Austria: Emerging initiatives against cultivated meat in certain federal states fueled by misinformation

Current initiatives against cultivated meat in Austria, such as motions in the Carinthian state parliament and petitions in individual federal states, are based on inaccurate assumptions. 

25 April 2024

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Government building in Carinthia, Austria
The Landhaus regional government building in Carinthia, Austria

Cultivated meat has become the subject of controversial debate in Austria, both at federal level and in individual federal states. Some current initiatives are going so far as to call for an EU-wide ban on cultivated meat, even before an initial application for authorisation has been submitted to regulators. These moves have emerged in the form of resolutions from the Carinthian state parliament and petitions against cultivated meat in individual federal states.

Arguments based on misinformation

These initiatives are largely based on misleading claims about the climate footprint of cultivated meat, health effects, animal welfare and alleged monopoly structures that do not stand up to a fact check:

  • Health: Before cultivated meat can be sold in Austria, it must undergo a comprehensive authorisation procedure at EU level. This process includes a thorough assessment of the safety and nutritional value of cultivated meat, which follows the highest food safety standards in the world. In Singapore, where cultivated chicken is already authorised, testing has shown that cultivated meat is high in protein, healthy unsaturated fats and rich in minerals. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in April 2023 also dispelled some speculation that had previously been voiced about the safety of cultivated meat, finding the food safety considerations associated with cultivated meat to be “existing equally [as those] in conventionally produced food.” 
  • Climate footprint: As cultivated meat is not yet produced on an industrial scale, the environmental impact can currently only be estimated and not measured precisely. According to an analysis based on empirical data published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, compared to conventional farming the production of cultivated meat with renewable energy could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 92%, land use by up to 90% and air pollution by up to 92%. It is sometimes claimed that cultivated meat could produce more greenhouse gases than conventional livestock farming, based on a highly controversial preprint which has not been peer-reviewed. The assumptions about the production process underpinning this preprint are severely flawed however, and do not reflect how companies in the sector actually operate. 
  • Animal welfare: For the production of cultivated meat, a small sample of cells is taken from an animal and placed in a fermenter. There, the cells receive the water, nutrients and heat they need to multiply and grow. Early-stage research into cultivated meat has used fetal bovine serum (FBS), to support the growth of the cells. FBS is a byproduct of cattle slaughter, making it controversial for some. At scale, FBS is not a viable growth medium for producing cultivated meat because it is expensive, batches have very inconsistent composition and quality, and global supplies are limited. Many cultivated meat companies have proven that they can run production without FBS, including Good Meat and Vow, whose products have been approved in Singapore. Aleph Farms’ cultivated beef product that is currently undergoing authorisation in Switzerland and the UK is also FBS-free.  
  • Market structure: Cultivated meat can be produced by companies of any size. Just as beer can be produced by microbreweries and large international companies, meat can also be cultivated at different scales. At present, it is not large industrial companies that are driving the sector forward, but an ecosystem of 174 small startups. The best way to enable a diverse ecosystem of companies of all sizes is through public investment in research and development. 

Above all, cultivated meat is not a threat to agriculture, but a useful addition to it. Cultivated meat is not intended to replace small-scale farming structures, but to help satisfy the growing global demand for meat that would otherwise be met with intensive systems, and to create alternatives to less sustainable forms of meat production. The cultivation of meat also creates new economic opportunities for Austria, for example through the production of cultivated fish in a landlocked country without access to the sea.

Initiatives at odds with public opinion

Such a ban on cultivated meat without a basis in scientific evidence would also be at odds with the prevailing opinions held by the Austrian public. A representative survey in Austria commissioned by the Good Food Institute Europe from the opinion research institute YouGov found: 

  • 47% of respondents said that Austria needs alternatives to animal products such as meat
  • 63% of respondents stated that cultivated meat should be authorised in Austria if the food safety authorities deem it safe and nutritious
  • 66% say cultivated meat should be produced in Austria so the national economy can benefit. 

Ivo Rzegotta, responsible for Austria at the Good Food Institute Europe said “Cultivated meat offers an additional option for climate and environmentally-conscious consumers. It is not intended to replace the cows on alpine pastures, but to offer an alternative to less sustainable forms of meat production, which also exist in Austria, and help satisfy growing global demand for meat.

These initiatives against cultivated meat are based on inaccurate assumptions and are misleading for consumers and politicians. In order to realistically assess the potential for climate, environmental and health protection, we need to move away from an ideologically charged debate towards a constructive, evidence-based discussion.”