“Laboratory products in our opinion do not guarantee quality, well-being and the protection of our culture, our tradition,” said Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, from Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, at a press conference on Tuesday.
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Meloni’s nationalist administration has pledged to protect Italy’s food businesses from technological innovations seen as harmful, and renamed the agriculture ministry the “ministry for agriculture and food sovereignty”.
Health Minister Orazio Schillac admitted there was “no scientific evidence of possible harmful effects linked to the consumption of synthetic foods” but said the move to ban them was “based on the precautionary principle”.
Meat substitutes have long been produced, with varying degrees of success, from vegetable sources like soya, peas or beans.
The new legislation specifically targets synthetic products being developed in laboratories from animal cells, which aim to ‘grow’ meat without killing the donor animal.
If the proposal is passed by parliament, penalties for violations would include fines of up to 60,000 euros ($64,000).
Agriculture lobby Coldiretti praised the move, saying a ban was needed to safeguard domestic production “from the attacks of multinational companies”.
“Italy, which is a European leader in food quality and safety, has a duty to be at the forefront of food policies to defend citizens and businesses,” Coldiretti president Ettore Prandini said in a statement.
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But critics said the move was part of the government’s focus on identity politics and would leave Italian businesses trailing behind rivals in other European countries.
“A new day, a new enemy, a new crime,” said Giordano Masini of the left-wing More Europe party.
“Instead of welcoming a potential new development opportunity, which could bring new businesses and more jobs, the government rushes to ban it, imagining health risks that no one has ever shown.”
“In the end, foods obtained via cell culture will arrive anyway, as it is the EFSA that evaluates the health risks of food products [in Europe] not the Italian government, and the European Union will allow them onto the single market.
“So producers in other countries who, in the meantime, can do research and development will be the ones to benefit.”
The ban was also criticised by organisations supporting the development of cell-based food products across Europe, as well as animal rights groups.
“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,” Alice Ravenscroft, head of policy at the Good Food Institute Europe, told Reuters.
In order to come into force, the bill will have to be adopted within two months by parliament, which may amend it during debates.
Currently no marketing applications for such foods have been made in the EU, and it is likely to be at least 2025 before such foods appear on shelves in Europe.
The ban on lab-grown meat was not the only rule proposed by Meloni’s administration aimed at preventing unconventional foods from being served on Italian tables.
The government was also reportedly preparing decrees to introduce information labels on products containing or derived from insects amid concerns about the use of cricket flour.
Italy’s government also said last week it planned to launch a bid to have “Italian cuisine” included on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, though it was not immediately clear which dishes it would include.