Italy bans cultivated meat, cutting itself off from innovation and blocking sustainable development 

The Italian Chamber of Deputies has passed a law banning the production and marketing of cultivated meat and the use of meat-related names, such as ‘salami’ or ‘steak’, for plant-based meat products. The bill introduces fines between €10,000 and €60,000 for each violation.

Also available in Italian.

16 November 2023

Italy ban on cultivated meat passed the vote in the Chamber of Deputies

The Italian Chamber of Deputies has passed a law banning the production and marketing of cultivated meat and the use of meat-related names, such as ‘salami’ or ‘steak’, for plant-based meat products. The bill introduces fines between €10,000 and €60,000 for each violation.

Francesca Gallelli, Public Affairs Consultant at the Good Food Institute Europe, said: “This bill not only deprives consumers of choice but also isolates Italy from the investment and job creation offered by this burgeoning industry. The debate surrounding cultivated meat in Italy has been fueled by misinformation, as hearings in the Senate intentionally excluded cultivated meat companies and supporters while allowing false claims from opponents of this sustainable food. 

“We welcome the intention of the government to submit the law to the EU scrutiny and we hope member states can voice their concerns regarding its potential violation of the single market.”

This decision holds particular significance given Italy’s self-sufficiency rate for beef of 42.5%*. As a substantial importer of meat from both European and non-European countries, supporting the domestic production of cultivated meat could play a crucial role in bridging this gap.

The measure also attacks the labelling of plant-based products, prohibiting the use of everyday names like ‘plant-based salami’ and ‘vegan steak’. This measure directly affects Italian companies that make plant-based meat, which are regularly consumed by one in two Italians. Industry research indicates Italy as the third-largest European market for plant-based products, with sales surging 21% to exceed €600 million between 2020 and 2022. 

Gallelli commented: “Eliminating the possibility of using familiar terms to facilitate product recognition undermines transparency, generating confusion for consumers where none currently exists, as demonstrated by surveys.”

The Italian Alliance for Complementary Proteins, which brings together industry companies, researchers and non-profit associations, commented: “This bill tells Italians what they can and cannot eat, stifles innovation, and likely violates EU law. It is truly disheartening that Italy will be excluded from a new job-creating industry and barred from selling more climate-friendly foods. 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.”

A survey of Italian consumers reveals that 55% are interested in buying cultivated meat, while 75% believe that it is necessary to reduce the consumption of conventional meat.

Peer-reviewed research shows that cultivated meat could cause up to 92% less emissions than conventional beef. It could also reduce air pollution associated with meat production by up to 94%, and use up to 90% less land – freeing up space for more sustainable farming practices so we can satisfy growing demand for meat while protecting our environment. One recent study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, is often cited in Italy as it claims cultivated meat would not be better for the environment than beef. This study is based on a number of incorrect assumptions about how cultivated meat is produced, and its findings deviate significantly from the wider literature on this topic.

A rigorous report into the safety of cultivated meat by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has also been frequently misrepresented despite finding that many of the potential issues “are already well known and existing equally as well in conventionally produced food”. It also dismissed some of the more outlandish claims made by opponents of cultivated meat.

Other governments across Europe are eager to unlock the benefits of cultivated meat.  In 2022, the Netherlands announced €60 million of public funding for research and development of cultivated meat and precision fermentation. In the UK, the government has earmarked £12 million for alternative proteins, including cultivated meat, while the Danish Government recently presented a national plan to support the development and uptake of plant-based meat.

The Spanish Government has invested €5.2 million in a project studying the potential of cultivated meat in preventing food-related diseases. In Catalonia, the federal government recently invested €7 million in a research centre that will help companies scale up the production of plant-based meat and fermentation.

*2023 National Data for beef imports