When the ban on cultivated meat production by the Italian Government, which had been in the pipeline for some time, was announced last month, there was strong criticism from a number of quarters. For example, Francesca Gallelli, Public Affairs Consultant at Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe, told us that it would miss opportunities to develop sustainable meat production and stifle innovation for Italian startups.
However, for the Italian Government, there are a number of compelling reasons why such a ban is necessary.
Protection of quality
One of the key reasons for the ban, according to Aurora Russi, Head of Press and Culture at the Italian Embassy in London, is protecting the quality of Italy’s food.
The stated objective of the ban, she told us, is to “protect our food, our food system, and to keep the strong and historical relationship between food, land, and human labor. Furthermore, the purpose is to ensure the quality that Italy expresses and which represents food security for the entire planet.”
The quality of Italian food, suggested Russi, is threatened by cultivated meat. “Indeed, synthetic food, cultivated with methods far from our traditions, does not guarantee this principle. If food were to become standardized, the quality element would diminish. The notion that food security can be ensured through this mechanism means relinquishing the concept of quality as meant in Italy.”
The decision puts the quality of the meat at centre stage. While Russi admitted that “the nutritional values of so-called synthetic meat currently replicate the characteristics of meat fairly similarly,” she stressed that “this approach emphasizes quality standardization, whereas Italy boasts an enormous gastronomic heritage made up of a massive number of Geographical Indications known for its high quality linked to territory of origin and traditional production techniques.”
Protection of consumers
As well as banning cultivated meat production, the bill also restricts the naming of plant-based meat analogues, preventing manufacturers from using meat-related names for meat-free versions of meat classics. While GFI’s Gallelli suggested that such labels help consumers, according to Russi the opposite is the case.
“The ban meat-based names on plant-based alternatives measure is intended to prevent the use of improper terminologies, exactly in order to avoid consumers’ confusion,” she told us.
Protection of farmers
As well as consumers, the bill, according to Russi, aims to protect other key stakeholders, such as Italian farmers. “Such production methods risk erasing our traditional food system, proposing a production model that does not align with what we know and what has made us strong and competitive in this sector.
It questions “even the care for the environment,” she told us, “which originates from our farmers and breeders. The relationship between food, land, and humanity is a millennia-old connection that cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.”
Lastly, Russi stressed the importance of research. The bill, she suggested does not stifle innovation.
“It's important to note that Italy intends to prohibit production, not research, and these two phenomena are not directly linked,” she told us. “This bill doesn't reject innovation but aims to link it with values the country doesn't want to relinquish.”
This innovation should be used to protect agriculture, not diminish it, we were told. “Agricultural production protects rural areas, playing a crucial role in safeguarding territories that might otherwise face abandonment. Research and innovation should aim to reduce emissions in traditional agriculture rather than eliminating it by shifting agricultural production to a laboratory.”