AUSTIN PETERSEN: Where's the freedom in DeSantis' new meathead law?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, self-anointed protector of "real beef," recently rolled out the ban hammer on lab-grown meat in a brazen attempt to curry favor with Florida’s cattle industry. He confidently declared that the bill would "save our beef," but it's clear that this half-baked ban is less about steak and more about throwing red meat to cronies. Ron's policy has more fat than a ribeye at a tailgate barbecue, and its authoritarian flavor clashes hard with the supposed ideals of Florida as an "oasis of freedom."

Sure, DeSantis boasts about protecting a $900 million beef industry, ranking ninth in the nation for cattle production. Nearly half of Florida's agricultural land is devoted to cattle grazing, and that’s no trivial amount of pasture. But here's the thing: we're not talking about a conspiracy forcing people to chomp down on lab-grown steaks against their will. Quite the opposite, in fact! The governor’s "conservative nanny state" has fired up the grill to prohibit people from voluntarily choosing this meaty innovation. It’s a policy that's nothing short of well-done hypocrisy.

Lab-grown meat, the so-called "Frankenstein meat," doesn't involve slaughter and still derives from animal cells, which could appeal to a broader range of carnivores, flexitarians, and even vegans. According to VegNews, nearly a quarter of vegans surveyed would consider chewing into a synthetic sirloin since no animals are harmed. But it seems DeSantis prefers his beef to come with a side of government intervention and a heaping spoonful of protectionism.

Republican legislator and cattleman Dean Black attacked lab-grown meat as “made by man,” whereas real meat is “made by God.” Apparently, divine approval is the new FDA. He generously allows that astronauts should be able to nosh on the "Frankenstein" fare in space but insists that “you sure as heck shouldn’t be able to get it anywhere in this country.” If this attitude weren't so brisket-headed, it might actually be comical.

The technology that has DeSantis and Black gnawing on their spurs first emerged in 2013 and offers a promising path forward. Over 150 companies globally are now developing it. While lab-grown meat isn’t yet widely available, it’s sold in restaurants in the United States and has even received regulatory approval in Singapore. Florida, rather than embracing this innovation, is now the first state to ban it outright.

So, what's the beef? Governor DeSantis claims to be defending freedom, yet he’s restricting consumer choice in an act of culinary authoritarianism that would make any ranch hand cringe. Even his own rhetoric is charred with contradictions. He boasts about Florida being “an oasis of freedom” with a “business-friendly environment,” but his overcooked regulatory assault reveals an undercooked understanding of economic liberty.

Instead of safeguarding cattle ranchers from supposed competition, DeSantis should let the market decide. If lab-grown meat really is the "Frankenstein" monstrosity he says it is, surely consumers will reject it. He could have taken any number of lesser steps, such as requiring labeling in order to make sure consumers know what they’re buying. Instead by trying to ban this innovative option altogether, Ron DeSantis risks cooking his own goose. Florida's got bigger fish to fry than fighting over lab-grown steaks.

Ron DeSantis’ lab grown meat ban might poll well with his donor class in Florida, but all it proves to those of us who opposed his nomination for president is that he really was inadequately seasoned for the job all along. He might consider worrying about artificial heels instead; that, at least, is the sort of thing that can actually trick people: people like voters, who believe that by supporting him they’re getting a man who actually supports freedom, rather than the Impossible Burger version of freedom. Granted, to the average person, this kind of thing might come off as a bit of a nothingburger, but it’s still the kind of nothingburger that should be sent back to the kitchen. In short, where DeSantis’ ban was concerned, the whole thing was hardly well done.  

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