Florida bans ‘lab-grown’ meat, product makers host Miami tasting party

A chef served chicken tostadas with avocado, chipotle crema and beet sprouts

Guests look on as Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of Upside Foods, speaks during a pop-up tasting of the company’s “lab-grown” meat last week in Miami. Florida’s ban on lab-grown meat has gone into effect. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP Photo)

MIAMI — As Florida’s ban on “lab-grown” meat is set to go into effect next week, one manufacturer hosted a last hurrah — at least for now — with a cultivated meat-tasting party in Miami.

California-based Upside Foods hosted dozens of guests last Thursday evening at a rooftop reception in the city’s Wynwood neighborhood, known for its street art, nightclubs and trendy restaurants.


“This is delicious meat,” Upside Foods CEO and founder Uma Valeti said. “And we just fundamentally believe that people should have a choice to choose what they want to put on their plate.”

The U.S. approved selling what’s now “cell-cultivated” or “cell-cultured” meat for the first time in June 2023, allowing Upside Foods and another California company, Good Meat, to sell cultivated chicken.

Earlier this year, Florida and Alabama banned the sale of cultivated meat and seafood grown from animal cells. Other states and federal lawmakers are also considering restricting this, arguing that the product could hurt farmers and pose a safety risk to the public.

While Florida cattle ranchers joined Gov. Ron DeSantis when he signed the ban into law in May, Valeti said Florida officials only contacted his company after passing the legislation.

“It’s pretty clear to us that the governor and the government have been misinformed,” Valeti said. “And all we’re asking for is a chance to have a direct conversation and say, ‘this is proven science, this is proven safety.’”

Cultivated products are grown in steel tanks using cells from a living animal, a fertilized egg or a storage bank. The cells are fed special water, sugar, fats and vitamins blends. Once they’ve grown, they’re formed into cutlets, nuggets and other shapes.

Chef Mika Leon, owner of Caja Caliente in Coral Gables, prepared the cultivated chicken for Thursday’s event, which invited members of the South Florida public to get their first, and possibly last, taste of cultivated meat before Florida’s ban begins Monday. Leon served chicken tostadas with avocado, chipotle crema and beet sprouts.

“When you cook it, it sizzles and cooks like chicken, which is insane,” Leon said. “And then when you go to eat it, it’s juicy.”

Reception guest Alexa Arteaga said she could imagine cultivated meat being a more ethical alternative.

“The texture itself is a little bit different, but the taste was good,” Arteaga said.

Besides the ethical issue of killing animals, Valeti said cultivated meat avoids many of the health and environmental problems created by the meat industry, such as deforestation, pollution and the spread of disease. He also noted that the meat his company produces does not come from a lab but from a facility more closely resembling a brewery or a dairy processing plant.

The restrictions come, although cultivated meat and seafood still need to be cheaper to reach the market meaningfully. Two high-end U.S. restaurants briefly added the products to their menus, but it has yet to be available at any U.S. grocery stores. Companies have been working to reduce costs by scaling up production, but now they’re also trying to respond to bans with petitions and possible legal action.

Sean Edgett, Upside Foods chief legal officer, said the company went through a yearslong process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration before receiving approval. He said those federal regulations should supersede any state bans, which he believes are unconstitutional.

“We’re hopeful that if lawmakers can’t change their mind and turn things around back to an avenue of progress, the courts will step in and make that clear,” Edgett said.

Backers of the bans say they want to protect farmers and consumers from a product that has only been around for about a decade.

State Sen. Jay Collins, a Republican who sponsored the Florida bill, noted the legislation doesn’t ban research just the manufacturing and sale of cultivated meat. Collins said safety was his primary motivator, but he also wanted to protect Florida agriculture.

“Let’s not rush to replace something,” Collins said earlier this year. “It’s a billion-dollar industry. We feed many people nationwide in our cattle, beef, pork, poultry and fish industries.”

Valeti isn’t trying to replace any industry; he just wants to give people more options, he said.