The Craven Opportunism of John Fetterman

Photograph Source: Governor Tom Wolf – CC BY 2.0

I was disappointed, but not surprised to read Democratic Senator John Fetterman express his support for Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ ban on cultivated meat in Florida. For those who don’t know, cultivated meat is grown from livestock cells, without slaughter. It has the potential to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, pandemic risk and the suffering we inflict on animals.

Despite actively courting progressive voters when he was running for election, Fetterman has lurched to the right since taking office, drawing comparisons to Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Many members of his office have quit over this apparent betrayal. I’ve been frustrated to see Fetterman’s Chief of Staff, Adam Jentleson, whose work against the filibuster I’ve respected, not do the same.

Fetterman’s conservative turn has been most apparent on the issue of American support for Israel’s war on Gaza. Pennsylvania’s senator has carved out a space for himself to the right of Democratic President Joe Biden, who is already wildly out of step with his party’s base. Fetterman has seemed to take a special, bloodthirsty delight in mocking protestors opposed to massacres of Palestinians.

Does this stance help him in Pennsylvania? I don’t know, but if he ever had presidential ambitions, I imagine those are closed to him. The national Democratic rank and file do not support this war. Maybe Fetterman could switch parties. Even then, however, I don’t think he could go far enough right to satisfy Republican voters. He might try, but I’m not sure he would be believable.

So Fetterman’s May 2 post on social media — in which he advocated banning a product that isn’t even currently sold in the United States — was part and parcel of the senator’s move to the right. There’s no real argument for a ban. The Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have declared cultivated meat to be safe. Fetterman is just a craven opportunist.

The truth is the new protein could provide enormous benefits. For instance, many people aren’t aware that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change. Scientists hope eventually cultivated meat will require a fraction of the greenhouse-gas emissions that raising and slaughtering livestock does. Again, however, it’s still being developed.

Unquestionably, adoption of cultivated meat would lower the risk of zoonotic diseases making the jump to humans and causing another global pandemic. For instance, at this very moment, experts are terrified avian flu, which is now widespread among American cows, will do this. Since livestock are removed from the process, cultivated meat would significantly decrease concern.

Finally, the new protein would eliminate the need to kill over a trillion aquatic and land animals every year for food. The amount of suffering this represents is almost impossible to imagine. To put it in a little perspective, only about 117 billion humans have ever lived, according to the Population Reference Bureau. We could create a better world.

However, Fetterman isn’t interested in any of that. He only cares about his short-term political future, which I believe there is a very good chance he’s already sabotaged.

Jon Hochschartner is the author of a number of books about animal-rights history, including The Animals’ Freedom Fighter, Ingrid Newkirk, and Puppy Killer, Leave Town. He blogs at