While the consumption of meat has long been a part of the endless culture war, a new front has opened–the insects and lab-grown meat battlefield. In May of 2024 my adopted state of Florida passed a law prohibiting the sale of lab-grown meat. Governor DeSantis’ website made the announcement, asserting that Florida “is taking action to stop the World Economic Forum’s goal of forcing the world to eat lab-grown meat and insects.” Perhaps as an attempt at proving the claim about insects, the page links to a World Economic Forum page that makes a case for using insects as protein and fertilizer.

In his speech about the law, DeSantis asserted that “Florida is fighting back against the global elite’s plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish or bugs to achieve their authoritarian goals…” He was backed up by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson who claimed that Florida farmers and American agriculture need to be protected from lab-grown meat because it is “a disgraceful attempt to undermine our proud traditions and prosperity, and is in direct opposition to authentic agriculture.”

As people often think eating bugs is gross, this is a smart culture war move. But like almost every battle of the culture war, this is a fight against a largely imaginary enemy. While the World Economic Forum and some “global elites” have pushed for synthetic meat and using bugs in agriculture, the World Economic Forum obviously cannot force the world to eat insects or synthetic meat. Even if states did nothing, people can obviously just decline to buy and consume foods they do not want.  As such, the law protects the people of Florida from nothing (except the right to choose whether to buy lab-grown meat). It is like passing a law banning the sale of exercise equipment in Florida and claiming that it is to protect Floridians from the World Health Organization and the “global elites” forcing people to exercise.

Somewhat ironically, the passage of the law simply confirms that the WEF and the “global elite” lack the power to bend the people of the United States to its will regarding bugs and lab-grown meat. After all, if they had the power to force people to do this, a single law passed in Florida would hardly suffice to stop them. But even if the “global elite” had the power to force the United States to bend to its will (but somehow not enough power to overcome a single law), they would not be able to make people eat lab-grown meat because there is not enough of it.

Currently, lab-grown meat is not a viable product that could be mass-produced to be forced onto people. That is, even if the “global elite” wanted Floridians to eat lab-grown meat, there is not enough of it. Even the most optimistic estimate from proponents of alternative proteins is that about 5% of protein will be coming from such sources in 2030. As such, the law protects the people of Florida from what amounts to nothing. But one might argue, lab-grown meat presents a significant future threat to Florida, and this justifies the law.

One obvious reply is that lab-grown meat does not seem to present a meaningful danger to consumers. While contamination of meat is always a concern, there is no reason to think that lab-grown meat would be more likely to cause food borne illness than conventional meat. After all, lab-grown meat will not be anywhere near animal feces. One could, of course, raise various sci-fi concerns about synthetic meat, but it seems unlikely that lab-grown meat would present any such dangers in the real world. This is not to deny that lab-grown meat could be contaminated, that is always a concern in our woeful system of food safety. But it is not a special concern for lab-grown meat.

There is also the obvious fact that unlike with products like cigarettes, vapes, or pain killers, lab-grown meat does not have any addictive properties or appeal that would cause people to become addicted. As such, there seems to be no meaningful harm that this law would protect consumers from. Unless one thinks that choice is harmful. While the above has focused on the consumer, Simpson seems focused on the agricultural businesses.

As noted above, Simpson claims that lab-grown meat is an attempt to undermine “proud traditions.” This is, of course, the fallacy of appeal to tradition. That something is traditional provides no proof that it is true or good; it also provides no proof that it is false or bad. It just means that it has been around for a while–and many bad things, like murder, have been around a while. But also, good things, like ice cream, have been around for a while. Also, as with almost any appeal to tradition, it is reasonable to inquire about which tradition is being appealed to. After all, agriculture has changed radically even in recent years thanks to new technologies, genetic engineering, and chemicals. But what about the matter of prosperity?

While the Republican party has traditionally professed a love for the competition of the free market and the importance of freedom of choice, this law is clearly aimed at using the state to crush the competition before the contest begins. Some might see this sort of thing as the state “picking winers and losers” or even socialism. It is most certainly not free market capitalism. I won’t offer any free market arguments of my own here, I will simply refer the reader to decades of Republican arguments in favor of the free market and freedom of consumer choice. In this case, the free-market arguments have merit: the lab-grown meat vs traditional meat fight should be settled by consumer choice and not the fiat of the ruling elite of Florida who have the authoritarian goal of preventing this freedom of choice.

Continuing with prosperity, while a successful lab-grown meat product might have a slight impact on traditional meat sales, this would still mean that companies would be making profits and paying workers. This would not lead to a general economic downturn, although it could result in a slight decline in profits for traditional meat companies. But I suspect it would also shift profits away from companies that sell existing meat alternatives, such as tofu. But, as past Republicans would have argued, this is just the competitive market of products. As such, the law is clearly aimed at protecting the elites of the meat industries from competition, under the mask of protecting the people of Florida from a nefarious global elite. As such, this is just an anti-competition law protecting a traditional industry from a possible competitor. This does show that they learned their lesson from what happened to milk: when given a choice, some consumers will opt for vegan or vegetarian options. Hence, they have taken action to try to protect meat–this indicates  the meat industry is worried that it would lose this free-market competition.

Simpson’s final point does raise an interesting metaphysical issue about the nature of authentic agriculture. While “authentic” is a rhetorical term, especially given the highly technological and chemical nature of modern agriculture, one can raise the reasonable question of whether lab-grown meat is meat. This will be addressed in an upcoming essay.