Almy says that the suggestion that ingesting immortalized cells could be linked to cancer in humans was “so ludicrous as to be laughable.” “So few people have had cultivated meat or have access to it that it feels like these things that are being raised are more fearmongering than anything else,” she says. “It feels like it’s taking advantage of consumers’ unfamiliarity with this product.”
The CEW website and ad campaign is reminiscent of a similar campaign targeting the plant-based meat industry by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), another US campaign group. One advert the CCF ran during the 2020 Super Bowl featured a mock spelling bee where students struggled to spell some ingredients found in plant-based burgers. “You might need a PhD to understand what’s in synthetic meat,” ran the voiceover. Founded by Rick Berman in 1996, the CCF has a long history of campaigning against plant-based meat, animal welfare charities, and legislation to ban the sale of animal fur.
The latest campaign from CEW also criticizes the environmental credentials of cultivated meat, citing a preprint study that found that cultivated meat could have 25 times the carbon footprint of regular beef. The study was widely picked up in the press and drew criticism from the Good Food Institute for detailing unlikely production methods relying on very high levels of ingredient purification. Other studies have found that cultivated meat could have much lower carbon emissions than conventional beef, although until manufacturers scale up production, it is difficult to know exactly how emissions-intensive production might be.
Bryant says that the CEW website seems to deliberately select material that puts cultivated meat in the worst possible light. “It’s presented information to inspire more concern than is warranted,” he says.
In response to the criticisms raised in this article, Hubbard says that “CEW is simply presenting existing research, the opinion of subject matter experts, and a commonsense perspective to Americans so they can make up their own minds. Consumers stand to benefit from a robust debate.”
The future of the nascent industry is still highly uncertain, with most work in cultivated meat being carried out by privately funded startups. There has been some government support for the technology, however. In 2021 the US Department of Agriculture gave a $10 million grant to Tufts University in Boston for work on cultivated meat, and there have also been government grants in the UK, Israel, and the Netherlands.
But some lawmakers are pushing back against cultivated meat. In November 2023, the Italian parliament passed a law prohibiting the use, sale, import, and export of feed “from cell cultures or tissue derived from vertebrate animals.” In Arizona, a bill seeking to prohibit the labeling of cultivated animal cells as “meat” was introduced by state representative Quang Nguyen in January, while legislation that would limit the labeling or sales of cultivated meat have also been proposed in Florida and Texas.
Almy says that she hopes the campaigning from CEW doesn’t stymy the opportunity for customers in the US and beyond to eventually try cultivated meat and decide for themselves whether they’ll buy it again. “This is about consumer choice and innovation. We’re really excited to see cultivated meat come to market, and hopeful that consumers, once they have an opportunity to try it, are going to find that it fits into their life and it’s delicious and affordable.”
Updated 1-19-2024 18:00 pm GMT: The spelling of Jessica Almy’s name was corrected.