Italy looks to ban cell-based meat to preserve food heritage11 Apr 2023
Italy has moved to ban the use of cell-based food, citing quality issues and the preservation of the country’s gastronomic heritage – but the government faces criticism from food industry groups.
Government proposals, approved by ministers last month, would look to ban the production and placing on the Italian market of foods derived from animal cells without slaughtering the animal.
Along with cell-based fish and synthetic milk, the draft legislation highlights cultured meat, which the document states is the “result of a cell cultivation process”.
The law also proposes a fine of €10,000 to €60,000 for any infringement of the intended ban.
“Laboratory products in our opinion do not guarantee quality, well-being and the protection of our culture, our tradition," said minister Francesco Lollobrigida, a senior member of prime minister Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party.
“The ban is based on the principle of caution,” added health minister Orazio Schillaci. “This is very important because currently there is no scientific evidence about possible harmful effects from consumption of synthetic foods.
“I think it is also important to reiterate the preservation of the agri-food heritage of our nation.”
Coldiretti: ‘Synthetic food limits choice and supply’
Agriculture lobby Coldiretti welcomed the move against "synthetic food", with the group’s president Asti Marco Reggio saying it “limits the freedom of consumers, homogenises food choices, and monopolizes supply”.
“It does not help to pursue social justice objectives,” he added, “as it is produced on the basis of patents and technologies with high entry and development costs.
“In the hands of a few large multinational investors it can have dangerous socio-economic impacts.”
Pictured: Coldiretti - the largest association of representation and assistance of Italian agriculture | © AdobeStock/Massimo Todaro
But advocates for cell-based meat responded saying the proposals went against innovative progress and customer choice and would hamper efforts to protect the environment.
Alice Ravenscroft, head of policy at the Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe, said, “Italy would be left behind as the rest of Europe and the world progresses towards a more sustainable and secure food system.”
“The government should let Italians make up their own minds about what they want to eat, instead of stifling consumer freedom.”
The GFI also cited studies that cell-based meat could cause up to 92% less emissions than conventional beef.
It could also reduce air pollution linked with meat production by up to 94% and use up to 90% less land – freeing up space for more sustainable farming practices, satisfying growing meat demand while protecting the environment.
Regulatory stance on cell-based meat in Europe and beyond
Before any cell-based meat product can be sold in Europe, it needs to be approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
At the time of writing, neither EFSA or any EU member state food agency has received a novel food dossier from a company involved in cell-based meat production.
Other EU countries are investing in lab-grown meat
Italy’s stance is in contrast to other member state governments eager to unlock the benefits of cell-based meat as well as countries such as Singapore and the US.
In 2022 the Netherlands announced €60m of government funding towards research and development of cell-based meat and precision fermentation.
Pictured: Lab-grown meat alternatives | © AdobeStock/ricka_kinamoto
Meanwhile, the UK government announced a €18.2m (£16m) funding call for sustainable proteins, including cell-based meat.
In 2021, the Spanish government invested €5.2m in a project investigating the potential for cell-based meat to help prevent diet-related diseases.
Further afield, the Singapore became the first country to grant regulatory approval to a cell-based meat product in December 2020, when US startup Eat Just received the regulatory green light for its cell-based chicken.
In 2023, two separate cell-based meat products made by UPSIDE Foods and GOOD Meat have passed the United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) pre-market safety review.
‘Proposed ban contains misinformation and may stymie efforts’
Food companies' network Cellular Agriculture Europe also said the move would limit consumer choice and add to the environmental damage caused by satisfying meat demand of a growing population.
“This ban could be damaging in strengthening Europe’s food self-sufficiency in the face of fragile supply chains, increased domestic and international supply constraints and its competitiveness in the global agri-food industry, which is one of its areas of excellence,” it said.
Pictured: Herd of Maremmana Cows in Italy | © AdobeStock/nicole_ciscato
“This proposed ban contains misinformation and may only stymie efforts to make our agri-food systems more sustainable and deny Italian consumers complementary protein choices. Not only is that bad public policy, it is likely unconstitutional.
“The better path forward is to work with our companies and to support research on how these innovations can integrate with conventional agriculture to better achieve national climate and food security goals.”
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