But those in and around the world of “fake meat” — whether meat grown from stem cells in bioreactors or processed from plants to mimic meat — reacted very differently. Some have suggested Greene is in her own universe, disconnected from bipartisan efforts to diversify the country’s meat supply for the benefit of the environment, animals, food security and human health.
Others, however, suggested that Greene is extending the culture wars to the esoteric world of alternative meats to stoke fears about what the future might hold for conservative communities: a sort of “grand replacement theory,” but for beef, pork, and chicken. Some say their unsubstantiated claims about alternative meats, like vaccines and the presidential election, will become talking points among mainstream conservatives, particularly those from agrarian countries.
“I think their position on alternative proteins … is actually fast becoming the standard, especially within the GOP,” said Jan Dutkiewicz, a Policy Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Program.
“There’s already this discourse about meat being purely American,” Dutkiewicz added. “It’s a sign of freedom. … It has to do with supporting American farmers, American ranchers and American traditions. When alternative protein tries to interfere with that, it becomes a really easy target.”
Dutkiewicz, who studies both conventional meat production and the alternative meat industry, noted that politicians have already railed against efforts to limit meat consumption or reduce the impact of animal husbandry. For example, then-Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) held up a hamburger during a 2019 news conference and said that if the Green New Deal goes through, “this will be banned.” Or when Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced a bill in 2016 that would ban “meatless Mondays” in military canteens. Or when Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) proposed a “meat on the menu” day last year.
“Although meat is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat, there are radical anti-agriculture activists working to end meat production and our way of life here in Nebraska,” the governor said in a press release.
Greene’s comments, part of a Facebook Live segment, weren’t far removed from Rickett’s statement, at least as far as the message goes: that someone wants to take traditional meat away from you.
The US government, the congresswoman said, “wants to know if you’re eating a cheeseburger, which is very bad because Bill Gates wants you to eat his fake meat, which is growing in a peach tree court.” So you’re probably going to get a little punch in your body, and that’s like, ‘No, no, don’t eat a real cheeseburger,'” Greene said.
In citing Gates, Microsoft co-founder and investor in alternative meat companies, Greene is relying on a well-established political script, Dutkiewicz said.
She’s “basically riding this wave of criticism that I think ultimately aims to appeal to a certain constituency that’s conservative in the sense of fear of change,” he said. “Here you have Silicon Valley or Bill Gates investing in these novel products that are somehow nefarious or worse to you or trying to undermine the American way of life or American agriculture.”
Greene’s office did not respond to a call requesting comment. But what they may not know is that America’s biggest food and meat producers — companies like Cargill, Tyson Foods and ADM — have invested heavily in alternative meats, said Bruce Friedrich, founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to create a “world where alternative proteins are no longer an alternative”.
“All of these companies deal in both plant-based meat and cultured meat, and it all has to do with the bottom line,” Friedrich said. “So I think the worst thing that can happen to alternative proteins is that they get mistaken for someone telling other people what to eat. It’s literally the opposite of that.”
Cultured and plant-based meats, Friedrich said, are about giving consumers more choices, not fewer.
Andrew Noyes, head of global communications and public affairs at Eat Just, the company behind the plant-based Just Egg, suggested politicians on both sides of the aisle are realizing the potential of alternative proteins.
“When we speak to legislators and staffers about cultured meat, issues like job creation, innovation and America’s competitiveness come first, regardless of how red or blue the district they represent,” Noyes said in a statement .
Greene’s dislike of lab-grown meat can’t be traced to campaign money: Her coffers aren’t lined with Big Meat, though top donors to her 2022 campaign included Paul Hofer, an owner of Hofer Ranch in California who reportedly made $7,900 -Dollar donated on data from OpenSecrets.org. Tassos Paphites, CEO of BurgerBusters — which owns 80 Taco Bell franchises nationwide — was another big donor, giving a total of $6,000.
Greene’s attempt to drag alternative meats into America’s culture wars comes at a sensitive time for the industry. Nine years after a lab-bred hamburger made its debut in London to lukewarm reviews, the cultured meat industry has made big strides — including a taste test that left experts unable to tell a lab-bred chicken from a conventional bird — but it still is far from being ready for the large-scale market.
In 2020, Singapore became the first government to grant regulatory approval for a lab-grown product, a chicken nugget grown from stem cells by Good Meat, a division of Eat Just. The nugget was first served in a Singapore restaurant in December 2020.
Since then, China, the Netherlands, Qatar and other countries have started laying the groundwork for a future of lab-grown meat. The United States, meanwhile, is giving mixed signals about alternative proteins. State and federal legislatures have proposed or passed legislation to limit how companies can label and market their pork hams, potentially affecting the commercial viability of the products. At the same time, the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration continue to work on rules to regulate the upcoming multi-billion dollar industry.
Newsflash: Farmers don’t grow plant-based meat; Companies do it in a factory.
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 23, 2022
Insiders and advocates fear that without more government support, the US alternative protein industry, currently considered the world leader, could backtrack to companies in other countries where officials are pumping money into innovation. Sophisticated comments from politicians like Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Greene may not help, as they steer the debate away from the potential merits of alternative proteins and into a crippling culture war.
But Dutkiewicz, the Harvard researcher, doesn’t think Greene and Massie are trying to influence legislation as much as they put up tribal flags.
“There’s a kind of conservative zeitgeist that they’re tapping into,” he said. “They signal a sort of loyalty to American traditionalism and opposition to coastal elites and opposition to the technological disruption of the way of life. It signals more of a worldview.”
Emily Heil contributed to this report.