European Country Becomes the First to Veer Away From Lab Meat and Insects

European Country Becomes the First to Veer Away From Lab Meat and Insects
Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni delivers a speech in Milan, Italy, on Oct. 1, 2022. (Piero Cruciatti/AFP via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Italy’s government approved a bill on Tuesday banning the production and use of lab-manufactured food and animal feed, as the nation attempts to preserve Italian food heritage and steer away from synthetic choices.

“A battle of civilizations. In defense of citizens’ health, of our production model, of our quality, of our culture, simply our food sovereignty,” said Italian minister of agriculture Francesco Lollobrigida in a tweet Wednesday, adding: “Italy is the first nation in the world to say no to synthetic foods.” There will be fines up to €60,000 ($65,144) for failure to comply. If the parliament passes the proposal, food produced from cell cultures or tissues derived from vertebrate animals will not be allowed in the country.

“Laboratory products in our opinion do not guarantee quality, well-being and the protection of our culture, our tradition,” said Lollobrigida, a member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing Brothers of Italy party, at a press conference on March 28.

Prime Minister Meloni had changed the name last year of the ministry of agriculture to the ministry of agriculture and food sovereignty, and Lollobrigida is an outspoken critic of the European Union’s food programs.

The agricultural lobby Coldiretti backed the latest move to ban synthetic foods and claimed that the bill was necessary to protect the local industry from multinational companies. Along with fines, the proposal seeks to shut down producers who violate the law and restrict them from obtaining public funding for up to three years.

Opposition From NGOs

The bill has received blowback from several supporters of cell-based agri-products as well as animal rights organizations.

“The passing of such a law would shut down the economic potential of this nascent field in Italy, holding back scientific progress and climate mitigation efforts, and limiting consumer choice,” said Alice Ravenscroft, head of policy at the Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe, an international nongovernmental organization promoting plant-based and cultivated meat.

“Italy would be left behind as the rest of Europe and the world progresses toward a more sustainable and secure food system. And the 54 percent of Italians who already want to try cultivated meat would be banned from doing so.

“The European Union already has a robust regulatory process in place for confirming the safety of new foods like cultivated meat, and regulators in the United States and Singapore have already found it to be safe. The government should let Italians make up their own minds about what they want to eat, instead of stifling consumer freedom.”

The GFI cited peer-reviewed research when it said that cultivated meat cuts down emissions by 92 percent compared to conventional beef, reduces meat production-related air pollution by 94 percent, and consumes up to 90 percent less farming land.

The bill put Italy at odds with other European nations like the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Spain, where the government is pouring in millions of euros in funding toward cultivated meat, said the GFI.

The anti-vivisection group LAV said that the policy was “an ideological, anti-scientific crusade against progress,” while the International Organization for Animal Protection said that cultivated meat was an “ethical alternative” that did not harm animals and was protective of the environment.

Cellular Agriculture Europe complained that Italy was limiting choices of consumers who were concerned about animal welfare and the environment.

Critics are claiming that the new law would not have a significant effect on the Italian economy because of the freedom of movement of products and services across the bloc.

Eating Insects

The Meloni administration is also against promoting insects as a suitable food alternative—a trend adopted by the European Union and backed by elite organizations like the World Economic Forum. In January, the European Commission approved two more insect species for human consumption in the region, even after acknowledging concerns about the bugs triggering allergies.

Last week, Meloni said the government was preparing policies that will require companies to label products containing or derive from insects following a debate on the use of cricket-based flour.

“The government has presented four inter-ministerial decrees which will introduce information labels on products that contain or derive from insects,” Meloni wrote on Twitter. “Citizens must be able to choose consciously and be informed from every point of view.”

The government is also reportedly considering including Italian cuisine in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.