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Scottsdale lawmaker provides key vote on lab-grown meat bill

Legislation's sponsor objects to 'war on our ranching'

Posted 2/25/24

PHOENIX - Arizona may be on the verge of prohibiting the sale of lab-grown meat in local grocery stores based at least in part on the claims by the measure's sponsor that billionaire Bill Gates and …

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Scottsdale lawmaker provides key vote on lab-grown meat bill

Legislation's sponsor objects to 'war on our ranching'


PHOENIX - Arizona may be on the verge of prohibiting the sale of lab-grown meat in local grocery stores based at least in part on the claims by the measure's sponsor that billionaire Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum "have openly declared war on our ranching.''

On a party-line vote this past week, the state House approved a proposal by first-term Rep. David Marshall to keep those products off the shelves of Arizona stores.

Strictly speaking, his HB 2121 would not make these products that are slowly becoming available totally off limits to Arizonans. The Snowflake Republican said residents could still buy them - but from other states, meaning traveling there in person or ordering them in the mail.

But forget about obtaining them locally.

What's behind that "war'' on ranching by others, he said, are environmental claims.

"What's the issue with ranching, what's the issue cattle?'' Marshall told colleagues at a legislative hearing.

"They fart, and they burp,'' he said. "And it causes too much methane.''

Marshall called himself a "free-market capitalist.''

"And I believe in businesses,'' he continued. "However, when you're dealing with companies like this that are seeking to eradicate ranching in our state, in our country, it has to be dealt with.''

At issue are cells from living animals that are grown in a laboratory and fed nutrients so they multiply. They eventually can be harvested and shaped into fillets or cutlets,

State lawmakers are wrestling with the issue this year in two ways.

One proposal by Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, simply requires disclosure. HB 2244 would prohibit anyone from intentionally labeling a product that is not derived from what had once been a live animal as meat.

That measure gained bipartisan approval in the House and now awaits Senate action.

Marshall, by contrast, wants to go a step further and keep it from even being marketed in Arizona. And he said his reasons go beyond protecting the state's ranching interests.

He cited a joint report by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, saying it found "53 potential health hazards of lab-cultured meat.''

"These include contamination with heavy metals such as additives to improve the taste and texture of these products, chemical contaminants, toxic components, antibodies and prions,'' Marshall said, the last being a type of protein that can cause disease.

But while the report identified potential hazards, what Marshall did not say is that it also says that there needs to be more data generated to determine not only the risks but also the benefits of lab-grown meat as well as to prepare regulatory actions. Nor did the report conclude that what is grown in laboratories is necessarily any better or worse than what comes from animal carcasses.

"It will be necessary to closely observe as to what extent, if any, cell-based foods result in differences from conventionally produced foods,'' the report says.

The whole idea of prohibiting the manufacture of these products in Arizona - and, more to the point, the sale - drew questions for Marshall from Rep. Keith Seaman. The Casa Grande Democrat said he saw no reason to prevent consumers from having the ability to purchase the items locally.

"Your side of the aisle talks about rights of people,'' he told the GOP lawmaker. "Shouldn't they have the right to buy it if they want to?''

And Seaman said there are precedents for letting Arizonans have the option to buy things even if they may not be healthy. Consider, he said, the fact that people remain free to buy cigarettes at local stores.

"I should think people should have the right, if they choose to, to buy that here in Arizona,'' Seaman said.

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, said he opposes the bill as written.

"I understand there are concerns about folks who are very averse to our constituents coming in and trying to control the food supply through these cultured meats or whatever,'' he said. But the bill’s current form - the absolute ban on Arizona sales – is not acceptable, Kolodin said.

In fact, Kolodin said, he would expect Gov. Katie Hobbs to veto the measure if it comes to her in this form.

"And, unlike almost all of Katie Hobbs' vetoes, that will probably be a good one,'' he said,

But with all Democrats opposed, Kolodin agreed to provide the necessary 31st vote in the 60-member House to send it to the Senate.

"It's a conversation I think is worth having,'' he said. And Kolodin said that allowing the bill to go to the Senate for what he hopes are further modifications would "keep the conversation going.''

Marshall, for his part, defended his plan to keep lab-grown meats off the shelves of the grocery stores used by Arizona consumers.

"This doesn't prevent them from buying it,'' he said.

"I buy seafood from Seattle online,'' Marshall said. Ditto, he said, of seafood from Boston.

But he remained adamant that the lab-grown meats - and his claim of "all the different side effects'' - should not be marketed to Arizonans by Arizona retailers.

"It's almost like saying to your child or your grandchild that, 'You know what? Let's go get some ice cream. I know this company over here sells it and it's got these poisons and stuff in it, but you're going to be OK because we're buying it here in Arizona,' '' Marshall said.

It is not just a question of a direct effect on the health of those who consume the product, he said. There's the issue of greenhouse gases, saying that the global warming potential of lab-grown meat is up to 25 times higher than an equivalent amount from a live animal.

That, however, depends on how the meat is produced.

A study reported in MIT Technology Review said that using a process that depends on food-grade ingredients results in the equivalent of 10 to 75 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of beef. That, the report says, is less than the global average emissions from beef.

But it also says that if they use a "biopharmaceutical-like process'' of energy-intensive purification steps to remove contaminants, then carbon dioxide pollution is between 250 and 1,000 kilograms.