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Reasons and impacts of Italy’s proposed ban of cultured meat

In a reactionary act, like banning ChatGPT, Italy has pushed forward with blanked-banning cultured meat without properly investigating what this means for animal welfare and for innovation. What does this bill mean for animals, innovation and regulatory framework?
Lab grown meat illustration

In a reactionary act, like banning ChatGPT, Italy has pushed forward with blanked-banning cultured meat without properly investigating what this means for animal welfare and for innovation.

What does this bill mean for animals, innovation and regulatory framework?

Reasons for cultured meat ban in Italy

Although the Italian government has expressed concerns about the quality of synthetic foods and their potential impact on human health and the environment, a political reason to protect ‘Italian heritage’ seems to be the main argument for the proposed ban.

Reactionary protection of “Italian heritage”

Introduced in March by Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, the law aims to protect Italy’s agri-food heritage. However, the move could hinder progress in sustainable food production and limit the potential benefits of lab-grown meat.

Unsurprisingly, some believe the ban reflects a political strategy to appeal to agricultural voters by invoking fears of ‘synthetic’ food, rather than focusing on food sovereignty..

Effects on animal welfare

Animal welfare groups have — not surprisingly — expressed their disappointment, arguing that lab-grown meat offers a viable solution to issues such as carbon emissions, food safety and animal cruelty.

Cultured meat, which is produced from animal cells without harming the animals, is seen as an ethical alternative by organisations such as the International Organisation for Animal Protection (Oipa). They argue that lab-produced meat does not compromise animal welfare, environmental sustainability or food safety. By banning cultured meat, Italy may be limiting the development of more humane and sustainable food systems.

Effects on innovation

Italy’s proposed ban could set the industry back and damage Italian innovation in alternative meat and dairy products. It will probably cause alarm in the sector, deterring investors and delaying projects.

By banning cultured meat, Italy may inadvertently stifle innovation in the food industry and limit the development of more sustainable and ethical alternatives to factory farming. This could lead to a continued reliance on traditional livestock farming methods, which are known for their negative environmental and animal welfare impacts.

Critics also argue that banning cultured meat and other protein alternatives before the industry has even got off the ground risks curtailing vital research into sustainable food sources when it is most needed.

Set-back for carbon reduction goals

An impact beyond animal welfare and innovation is a setback for carbon reduction and net-zero goals. Cultured meat, which is produced by growing animal cells in a controlled laboratory environment, offers several advantages over traditional livestock farming. It can significantly reduce the environmental impact of meat production, using up to 90% less water and producing 96% less greenhouse gases than conventional animal farming.

In addition, lab-grown meat can help prevent the spread of diseases associated with overcrowded livestock farms, such as avian flu and mad cow disease, while addressing animal welfare concerns.

Worldwide legislation

Cultured meat has been gaining traction worldwide as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional meat production. In 2020, Singapore became the first country to approve cultured meat for sale, and GOOD Meat’s cultured chicken has received approval from the US food safety regulator FDA as being safe for human consumption.

Italian law toothless if cultured meat is approved by EU

If passed by the Italian parliament, the bill would not be able to protect Italian dinner tables from future imports of farmed meats produced elsewhere in Europe, once they have been approved by EU regulators, because of EU trade laws.

Negative signal to other countries

An actual cultured-meat ban could send a discouraging message to other countries considering the introduction of lab-grown meat, potentially slowing the global shift towards more sustainable food systems. From an animal welfare perspective and with the world’s population continuing to grow, it is vital to find innovative solutions to meet the growing demand for food while minimising the impact on natural resources and the environment.

Italy’s ban on cultured meat may stifle innovation in sustainable food production and limit the potential benefits of lab-grown meat for animal welfare and the environment. As the world faces increasing challenges related to food security and climate change, it is important to explore and adopt innovative solutions that can help create a more sustainable and ethical global food system.

Perhaps, as with ChatGPT, Italy will soon reconsider this proposed law and embrace innovation, provided an appropriate regulatory framework is proposed in the EU that can address concerns, as the AI act did for ChatGPT.

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