A bipartisan pair of U.S. Senators have introduced legislation banning the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) from including cell-cultivated meat products on its menu.

The NSLP is the federally assisted meal program in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions. It serves more than 4,9 billion lunches annually to more than 30 million children in about 100,000 schools.

U.S. Senators Mike Rounds, R-SD, and Jon Tester, D-MT, are sponsoring The School Lunch Integrity Act of 2024 to prevent lab-grown protein from being served in the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

Cell-grown meat has been in the active research and development stage since around 2013 but is not yet available in any commercial sense.

Rounds and Tester want to ban NSLP from offering lab-grown meat because USDA has not published any guidance on cell-cultivated protein. In addition, they argue that there is a lack of demonstrated studies showing the safety of lab-grown meat.

“Our students should not be test subjects for cell-cultivated ‘meat’ experiments,” said Rounds. “South Dakota farmers and ranchers work hard to produce high-quality beef products. These products are often sold to South Dakota schools, where they provide the necessary nutrition to our students. With high-quality, local beef readily available for our students, there’s no reason to serve fake, lab-grown meat products in the cafeteria. I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation that benefits South Dakota producers and protects students from the unknown effects of cell-cultivated ‘meat’ products.”

“Montana ranchers grow the best meat in the world, that’s a fact – and our students ought to be getting the best in their school breakfasts and lunches daily,” said Tester. “This commonsense bill will ensure our schools can serve real meat from our ranchers, not a fake substitute grown in a lab.”  

The two “cattle-country” Senators have successfully united the Top 3 associations behind the bill.  The legislation is endorsed by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, R-CALF USA, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“The federal government should not allow lab-grown protein in school lunch and breakfast programs without knowing the long-term health effects on children,” said Ethan Lane, Vice President of Government Affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “The lack of nutrition and allergen research related to lab-grown proteins creates unnecessary risks for children, while traditional beef provides essential nutrients that benefit children. School cafeterias are not test labs, and we appreciate Senator Rounds and Senator Tester for standing up for our children and cattle producers.”

As the Senate’s only working farmer, Tester has led the charge to support Montana ranchers and increase competition for American family farms and ranches. Last year, Tester introduced bipartisan legislation to ban Paraguayan beef imports and suspend Brazilian beef imports until experts can systematically review the commodity’s impact on food safety and animal health. Tester has repeatedly pressed USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on suspending Brazilian beef imports to the U.S. and addressing consolidation in the ag industry, citing that JBS – one of the four big packers controlling more than 80 percent of the beef industry – is based in Brazil. 

Tester has also introduced his bipartisan Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act to increase market transparency by establishing minimums for negotiated sales and requiring transparent reporting of marketing contracts. His Meatpacking Special Investigator Act to combat anticompetitive practices in the meat processing industry by appointing a USDA special investigator with subpoena power to enforce the nation’s anti-trust laws. Last January, Tester introduced his bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act to reinstate mandatory country of original labeling (MCOOL) for beef.

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