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‘Lab Meat’ Maker Hosts Tasting Party in Miami as Florida Ban Takes Effect

By DAVID FISCHER – Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — With Florida’s ban on “lab-grown” meat set to take effect next week, one manufacturer threw one last hurrah with a lab-grown meat tasting party in Miami — at least for now.

California-based Upside Foods hosted dozens of guests Thursday night at a rooftop reception in the city’s Wynwood neighborhood, known for its street art, breweries, nightclubs and trendy restaurants.

“This is delicious meat,” said Upside Foods CEO and founder Uma Valeti. “And we fundamentally believe that people should have a choice about what they want to put on their plate.”

The United States approved the sale of what is now known as “cell-cultured” or “cell-grown” meat for the first time in June 2023. This allows Upside Foods and another California company, Good Meat, to sell cultured chicken.

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Earlier this year, Florida and Alabama banned the sale of cultured meat and seafood grown from animal cells. Other states and federal lawmakers are also seeking to restrict sales, saying the product could harm farmers and pose a safety risk to the public.

While Florida ranchers joined Governor Ron DeSantis when he signed the ban in May, Valeti said Florida authorities never contacted his company before the law was passed.

“It’s pretty clear to us that the governor and the administration have been misinformed,” Valeti said. “And all we’re asking for is the opportunity to have a direct conversation and say, ‘This is scientifically proven, this is proven safe.'”

Cultured products are grown in steel tanks from cells of a living animal, a fertilized egg or from a stock bank. The cells are fed special mixtures of water, sugar, fats and vitamins. Once grown, they are formed into cutlets, nuggets and other shapes.

Chef Mika Leon, owner of Caja Caliente in Coral Gables, prepared the farmed chicken for Thursday’s event, which gave the South Florida public a chance to taste farmed meat for the first and possibly last time before Florida’s ban takes effect Monday. Leon served chicken tostadas with avocado, chipotle cream and beet sprouts.

“When you cook it, it sizzles and cooks like chicken, it was amazing,” said Leon. “And when you eat it, it’s juicy.”

Receptionist Alexa Arteaga said she could imagine cultured meat being a more ethical alternative.

“The texture itself is a little bit different, but the taste was really, really good,” Arteaga said. “Much better than I expected.”

Another guest, Skyler Myers, agreed that the texture was different when eating a piece of meat on its own, but said it seemed like regular chicken in the tostada.

“There’s no difference,” Myers said. “I mean, there’s no way you’d ever know.”

In addition to the ethical issues associated with killing animals, Valeti said cultured meat avoids many of the health and environmental problems associated with the meat industry, such as deforestation, pollution and the spread of disease. He also pointed out that the meat produced by his company does not come from a laboratory, but from a facility more akin to a brewery or dairy.

“We don’t have any caged animals,” said Valeti. “We only have healthy animal cells growing in cultivators.”

The restrictions come even though cultured meat and seafood are still too expensive to enter the market in any significant quantities. Two high-end U.S. restaurants briefly added the products to their menus, but no U.S. grocery stores carry them. The companies are working to reduce costs by expanding production, but now they’re also trying to respond to bans with petitions and possible legal action.

Sean Edgett, legal director for Upside Foods, said the company went through a years-long process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration before receiving approval. He said these federal regulations should override any state bans, which he said are unconstitutional.

“If lawmakers fail to change their minds and get things back on the path of progress, we hope the courts will step in and clarify this,” Edgett said.

Proponents of the bans say they want to protect farmers and consumers from a product that has only been around for about a decade.

Republican Senator Jay Collins, who sponsored the bill in Florida, pointed out that the law does not prohibit research, only the production and sale of cultured meat. Collins said safety is his primary motive, but he also wants to protect Florida’s agriculture industry.

“We shouldn’t be in a rush to replace anything,” Collins said earlier this year. “It’s a billion-dollar industry. We feed a lot of people across the country with our cattle, beef, pork, poultry and seafood industries.”

Valeti is not trying to replace any industry, but simply to give people more opportunities, he said.

“We want to have multiple options for how we eat,” Valeti said. “Some of those options are conventional agriculture. Some of those options come from plant-based foods. And cultured meat is another solid choice.”

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