Once a week, Jon Hochschartner goes out to protest outside the Hartford offices of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. You can see him there with his hand-drawn, cardboard sign.
He’s been outside Blumenthal’s office once a week for 13 weeks now, encouraging the senator to support an increase in funding for cultured meat, often called lab-grown.
Before that, Hochschartner protested outside U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s office for six weeks. Before that, Hochschartner protested outside the offices of U.S. Rep. John Larson once a week for 12 weeks.
“Blumenthal’s a little bit harder in that my understanding is he’s up on the 10th floor, his staff is up on the 10th floor of this big building,” said Hochschartner, of Simsbury. “It’s also a building they share with other people so I don’t always know when I’m waving a sign at someone driving in like if they actually work for Blumenthal or what, but it’s been good so far.”
Cultured meat, sometimes called cultivated meat, is not fake. It’s not, as are many meat alternatives, made out of textured pea protein, but is actually animal cells cultivated and grown into a chicken breast, for example, or a fish filet.
“Cultivated meat is grown from animal cells, without slaughter,” Hochschartner said. “You take a little bit of DNA, and through a bit of science magic, you grow a chicken breast without any of the things we don’t eat like bones, eyes, brain, anything like that.”
Hochschartner, perhaps not surprisingly, is a vegan, and a self-described animal activist. He’s personally focused on ending the slaughter of the “billions, trillions if you count fish, animals that we kill every year for food,” he said, though he argues there are many reasons to support funding cultured meat.
Factory farms have been disease vectors, most recently with African Swine Fever, which has been ravaging pig farms around the world, and Hochschartner points to the environmental impact, too.
“Cultivated meat will require a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions that slaughtered meat does,” he said.
The barrier to a wide distribution of cultured meat is cost. Though the cost has gone from insanely high — $330,000 for a burger, according to Forbes — to just somewhat expensive, around $10 to produce a burger, Hochschartner believes further research will keep pushing prices down.
“Over the years, the science has just been progressing and progressing,” he said. “My hope is that with further research, eventually cultivated meat will be cheaper to produce than slaughtered meat.”
Hochschartner’s immediate goal is simple: He seeks written commitment from Connecticut’s elected representatives that they will support an increase in funding for cultured meat.
“I’m not sure who else I would protest,” he said, pointing to U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna from California, who last year led a group of legislators requesting $50 million in funding for cultivated meat research. “I’m hoping that my representatives will get on board with that.”
Though she was not among those legislators who signed on to Khanna’s letter and has not been protested by Hochschartner, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, CT-3, expressed her support for cultured meat, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture used $10 million to set up a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture at Tufts University.
“USDA’s historic funding for a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture is an important advancement for cultivated meat research and science,” she said in a statement. “I am pleased that USDA’s leadership continues to recognize the important role these technologies can play in combating climate change and adding much-needed resiliency to our food system.”
Hochschartner has had some responses to his protests. A February letter from Larson expressed support citing the institute at Tufts, though without a specific commitment for further funding, Hochschartner called it “insufficient.”
It was only after a second response a month later, in which Larson said he would “support the request for additional USDA funding on research for cultivated meat” that Hochschartner moved on to Murphy.
An April email from Murphy was succinct: “The truth is that our planet is in the midst of an ecological catastrophe, and the need to address climate change is more urgent than ever,” Murphy wrote to Hochschartner. “That is why I support additional USDA funding to help address climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support research that helps farmers improve their response to climate change.”
Blumenthal has responded, replying to Hochschartner in May, “All of us have an interest in ensuring the food we eat is safe while reducing food production’s impact on climate change.”
But Blumenthal also expressed concerns: “However, as we explore this new opportunity, we must also ensure these products are safe and accurately labeled for consumers.”
That response, Hochschartner said, was “insufficient. “My demand is politicians support increased funding for cultivated meat research. His letter to me didn’t say that” he said, but even if he got solid commitments from the entirety of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, Hochschartner does not plan to stop his quest.
“I’m going to want to keep on going really until cultivated meat, through increased funding for research, is cheaper to produce than slaughtered meat,” he said. “And then at that point, I would probably switch tactics to trying to either tax slaughtered meat or have it outlawed.”