There’s a stereotype that suggests Italians can – and do – get overly excited about anything. Emotions ran especially high last week when the Italian Parliament voted on a new law that would ban lab-grown meat. The ban passed, making some folks happy…
Lab-grown meat is cultured from actual animal cells harvested
humanely, without harming any live ‘source’ animals.
The US and Singapore have approved lab-grown meats for sale to the public. But the rest of the world was still contemplating the situation. Until Italy – famously protective of its classic, traditional foods and beverages – spoke up.
The bill to ban lab-grown meat passed by a healthy 159 to 53 vote margin. Anyone found in breach of the new law can be fined up to 60,000 Euros / (US)$65,000.
Italy now ‘safe’
“Italy is the world’s first country safe from the social and economic risks of synthetic food,” said Francesco Lollobrigida, Agriculture Minister in the country’s right-wing government.
But the issue did not go without public comment. Loud, at times angry rallies were staged by both opponents and supporters of lab-grown meat. But the pivotal issue was not the hethfulness nor wholesomeness of cultured meats. It was about tradition and job security for the nation’s farmers.
Members of Parliament (MPs) were physically confronted by protesting farmers as they arrived for the vote. A brief scuffle ensued.
Farmer’s group spokesman Ettore Prandini, called two opposition MPs ‘criminals’ for opposing the cultured meat ban. His supporters , who showed up in considerable numbers, carried placards calling cultured meat ‘anti-scientific and anti-Italian’.
One of the roughed-up MPs, Benedetto Della Vedova, called Prandini and his supporters ‘hooligans’. The President of the lower house of the Italian Parliament, Lorenzo Fontana, decried the protests, declaring that, “differences of opinion should never descend into forms of violence,”
Another chapter to the story?
All that aside, the European Union – of which Italy is a member – has not yet ruled on cultivated meat. So far, it’s classed the stuff as a ‘novel food’. For the EU, as in the US, safety is the central issue.
“In Europe, we do not have such products yet on the market…” said European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) spokesman Wolfgang Gelbmann. “They are considered by regulators, the European Commission and member states, as a novel food and that requires a safety assessment by EFSA, [plus] authorisation by member states and the European Commission.”
As of last week, no proposal, one way or the other, had been sent to EFSA for approval.
But if the EFSA was to come out in favour of cultured meat, and the EU made that position official, Italy could find itself in what observers say would be a losing battle with the senior authority over legalization.
The Italian ban on cultured meat is, of course, purely political.
The Agriculture Minister is hailing the passage of the ban as a major victory. A year ago, when the issue first surfaced, Lollobrigida took a high-profile public stand, vowing that ‘synthetic food’ would ‘never reach Italian dinner tables’.
“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,” Lollobrigida told Italian TV. “We have to protect our workers, our agricultural entrepreneurs and citizens who have the right to eat well.”
Italy is famous for its meticulous, rigid control over its famous food and beverage ‘brands’. It may be second only to France, where the concept (which the French call the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)) was born. The AOC is why only wines made in the Champagne district of Northern France can be called ‘Champagne’. All others must be labelled ‘Sparking Wines’.
Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) not only encompasses wine, but also cheese, olive oil and other comestibles.
So I, for one, am not at all surprised that Italy’s movers and shakers have come out strongly in favour of the status quo when it comes to meat. Nor am I surprised that the parliamentarians fully realize that the Agriculture Sector represents a huge number of votes…
~ Maggie J.