Arizona lawmakers propose a ban on lab-grown proteins and plant products with meaty names

Dual bills aim to thwart competition for the state's agricultural industry, and particularly its cattle trade.
cultured meat
Good Meat's cultured chicken. | Photo courtesy of Good Meat.

Restaurants in Arizona would be banned from serving lab-grown meat under a bill introduced this week by a contingent of state legislators.

A separate bill would mandate that establishments selling the proteins in effect be banned from calling it beef or chicken. That measure could also change how plant-based meat analogs like veggie burgers would need to be labeled.

The lawmakers contend the legislation will protect residents from unknown potential health threats from proteins cultured in a lab from animal cells. But they acknowledge that they also hope to shield the state’s cattle industry from the emergence of new competition.

They note that a decrease in Arizona’s cattle production would also depress state revenues by undercutting demand for leases to graze animals on state land, a significant source of revenue for schools and other public institutions.

The legislative proposals are intended as more of a long-range pre-emptive strike than a response to imminent market changes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted approval last June for cultivated chicken—protein cultivated in a sterile controlled environment from poultry cells—to be sold in the United States. But suppliers worldwide say they have yet to ramp up production to a level that could meet nearly any demand.

Only a few U.S. restaurants have served cultured chicken to date, and most of them acknowledge that they did it for publicity reasons.

Huber’s Butchery, a noted restaurant and butcher shop in Singapore, was the lone establishment worldwide as of last year to regularly feature cultivated chicken. It offered the protein one night a week and reported that seats for that evening are typically booked quickly.

Until a significant scale is achieved, the production costs will also likely keep the wholesale price of cultivated chicken far above the charges for poultry produced in traditional fashion. Suppliers say the costs are unlikely to equalize for another five or 10 years.

Huber’s, however, charges the same for its cultivated chicken as it does for the traditional version.

Arizona is believed to be the first state to consider a ban on lab-grown meats. Italy outlawed all culture proteins in November, with proponents arguing that the meats run contrary to the nation’s rich culinary culture and reliance on domestic products.

Under one of the two proposals floated in Arizona, HB 2021, lab production of meats would also be banned throughout the state. In addition to facing a $25,000 fine, parties that sell or produce the proteins could be sued by any party that believes it suffered businesswise from the availability of the banned meats.

The measure has six co-sponsors to date.

The other relevant bill, HB 2244, states that anyone who labels food for sale “may not intentionally misbrand or misrepresent a product that is not derived from livestock or poultry as meat.”

It lists lab-cultured meats as one of those products. But it also prohibits an item from being tagged as meat if it’s “a synthetic product derived from a plant, insect or other source.”

It also bans use of any term “that has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific met food product or poultry product.”

The language suggests that all-vegetable versions of burgers, chicken nuggets or other products that sound as if they consist of meat would also be outlawed.

Violators would be subject to a hearing and face a potential fine of up to $100,000 for every day the analog product is offered.

The bill currently has eight co-sponsors.

Arizona’s House of Representatives consists of 60 lawmakers.

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