U.S. troops could be used as “guinea pigs” in a Defense Department-funded lab-grown “meat” initiative, an environmental watchdog group warns.

BioMADE, described as a “public-private bio-manufacturing consortium sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense,” announced an opportunity for alternative-protein producers and labs to qualify for a series of grants ranging from $250,000 to $2 million in a federally funded study on vastly expanding production of lab-grown “meat.”

Lab-grown meat is the term often used to describe a recent advancement in bioproduction, in which animal muscle and fat tissues are grown from altered “immortalized” animal cells in bioreactors using a complex formula of chemicals, temperature, and pressure in order to mimic cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and other staple proteins.

While “cuts” of these artificial meats haven’t yet found their way into supermarkets, they have been available through online retailers over the past five years—but not without considerable controversy.

Alabama and Florida have passed bills banning the sale of these meats to the general public, and Iowa has prohibited its schools from purchasing the meats for school meals. Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., have introduced a bipartisan bill to prohibit lab-grown meats in public school lunch programs.

The Center for the Environment and Welfare, an environmental policy research and advocacy firm, has decried the processes in which lab-grown meat is replicated as “cancer-like.” The assertion is a critique of the meat “technicians” mimicking the extremely rapid and unchecked mitosis, which forms cancerous tumors. Lab-grown muscle cells’ genetic code are modified to reproduce in the same unstable fashion. (That doesn’t mean that the cells used are taken from cancerous tumors—a common myth about the practice.)

Center for the Environment and Welfare Executive Director Jack Hubbard joined The Daily Signal for an exclusive interview on Monday to discuss the Department of Defense’s involvement in the development of lab-grown meat, what it could mean for U.S. service members, and the underlying social goals behind it.

Tony Kinnett: First of all, I want to ask very clearly here, this organization, this BioMADE that you guys have described and linked in your statement, it’s described as a public and private biomanufacturing consortium, and it’s also funded in part by the U.S. [Department of Defense]. How does that work?

Jack Hubbard: You know, it’s a public-private partnership and this entity has received over $500 million worth of funding from the Department of Defense, which is essentially taxpayer dollars. 

And this organization has come out and they’ve released … a request for proposals to provide, essentially asking lab-grown meat companies to submit requests for funding so that they can receive grants to the tune of … potentially up to several million dollars. And this whole program that they’ve announced is essentially designed to “meet their climate goals” for the Department of Defense.

Their premise is that they’re seeking to give grants to organizations to further the lab-grown meat space—which we can talk about in a minute why it’s so problematic—with, you know, I think one can assume, the eventual goal of the Department of Defense embracing this new novel product segment and serving it to our troops, which has a lot of people scratching their heads.

And frankly, there’s also some health, safety, and national security concerns that are associated with this development.

Kinnett: If you actually take a look at this plan, it’s full of so many weird things and we could start all over the place, but I do want to ask if you noticed that in their rubric for how to get funding, that you not only had to prove you had, like you said, a lot of climate goals regarding this weird meat production through very weird cancerous-cell production—which we can talk about in just a second—but also necessitating that proposals must be diverse. Of course, a lot of weird [diversity, equity, and inclusion] goals right off the bat, talking about some kind of diversity makeup for these studies.

Just from your reading in the past with the [Department of Defense], what are they referring to here? What’s the diversity quota that needs to be met for the Department of Defense to shell out cash?

Hubbard: You know, to be frank, I’m not familiar with their diversity requirements, but that type of language is the tell.

And the tell is that this is a politically motivated, agenda-driven initiative that is not really being driven by the priorities that I think most Americans think that the Department of Defense should be driven by, right?

Kinnett: … Advancing the United States’ defense capabilities.

Hubbard: I mean, when you look at our armed forces, we have generations that have stood up the fiercest, most effective freedom fighting force the world has ever seen. We’ve literally liberated continents. We fought back evil. We protected the freedoms of Americans and our liberty. 

And now you have this politically driven agenda, which, as you mentioned, this document reeks of, that’s essentially saying, “Hey, we want to hand out up to millions of dollars to lab-grown meat companies so that we can develop this stuff.” Obviously, you know, connect the dots with the goal of feeding this to our troops. 

And when you look at the lab-grown meat segment, a lot of people are concerned about it for a few reasons. No. 1, you need to look at how this stuff is made.

Kinnett: Yeah. As a former biology teacher and an anatomy and physiology teacher, I’m seeing some really weird stuff here.

There’s a lot of stuff regarding how it has to be set up, how the cells have to be chosen, some red flags, you know, fly up. And then you’re talking about the weird chemical composition inside. What did you call these bioreactors? I mean, again, as a former biology teacher, it kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies, to use the scientific term.

Give us a little bit more insight on the production of this stuff.

Hubbard: So, about a year ago, the Biden [Food and Drug Administration] approved the sale of this stuff within the United States. And after that, government approval, a whole lot of information has come out where both reporters, activists, and consumer advocates have raised concerns.

When you look at how it’s made, what they do, many companies, they use something called immortalized cells. That’s immortal, like living forever, you know, is the root of the word. And immortalized cells replicate in perpetuity, almost behaving like a tumor, right? 

