The bill, which bans the production and promotion of cultivated meat, was passed by Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, its lower house. Anyone who breaches it could be subject to a fine of €60,000. The bill also includes restrictions on what manufacturers can call plant-based meat alternatives, preventing them from using meat-based names such as ‘salami’ or ‘steak.’
The reasoning behind the bill
“We protect our food, our food system, to maintain the relationship between food, land and human work that has accompanied us for millennia,” said Italy’s Minister for Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigada, “guaranteeing the quality that Italy expresses and which is the expression of food safety for the entire planet.”
Cultivated meat, he said, “does not guarantee this principle. We must protect our workers, our agricultural entrepreneurs and our citizens who have the right to eat well.” He went on to say that the EU has not given the novel food regulatory approval, and that he is confident that they will reject it.
“We are proud that Italy is the first nation on the planet to prohibit this type of production, that erases our traditional food system.”
In essence, the ban aims to protect both the livelihoods of Italian workers, such as farmers, and Italy’s culinary traditions.
The arguments against
However, not everyone supports the ban. Critics feel that it stifles the economic opportunity of participating in a growing industry, as well as threatening the potential of cultivated meat to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Francesca Gallelli, Public Affairs Consultant at Good Food Institute Europe, a non-profit organisation that promotes plant-based diets, feels it will put Italy out of pace with the rest of the world.
“Countries across the world increasingly recognise the food security and public health benefits of investing in cultivated meat, and this sector will continue to advance despite the Italian government’s decision to isolate the country from the economic opportunities presented by this growing sector,” she told FoodNavigator.
The law will extinguish Italy’s cultivated meat sector entirely. “The Italian cultivated meat sector is much smaller than those of some other European countries, but this law will effectively make it illegal for local start-ups to sell cultivated meat in the country – a sanction that does not affect those operating elsewhere in the EU.
“We’re already aware of talented researchers who have left Italy to seek careers in other parts of Europe and investors who have said they will invest elsewhere. These new measures will only exacerbate these problems, leaving Italy behind as the rest of the world races forward to develop cultivated meat.”
The bill also includes restrictions on the labelling of plant-based meat products, namely labels using meat-like names. The UK has considered introducing similar restrictions on plant-based dairy.
Gallelli, however, believes that the restrictions introduce more, not less, consumer confusion. “Everyday language like ‘steak’ and ‘salami’ help people know what to expect in terms of the taste, texture, preparation and appearance of plant-based meat products,” she told us.
“The use of familiar language ensures consumers make informed decisions about what they put in their baskets, and unnecessary labelling restrictions like these will only create confusion where none existed before.”
The role of farmers
Farming groups campaigned strongly in favour of the bill. One of its biggest farming associations, Coldiretti, was a strong voice in favour of the ban. During the signing, there was tension between farmers and lawmakers opposing the bill.
According to Gallelli, they have been misled. “Italian farmers and the wider public were presented with misinformation throughout, with opponents of cultivated meat going largely unchallenged as they made inaccurate claims.
“Italian farmers have not been informed about the potential benefits of alternative proteins – such as providing cell lines for cultivated meat start-ups or growing higher value crops for plant-based meat. Rather than banning or restricting an emerging sector, policymakers should be helping farmers to maximise these opportunities.”
Neither the Italian Embassy in the UK nor Slow Food in Italy, which promotes ‘traditional cooking,’ responded to a request for comment ahead of publication.