in the years to come.

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