And what they do is they take these cells—which were, by the way, developed for medical research, not for human consumption—they put them in a stainless steel bioreactor. They then need to feed it a whole bunch of hormones and chemicals in order to get that replication over and over and over again. And then once that’s, you know, replicated and created, they then mold it into something that looks like a meatball or a piece of meat. And they serve it and they call it lab-grown meat. 

The problem is that when you dig into the patents that these organizations, these lab-grown meat companies have put out, the exact chemical formulas are not often disclosed because they consider them proprietary. They’re their secret sauce. 

And people, everyone from parents to transparency advocates to natural food advocates, are saying, “Well, wait a minute. Why are we pushing this stuff on the American public?” 

Two states have taken action. Florida and Alabama have banned this stuff, saying, “Hey, there’s no long-term health studies. We have serious concerns. This is a solution in search of a nonexistent problem. We have great natural farm-raised meat in this country. It’s healthy. We’ve been eating it for thousands of years. Why are we pushing this stuff?” 

And this is the next step where you have a [Department of Defense]-funded organization saying, “Well, if consumers aren’t going to eat this stuff and buy it, we’re going to consider trying to use taxpayer dollars to advance it.”

What I’m really worried about is this idea that it’s going to be fed to our soldiers. I mean, when you look at the U.S. military, we have a recruitment crisis right now. The military is missing its recruitment numbers. Do you really think there’s going to be lines around the block at the recruitment office when potential candidates to join the military find out that they may be fed lab-grown, chemically-laden meat?

Kinnett: Now, look, that’s one of the key issues that I’ve seen in this, is the idea that our troops would be getting this kind of stuff in their MREs or if you’re in the Air Force, that would be the five-course meals you get at fancy restaurants on post. 

Those things aside, yeah, you’re right. No service member is going to want this really weird—again, looking at some of these samples that I’ve observed—very stringy, again, chemically unknown meats. And this is one of the things I wanted to get your take on.

So, the Food and Drug Administration made a really big deal in … the second half of the 20th century about making sure that all ingredients were listed on the product that was sold to the public so that they could make a decision for themselves if they wanted to consume the things that went into making that product. 

Yet, now I’m seeing a case in which the U.S. Department of Defense is now subsidizing organizations who, like you said, are keeping these proprietary recipes and replication processes kind of to themselves and there’s no transparency to the public for which these processes have been approved. 

So, … who knows what they’re using to actually create these kinds of environments in which you can get these cell systems to replicate, you know, nigh on eternity.

It’s just weird to see the government going from restricting certain things and requiring transparency to selectively subsidizing things with, like you said, a clear political goal like [environmental, social, and governance] or [diversity, equity, and inclusion].

Hubbard: You know, in a free market, consumers get to vote with their pocketbook, right? And enough people have voiced concern about this that we’ve seen multiple states take action, both in terms of banning this novel product until we get more health and safety data and also clear transparency laws that clearly state on packaging labeling lab-grown versus natural farm-raised, which is a very commonsense thing to provide, right?

People ought to be able to know what they’re buying and what they’re feeding their family. I’m a dad of four. I wouldn’t feed this to my kids based on the information that I have.

Kinnett: I wouldn’t feed this to my dog at the moment.

Hubbard: Right. But when you look at this stuff in a free market, this sort of sorts itself out as long as you have an educated public. And we’ve been educating the public about it. 

What’s really disturbing is the idea that the government is going to use its influence, its supply chain, and taxpayer dollars and funding to potentially fund this very strange sounding private-public partnership that’s putting out these requests for proposals and funnel money, potentially, to lab-grown meat companies, which are honestly facing significant headwinds, both legislatively and also with consumers. 

And we shouldn’t be using the government to pick winners and losers. And we also shouldn’t be experimenting on our soldiers and potentially introducing this, you know, new novel food source to them because they deserve better.

If anything, we should be feeding them natural farm-raised protein as they go out and defend our liberties and freedoms.

Kinnett: They should be fed the best of the best. 

So, I know we’re running a little bit short on time here, but I cannot help but ask this. One of the aims of the document, again, that is a call, kind of an opportunity to receive some kind of partnership grant situation regarding these lab-grown meats, is discussing the improvement of carbon capture technologies.

Do you have any idea what they’re talking about in relation to carbon capture technologies in relation to lab-grown meats, or is this just a buzzword to maybe make it a little more politically progressive?

Hubbard: You know, it’s a multilevel proposal. They’re looking, potentially, to fund multiple different types of products. Cell cultivated is one of them. 

And the irony here is that they have it backward. UC Davis, right? The university has put out a study that says that the emissions of the lab-grown meat industry are actually 25 times higher or worse than natural farm-raised beef because of the amount of energy input that needs to go into running these bioreactors, the pharmaceutical grade hormones and chemicals …

Kinnett: … to refine the chemicals necessary to stabilize the environments in those bioreactors.

Hubbard: Up is down, down is up. We’re going to save the climate by serving people lab-grown meat, which may actually have a 25 times worse emission output. It’s absolutely insane. It’s almost Orwellian, the way that these groups are pushing this stuff and the science and the facts aren’t on their side.

Kinnett: It’s like shooting yourself in the foot to solve some kind of a foot ache. It’s quite surreal.

Jack Hubbard, executive director of the Center for the Environment & Welfare. Thank you very much for stopping on with us and giving us a little bit of insight into what’s going on. We look forward to following you as well as a bipartisan bill banning this stuff in the future.