Fork and Good, a New Jersey company, created the first...

Fork and Good, a New Jersey company, created the first ever lab-grown pork, hoping to provide a lower-carbon food staple for billions of people around the world.  Credit: The Washington Post via Getty Images

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, a professor of economics at George Mason University and host of the Marginal Revolution blog.

What do some Republicans have against lab-grown meat? Legislatures in Alabama, Arizona, Tennessee and Florida are all considering bans on the sale or import of so-called “cell-cultured food products.” In Florida a bill has reached Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, and though he has not yet signed it, he has come out strongly in favor of meat.

The case for (and against) these laws isn’t primarily economic, though DeSantis did speak of the importance of agriculture, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association has lobbied against the bill. (Florida has more beef cows than all but eight states.) At any rate, it is unclear whether artificial meat will ever be cost-effective. Or consumers might never want it in great quantities. Or it might coexist with real meat, just as today pork and beef coexist.

Instead, let me offer another theory: The anti-lab-grown-meat movement is about conservative cultural insecurity — the fear that, without the force of law, some conservative cultural norms will fade away.

To return to the economic argument, as fanciful as it may be: Imagine that lab-grown meat proves feasible at a reasonable cost. It might end up as cheaper than beef from a cow, and it might also be better for the climate. In such a world, there might be growing pressures to abandon real meat for the lab-grown kind. There could even be a political movement to tax or ban real meat, similar to carbon taxes or plans to phase out fossil fuels.

Currently there is no momentum in that direction. For all the talk of vegetarianism and veganism, the percentage of Americans who practice those beliefs seems to be roughly flat. Many Americans like eating meat, for better or worse. But if real meat had a true substitute, perhaps the political calculus would differ.

This is the real fear — not of lab-grown meat itself, but of the changing culture its popularity would represent. Whether conservatives find the meat substitute to be adequate is beside the point. Society would have decided that some of their most cherished beliefs can be disposed of. Both humankind’s dominion over nature, which runs strong in the Christian strand of conservative thought, and the masculinized meat-eating culture — more specifically, the meat-grilling culture — would be under threat.

If artificial meat is banned, of course, none of that can happen.

In one sense, critics of conservatism should be heartened by the campaign against lab-grown meat. If I were a mainstream animal-rights advocate, I would revise upwards my estimate of my own power and influence.

The logical solution here is neither banning meat nor protecting it. Instead, it is allowing science to come to the rescue. Scientists are already working on genetically engineered cows that do not release so many harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Maybe they can genetically engineer other animals so they do not suffer so much in captivity.

What this culture-war struggle needs is a lateral move: greater respect for the culture of science. Science can alleviate problems of both climate and animal suffering.

Granted, that possibility may seem pretty remote at the moment. On the other hand, this solution does not require public consensus about the virtues or dangers of lab meat, nor for that matter a vote in Congress or by any state legislature. It merely requires ingenuity from scientists, and that has long been one of history’s better bets.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, a professor of economics at George Mason University and host of the Marginal Revolution blog.

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