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US Senators Mike Rounds and Jon Tester have proposed a bill to amend the Richard B Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, banning the use of cell-based meat in US school meals.

Titled the ‘School Lunch Integrity Act of 2024,’ the senators seek to prohibit cell-based meat from being served in schools under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP).

Democrat and third-generation farmer Jon Tester said: “This common-sense bill will make sure our schools can serve real meat from our ranchers, not a fake substitute that’s grown in a lab. Montana ranchers grow the best meat in the world, that’s a fact – and our students ought to be getting the best in their school breakfasts and lunches every day.”

Republican Mike Rounds’ office claimed that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) approval of Good Meat and Upside Foods’ chicken in the US last year “undermines the important work of American livestock producers”.

Rounds questioned the safety of these products, citing a lack of research, despite the USDA’s approval of cell-based chicken from the aforementioned companies – which have also received a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) certification from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Rounds told US media outlet Keloland: “It starts out with a piece of meat, a cell from an actual chicken and then it is developed artificially within the laboratory. We just want to make sure that’s not the stuff they are selling in our schools.”

In a statement, he said: “Our students should not be test subjects for cell-cultivated ‘meat’ experiments. South Dakota farmers and ranchers work hard to produce high-quality beef products. These products are often sold to South Dakota schools, where they provide necessary nutrition to our students.”

“With high-quality, local beef readily available for our students, there’s no reason to be serving fake, lab-grown meat products in the cafeteria. I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation that benefits South Dakota producers and protects students from the unknown effects of cell-cultivated ‘meat’ products.”

The bill was welcomed by US animal agriculture groups. “Science experiments belong in the classroom, not the cafeteria,” said Justin Tupper, president of the US Cattlemen’s Association. “The long-term health effects of consuming foods produced using cell-cultured technology [have] not been established. These products are too new and untested to be considered safe for our nation’s children.”

Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA, added: “The claim that cell-cultivated meat grown in a laboratory is as safe and healthful as real, natural meat has not yet been definitively determined. So, subjecting children to this nascent, scientific experiment is bad public policy. We applaud Senator Rounds’ bill that will ensure our children and grandchildren will not be encouraged to consume this controversial and unnatural product while at school.”

Rounds concluded: “We just want to make sure that our livestock producers in the upper midwest aren’t ham-stringed by schools suggesting that because of liberals in the area or individuals that don’t like ag that they are suddenly then being challenged to compete with cultured meat, which we think has a long way to go and hasn’t been properly tested at this stage of the game.”

The legislation is part of a wider trend that is developing around the world. Last year, France introduced a bill to prohibit the production and sale of cell-based meat throughout the country, after the country banned the novel proteins from canteens in 2021.

A month prior to France’s proposal, Italy became the world’s first country to officially ban cell-based meat, with one of the farming groups that lobbied prominently for the law now in talks with Hungary to push forward similar legislation in the country.

Austria has also voiced its opinion against cell-based meat, presenting a note to the EU’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council last week alongside Italy and France. It garnered support from the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

Meanwhile, senators in the US have also joined the trend. Before Rounds and Tester introduced their legislation to the Senate, Republican lawmakers in several states had already debated the idea of prohibiting cell-based meat within state borders.

It began with Florida, where House representative Tyler Sirois proposed to ban the production, sale, holding and distribution of cell-based meat within the state, imposing criminal penalties and license suspensions or stop-sale orders – on anyone violating these rules.

Not long after, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed a bill requiring clear labelling of plant-based and cell-based meat, seafood and egg products. Then, in Arizona, Republican David Marshall drafted HB 2121, attempting to ban the sale or production of cell-based meat.

This week, Wisconsin State Assembly representative Peter Schmidt – a Republican dairy farmer – proposed two bills against alternative protein, one of which put restrictions on the labelling of cell-based meat.

US Senators propose ban on cell-based meat in school meals

Phoebe Fraser

1 February 2024

US Senators propose ban on cell-based meat in school meals

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