How U.S. Governor Ron DeSantis used a conspiracy theory to ban cultivated meat

By: naledi mashishi&
May 8 2024

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How U.S. Governor Ron DeSantis used a conspiracy theory to ban cultivated meat

(Source: Reuters/Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed an 81-page bill into effect that bans the production, distribution, and sale of cultivated meat - meat products developed using animal cells to create food. In his address, DeSantis referred to cultivated meat as part of an "elite agenda" by the World Economic Forum (WEF), claiming, "One of the things these folks want to do is eliminate meat production in the United States and actually, throughout the world."

He added, "They want to basically eliminate meat, they want to eliminate cattle, and they want to create protein in laboratories." DeSantis criticized "WEF elites" for flying in private jets while speaking about climate change, and argued that the bill would protect the livelihoods of Floridan cattle farmers. This criticism comes despite DeSantis spending $1.5 million flying private jets in 2023 during his presidential campaign,

DeSantis claimed that the bill, signed on May 2, 2024, would protect farmers against an "ideological agenda" that frames cattle farming as destroying the environment, and guard against any threats that cultivated meat could pose to cattle farmers in the future. 

However, WEF publications on the issue, along with an open letter from the meat industry criticizing his bill, contradict his claims. So what is the basis of the bill? And what is the WEF actually saying about cultivated meat? 

The WEF and the 'Great Reset'

The World Economic Forum is an international organization for private-public partnerships headquartered in Davos, Switzerland. It is known for hosting annual meetings made up of politicians, business leaders, celebrities, and other elites. These meetings have become the target of internet conspiracy theories over the years, with some alleging that the group is secretly controlling the world. The theories intensified in 2020 when the WEF launched their "Great Reset" campaign, which was about building economic resilience to avoid a depression after the COVID-19 pandemic (although the link to the campaign on their website has since been taken down). 

Conspiracy theorists have made a number of false claims based on misrepresenting what the Great Reset is, including allegations that the organization has banned the natural conception of babies, and called for a ban on the Bible. The theory has since crept into mainstream discourse. A report by the Associated Press found that the phrase "Great Reset" has been used by prominent U.S. conservatives like Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck and repeated over 60 times on Fox News in 2022 – up from 30 times in 2021. 

Katie McCarthy, an investigative researcher in the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told Logically Facts that the relative vagueness and secretive nature of some of the Davos summits and initiatives have created "fertile ground" for conspiracy theories to prosper. 

"Most of the conspiracy theories promoted about the WEF are not new — claims that 'global elites' are working to undermine individual freedoms and national sovereignty have circulated for decades. Conspiracy theorists have been drumming up fear about a 'New World Order' since the Cold War," she added. 

These bizarre conspiracy theories were echoed by DeSantis himself during his address, when he stated, "Today, Florida is fighting back against the global elite's plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish or bugs to achieve their authoritarian goals."

This statement appears to be based on a popular claim we previously debunked that the WEF was trying to secretly force the world's population to eat insects. The claim is a distortion of a 2021 WEF article that suggests insects could be an alternative source of protein that could aid in addressing food security concerns. Logically Facts has previously debunked many WEF and Great Reset conspiracies. And like those claims, DeSantis' rhetoric appears to be based on another distortion of a WEF proposal. 

"Unfortunately, some political leaders have leaned into conspiracy theories as a way to appeal to voters, and in some cases, make policy," McCarthy said. "Conspiratorial rhetoric can be very persuasive, as it builds upon existing fears and is an easy way to vilify political opponents."

This trend appears to have crossed political lines. Democratic senator John Fetterman posted in support of DeSantis on X (formerly Twitter), stating: "As a member of @SenateAgDems and as some dude who would never serve that slop to my kids, I stand with our American ranchers and farmers."

An X post from Senator John Fetterman in support of DeSantis's new bill. (Source: X/Screenshot)

The WEF touts cultivated meat as an aid to food security

Cultivated meat is a growing area of food science in which a small number of cells are taken from a living animal and grown in a controlled environment to create food. The technology allows scientists to create beef, pork, poultry, and seafood products. Cultivated meat production is being overseen by food regulators such as the FDA and USDA to ensure the food is safe for human consumption.  

