Italy's government has made a bold move by passing a bill that bans the production and promotion of cultivated meat and places stringent restrictions on how plant-based products can be labelled. These measures aim to preserve Italy's cherished culinary traditions and safeguard its agricultural workforce.
The bill, approved by Italy's Chamber of Deputies, carries a substantial penalty of €60,000 (£52,225) for anyone found in violation. Additionally, it limits the terminology that plant-based meat alternatives can use, prohibiting terms like 'salami' or 'steak' associated with traditional meat products.
Italy's Minister for Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigada, explained the reasoning behind the legislation, stating, "We protect our food, our food system, to maintain the relationship between food, land, and human work that has accompanied us for millennia. This guarantees Italy's quality and is the epitome of food safety for the entire planet."
Cultivated meat, he argued, fails to uphold these principles, making it imperative to safeguard the welfare of Italian workers and uphold the nation's culinary heritage. Furthermore, he expressed confidence that the European Union would reject novel food regulatory approval for cultivated meat.
"We are proud that Italy is the first nation on the planet to prohibit this type of production, which threatens our traditional food system," he added.
While the ban has its supporters, some critics believe it hampers economic opportunities and impedes the potential of cultivated meat to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Francesca Gallelli, Public Affairs Consultant at Good Food Institute Europe, expressed concerns about Italy falling behind in a rapidly growing industry.
"Countries around the world increasingly recognise the food security and public health benefits of investing in cultivated meat," she stated. "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."
The ban will effectively extinguish Italy's cultivated meat sector, making it illegal for local start-ups to operate within the country. Gallelli highlighted that talented researchers and investors are already seeking opportunities elsewhere in Europe, leaving Italy trailing behind.
The bill also imposes labelling restrictions on plant-based meat products, which some argue will create consumer confusion rather than clarity. Gallelli emphasised that familiar language like 'steak' and 'salami' helps consumers understand the taste, texture, and preparation of plant-based meat products, making informed decisions easier.
Farming groups played a pivotal role in advocating for the bill, with Coldiretti, one of Italy's major farming associations, strongly supporting the ban. Nevertheless, Francesca Gallelli believes that farmers have been misinformed about the potential benefits of alternative proteins, suggesting that policymakers should focus on maximising these opportunities instead of imposing bans or restrictions.
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