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‘Lab-grown’ meat maker hosts Miami tasting party as Florida ban goes into effect

U.S. approved 'cell-cultivated' meat in June 2023

Chef Mika Leon cooks cultivated chicken at a pop-up tasting for "lab-grown" meat produced by California-based Upside Foods, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Miami. As Florida's ban on lab-grown meat is set to go into effect next week, one manufacturer hosted a tasting party, serving up cultivated chicken tostadas to dozens of attendees on a rooftop in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Chef Mika Leon cooks cultivated chicken at a pop-up tasting for "lab-grown" meat produced by California-based Upside Foods, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Miami. As Florida's ban on lab-grown meat is set to go into effect next week, one manufacturer hosted a tasting party, serving up cultivated chicken tostadas to dozens of attendees on a rooftop in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

‘Lab-grown’ meat maker hosts Miami tasting party as Florida ban goes into effect

U.S. approved 'cell-cultivated' meat in June 2023

MIAMI (AP) — As Florida ‘s ban on “lab-grown” meat is set to go into effect next week, one manufacturer hosted a last hurrah — at least for now — with a cultivated meat-tasting party in Miami.

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

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

The U.S. approved the sale of what’s now being called “cell-cultivated” or “cell-cultured” meat for the first time in June 2023, allowing Upside Foods and another California company, Good Meat, to sell cultivated chicken.

Earlier this year, Florida and Alabama banned the sale of cultivated meat and seafood, which is grown from animal cells. Other states and federal lawmakers also are looking to restrict it, arguing the product could hurt farmers and pose a safety risk to the public.

While Florida cattle ranchers joined Gov. Ron DeSantis when he signed the ban into law in May, Valeti said Florida officials never reached out to his company before passing the legislation.

“It’s pretty clear to us that the governor and the government have been misinformed,” Valeti said. “And all we’re asking for is a chance to have a direct conversation and say, ‘this is proven science, this is proven safety.'”

Cultivated products are grown in steel tanks using cells from a living animal, a fertilized egg or a storage bank. The cells are fed with special blends of water, sugar, fats and vitamins. Once they’ve grown, they’re formed into cutlets, nuggets and other shapes.

Chef Mika Leon, owner of Caja Caliente in Coral Gables, prepared the cultivated chicken for Thursday’s event, which invited members of the South Florida public to get their first, and possibly last, taste of cultivated meat before Florida’s ban begins Monday. Leon served chicken tostadas with avocado, chipotle crema and beet sprouts.

“When you cook it, it sizzles and cooks just like chicken, which was insane,” Leon said. “And then when you go to eat it, it’s juicy.”

Reception guest Alexa Arteaga said she could imagine cultivated meat being a more ethical alternative.

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

Another guest, Skyler Myers, agreed about the texture being different when eating a piece of meat by itself but said it just seemed like normal chicken when he ate the tostada.

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

Besides the ethical issues surrounding the killing of animals, Valeti said cultivated meat avoids many of the health and environmental problems created by the meat industry, such as deforestation, pollution and the spread of disease. He also noted that the meat his company produces is not coming from a lab but from a facility more closely resembling a brewery or a dairy processing plant.

“We don’t have any confined animals,” Valeti said. “We just have healthy animal cells that are growing in cultivators.”

The restrictions come despite cultivated meat and seafood still being too expensive to reach the market in a meaningful way. Two high-end U.S. restaurants briefly added the products to their menus, but it hasn’t been available at any U.S. grocery stores. Companies have been working to bring down costs by scaling up production, but now they’re also trying to respond to bans with petitions and possible legal action.

Sean Edgett, Upside Foods chief legal officer, said the company went through a yearslong process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration before receiving approval. He said those federal regulations should supersede any state bans, which he believes are unconstitutional.

“We’re hopeful that if lawmakers can’t change their mind and turn things around back to an avenue of progress that the courts will step in and make that clear,” Edgett said.

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

State Sen. Jay Collins, a Republican who sponsored the Florida bill, noted the legislation doesn’t ban research, just the manufacturing and sale of cultivated meat. Collins said safety was his primary motivator, but he also wants to protect Florida agriculture.

“Let’s not be in a rush to replace something,” Collins said earlier this year. “It’s a billion-dollar industry. We feed a ton of people across the country with our cattle, beef, pork, poultry and fish industries.”

Valeti isn’t trying to replace any industry, just give people more options, he said.

“We want to have multiple choices that feed us,” Valeti said. “Some of those choices are conventional farming. Some of those choices are coming from plant-based foods. And cultivated meat is another solid choice.”

 

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