Cultivated meat proponents argue that the products are more environmentally sustainable than traditional meat production. A 2022 report that reviewed available studies on cultivated meat found that its production uses less land and water than beef, pork, or poultry production and that it produces less greenhouse gas emissions. This is particularly relevant given that 37 percent of human-produced methane, a greenhouse gas with more powerful warming effects than carbon dioxide, is produced by the livestock industry. Further, the land requirements for meat have significantly contributed to deforestation and the loss of biodiversity. A notable example is the Amazon rainforest in Brazil which has lost an estimated 800 million trees in six years to produce beef. 

By removing animals from the equation, cultivated meat producers could eliminate the need to use antibiotics. This could reduce the likelihood of antimicrobial resistance in the future. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria no longer respond to antimicrobial treatments, making them ineffective and leaving patients vulnerable to common infections traditionally treated by antibiotics. The widespread use of antibiotics in animal farming has been linked to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans.

So, does any of this mean that the WEF is promoting phasing out traditional meat in favor of cultivated meat? Their publications tell a different story. The WEF has put out a number of articles in favor of introducing cultivated meat which have largely focused on the potential for cultivated meat to be sold alongside traditional meat to meet growing demand. 

In a 2020 article, the WEF pointed out that if the World Bank's projection of the global population reaching nearly 10 billion by 2050 is accurate, the demand for meat could grow by 88 percent. "This would mean needing extra pastureland the size of India to feed livestock… and the deforestation that would entail would put an end to the goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C," the article says. "And that's before taking into account emissions from the animals themselves."

In another article, the organization argues, "Cultivated beef is singularly well-positioned to complement sustainable methods of conventional beef production." This implies that the organization advocates cultivated meat to be sold alongside traditional meat and not replace it altogether. The organization further argued against a meat tax being imposed on traditional cattle farmers and argued in favor of supportive measures like paying farmers for using more sustainable farming practices. 

Yann Zopf, head of media at the WEF, told Logically Facts that the organization does not take sides on political matters. 

"The World Economic Forum has addressed the environmental impact of meat production and discussed the potential of alternatives for proteins to play a role in a more sustainable food system, but the WEF has never advocated for the complete elimination of traditional meat," he said. 

Cultivated meat is still in the development stage

DeSantis's bill has effectively banned a food product that hasn't even hit shelves yet. In June 2023, two food companies – Upside Food and Good Meat – received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sell their cultivated chicken products. However, the products still aren't on sale and the restaurants that once boasted it on their menus have paused sales

This is because the industry is still facing technical hurdles, including difficulties in scaling up production to meet commercial demands and bringing down the cost of producing cultivated meat to make it as affordable as traditional meat. Critics have also argued that at this stage, it is unclear whether cultivated meat will produce lower emissions than traditional meat. A 2023 study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, calculated that if the cultivated meat industry were to use similar tightly regulated production processes to those used in the biopharmaceutical industry, it could create significantly more carbon emissions than the beef industry today. A 2022 report also found that cultivated meat may create similar carbon emissions to traditional chicken and pork while using more water. 

The bill makes it illegal for further technological developments and investment in the industry to happen. Pepin Andrew Tuma is the legislative director of the Good Food Institute, a non-profit think tank working to advance and advocate for plant-based and cultivated meat. He told Logically Facts, "In signing the 81-page bill into law, Governor DeSantis gave in to politicians playing food police, when he should have stood up for innovation, economic growth, and consumer choice."

"American-made cultivated meat has been rigorously inspected and ruled safe by the USDA and FDA – so why are politicians with no experience in food safety interfering where they don't belong? Floridians should decide for themselves what kind of meat they want to eat, and not be limited by government overreach," Tuma added. 

His views seem to be echoed by the meat industry itself. The North American Meat Institute published an open letter in February 2024 arguing against the bill, calling it a "bad public policy that restricts consumer choice and stifles innovation." 

The letter further argues that the bill could set a precedent for other states or markets to ban or tax food products from Florida claiming safety or other concerns even when those products have been approved by food regulators and the concerns have no scientific basis. "The Florida bills help foster such an environment, to the detriment of agricultural producers in Florida and elsewhere," the letter says

It is unclear at this stage how much widespread support the cultivated meat ban has. However, McCarthy warns that leaning into conspiratorial rhetoric risks stoking fear and paranoia. 

"When left unchecked, conspiracy theories can further political divides and carry the risk of undermining faith in democratic institutions by casting elected leaders as part of a globalist plot, and can, in extreme circumstances, lead to harassment, threats, and even violence against public officials and others perceived to be 'in' on the conspiracy," she said.

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