Italian Government Passes Bills to Ban Cultivated Meat and Use of Meat-Like Terms for Plant-Based Alternatives

The Italian Chamber of Deputies has finally passed a controversial bill banning the production and marketing of cultivated meat in the country. Additionally, the Chamber has lawfully signed another bill prohibiting the use of meat-related terms like “salami” or “steak” for plant-based meat alternatives, thus directly affecting numerous companies in the plant-based sector.

Ivo Rzegotta, Senior Public Affairs Manager at the Good Food Institute Europe (GFIE), states in response:

“This law not only deprives consumers of choice, but also isolates Italy from further investment and future-proof jobs in this growing sector. The debate on cultured meat in Italy has been fuelled by misinformation, as the Senate hearings have deliberately excluded companies and proponents of cultured meat, while leaving plenty of room for inaccurate claims by avowed opponents of cultured meat.”

GOING BACKWARDS

The GFIE emphasises that prohibition will reduce investment, push Italian researchers abroad, and hinder the fight against climate change. Moreover, a survey of Italian consumers revealed that 55% of participants are interested in buying cultivated meat, while 75% believe reducing meat consumption is necessary.

The Italian Alliance for Complementary Proteins have stated:

“This bill tells Italians what they can and cannot eat, stifles innovation, and likely violates EU law. Once famous for pioneering world-changing innovations like radio, microchips, batteries, performance automobiles, and ground-breaking fashion – Italian politicians are now choosing to go backwards while the rest of the world moves forward”.

ELIMINATING PRODUCT RECOGNITION

Regarding the labelling ban for plant-based products, the measure will affect Italian companies producing alternatives to animal products that sell their products under now prohibited everyday names such as “plant-based salami” and “vegan steak”. Italy is currently the third largest market for plant-based alternative products in Europe with a turnover of more than 600 million euros in 2022.

In recent years, governments and institutions in Turkey, France, South Africa, the USA, Spain and Chile have also called for plant-based labelling prohibitions, arguing that using recognisable names deceives consumers.

Ivo Rzegotta adds:

“The ban on cultured meat introduced in Italy and the restrictions on product labelling for plant-based options clearly contradict the rules of the EU internal market and also affect German companies that sell plant-based products in Italy. The German government should therefore now make use of the opportunity to raise objections with the EU Commission.”

ITALIAN ISOLATION

The bill introduces fines of between €10,000 and €60,000 for each violation and the law risks cutting Italy off from innovation and has potential ramifications that go even deeper.

There are 5 implications from the bill’s passage:

  1. The move specifically penalises Italian companies and academic institutions. It will reduce investment, push researchers abroad and hinder the fight against climate change, while other European countries are investing in the space;
  2. The debate has shown a worrying pervasiveness of misinformation, where key stakeholders were excluded from important hearings, and voices of opposition were stifled. This is emblematic of a growing push of misinformation around alternative proteins;
  3. This comes at a time when protein diversification within Italy is crucial for the country’s food sovereignty. Italy is currently a major importer of meat with a self-sufficiency rate for beef of only 42.5%;
  4. This measure directly affects Italian companies making plant-based meat in Europe’s third largest market, by preventing the use of familiar terms like “steak”. Obviously, this is bad for companies who may be forced to do expensive re-brands, but also for the 50% of Italians who want to choose more sustainable options and may now find plant-based products less accessible; and,
  5. These issues go beyond Italy to the EU level, where the law threatens to undermine the single market. The Italian government must notify the EU as soon as possible, and EU must scrutinise this law and voice their concerns regarding this potential violation.