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Italy bans lab-grown cell-cultivated meat

November 16, 2023

On Thursday 16 November, Italy became the first European Union nation to ban the production and sale of lab-grown meat. Citing health concerns and a need to safeguard its livestock industry, Italy's lower house approved the ban.

The nation has banned the so-called cultivated meat that is grown in labs using animal tissue cells.

It also places a ban on the use of labels that describe plant-based protein as 'meat'. As per AFP, every violation of this ban can chalk up fines ranging from €10,000-€60,000 (US$10,900-US$65,000).

The law received a green light from Italy's senate earlier. The law says it seeks to "protect the national livestock heritage" while recognizing its cultural, socio-economic and environmental value.

It also seeks to ensure "a high level of protection of human health", while protecting the interests of consumers and their right to information about what they are eating.

Italy's main agricultural lobby Coldiretti calls lab-grown meat 'Frankenstein' meat. On Thursday, the organization said the law represents "a commitment to defend the Mediterranean diet".

Italy's Agriculture Minister, Francesco Lollobrigida, said that cultivated meat "interrupts the virtuous relationship between land, man and work that for millennia has accompanied us and allowed us to maintain the land".

However, an Italian non-profit, The International Organisation for the Protection of Animals criticizes the law, calling it 'pointless'.

"This ban is completely useless today since cultured meat has not yet been approved for human consumption in Europe and therefore cannot be marketed."

The European Union, as per AFP, considers lab-grown meat a 'novel food' which means that any new product will be subject to authorization from the bloc. If the bloc approves cultivated meat, Italy cannot ban it.

Cellular Agriculture Europe deplored this political move, calling it a "breach of EU law", which has no legal merit and goes against Italian consumers’ free choice.

"Contrary to what was said in the discussions surrounding this legislative proposal, Cellular Agriculture Europe pointed out in a statement, the European Union does have an appropriate regulatory system in place for the safety assessment and approval of cell-cultured products with the Novel Foods Regulation. To enter the European Union (EU) market, novel food products like cultivated meat must be authorized by the European Commission and the member states, after a thorough safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). There is no legal reason for Italy to pre-empt this risk assessment and risk management process.

"The EU law also provides that technical regulations like this law must be notified to the European Commission before their actual adoption, allowing other member states and stakeholders to provide comments on potential barriers to the EU internal market. The Italian authorities’ withdrawal of their notification and the vote blatantly contravene the EU law.

"What is even sadder is that such a piece of legislation might stifle a nascent, dynamic and innovative cellular agriculture sector on Italian soil. Here, we would like to quote The Italian Alliance for Complementary Proteins, which brings together industry companies, researchers and non-profit associations: “This bill tells Italians what they can and cannot eat, stifles innovation, and likely violates EU law. It is truly disheartening that Italy will be excluded from a new job-creating industry and barred from selling more climate-friendly foods. Once famous for pioneering world-changing innovations like radio, microchips, batteries, performance automobiles, and ground-breaking fashion – Italian politicians are now choosing to go backwards while the rest of the world moves forward.”

"As the European association of cultivated meat or seafood producers, we call on the Commission to take action to ensure that the EU law is enforced in all member states."

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