COLUMBIA — Companies are currently perfecting how to grow meat in a laboratory setting using stem cells from animals, possibly revolutionizing food production throughout the world.
But the businesses hoping to grow hamburgers, seafood and chicken breasts through this process will have to find a unique way to advertise their products in the Palmetto State as the state Legislature unanimously passed a law this year to ensure the lab-grown protein can't be marketed as meat.
State Rep. Randy Ligon, a Rock Hill Republican and a member of the S.C. Cattlemen's Association, was the primary sponsor of the legislation.
The law, he said, is about truth in advertising. He doesn't want shoppers to confuse a "test tube-grown T-bone steak" with a cut of meat taken from a slaughtered cow.
"The process of basically cloning meat cells sounds questionable to me, but we definitely don't want the consumer to think they are buying a pound of hamburger from our farms," Ligon said.
Lab-grown meat — also referred to as cell-cultured meat — isn't in grocery stores yet, but the process is gaining traction quickly.
Tyson and Cargill, two giants in the U.S. food industry, have already made investments in several companies specializing in lab-grown meat.
State Rep. Russell Ott, a co-sponsor on the bill, said the legislation should bring more attention to the issue. Ott doesn't want to see the startup industry undercut the markets for South Carolina farmers.
"It's kind of the wild wild west," Ott, D-St. Matthews, said. "I don't think people were aware of it."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in March they would jointly regulate the new industry.
FDA officials will oversee how scientists isolate and collect the muscle cells from cows, chickens and fish. And USDA officials will be responsible for inspecting how the muscle tissue is grown and marketed to consumers.
Ligon, however, didn't want to wait for the federal government to lay out its own rules for advertising. He got the idea for the legislation from a similar bill that was passed in Missouri last year.
"I'm not trying to stop the science, but I want to be sure we understand what we are getting," he said.