Italy bans lab-grown meat in nod to farmers

Breeders and farmers from Coldiretti in front of Palazzo Chigi demonstrate their support for the law
Image caption,Farmers’ groups have lobbied hard for the law against cultivated meat to go through

Italian MPs have voted to back a law banning the production, sale or import of cultivated meat or animal feed, in what the right-wing government calls a defence of Italian tradition.

“Italy is the world’s first country safe from the social and economic risks of synthetic food,” said Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida.

The vote in parliament was met by rallies for and against the ban.

At one point, a scuffle broke out between farmers and some MPs.

The head of the big Coldiretti farmers’ organisation, Ettore Prandini, at one point confronted two MPs from the opposition More Europe party, calling them “criminals” for opposing the ban on lab-grown meat with placards that condemned it as “anti-scientific and anti-Italian”.

One of the MPs, Benedetto Della Vedova, accused him of being a hooligan. Centrist colleagues called on the farmers’ lobby to apologise and the president of the lower house of parliament, Lorenzo Fontana, said that “differences of opinion should never descend into forms of violence”.

Despite the flare-up, parliament backed the bill by 159 votes to 53. Breaching the law would mean a fine of up to €60,000 (£52,000).

For now, the law will have little effect, as cultivated meat has so far only been approved for human consumption in Singapore and the US.

The EU has not yet given any lab-grown meat, described as “novel foods”, the green light. If it does, however, Italy’s new law could be challenged by the European Commission.

Wolfgang Gelbmann of the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) said in September that no proposal had yet been sent to the authority for approval.

“In Europe, we do not have such products yet on the market… because they are considered by regulators, the European Commission and member states as a novel food and that requires a safety assessment by Efsa, authorisation by member states and the European Commission.”

The new law is a victory for Italy’s agriculture minister, who a year ago vowed to prevent “synthetic food” from reaching dining tables in Italy. He praised MPs for backing the new law, which came in response to a petition organised by the Coldiretti lobby group.

“We are safeguarding our food, our system of nutrition, by maintaining the relationship between food, land and human labour that we have enjoyed for millennia,” Mr Lollobrigida told Italian TV.

“We have to protect our workers, our agricultural entrepreneurs and citizens who have the right to eat well.” Mr Lollobrigida is part of the prime minister’s far-right Brothers of Italy party and has previously extolled Italy’s proud tradition of food and wine culture.

But the petition was condemned by Prof Elena Cattaneo, a lifelong senator and leading bioscience specialist, who said it was a emotive, cartoon-style leaflet that classed natural food as good and cultivated food as bad and made from “crazy cells in bioreactors”.

The law bars synthetic foods produced from animal cells without killing the animal and prevents producers from using meat-related words on labels to describe plant-based protein.

Critics point out there is nothing synthetic about lab-grown meat, as it is created by growing natural cells without genetic modification.

The law is also a blow for animal welfare groups, who have highlighted lab-made meat as a solution towards protecting the environment from carbon emissions.

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