Misinformation about cultivated meat brought to EU Council meeting

This week has seen the worrying and ironic spectacle of some European agriculture ministers putting a note before an EU Council meeting that included misinformation about cultivated meat. 

Also available in German.

European council Europa building where the AGRIFISH meeting at which the note promoting cultivated meat misinformation was held. Photo by Marie-Françoise Plissart
Photo: Marie-Françoise Plissart 

This week has seen the worrying and ironic spectacle of some European agriculture ministers putting a note before an EU Council meeting that included misinformation about cultivated meat. 

The item of any other business, which will not lead to any legislative changes, was heard at the AGRIFISH Council meeting on Tuesday 23 January. It was tabled by Austria’s Agriculture Minister, but the country’s Ministry of Health – responsible for food safety – has said its views do not reflect those of the Austrian Government. The note was co-authored by Agriculture Ministers from Italy and France, and supported by ministers from several other EU member states, including Spain, Poland, and Romania.

It was worrying because the note seeks to undermine the EU’s world-leading Novel Food regulatory system and spread doubt at a time when the bloc should be coming together to support cultivated meat.

And ironic – because the same meeting included a speech by Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič about the need to ensure our food system is ‘fit for the future’. Cultivated meat could play a vital role in doing just that – helping to satisfy the growing demand for meat while boosting food security and creating the space farmers need to adopt more extensive and organic approaches. 

While several countries supported the questions raised, others voiced their disagreement.

Dutch Deputy Permanent Representative Michael Stibbe, said: “We of course understand the concerns with regards to the public health and the future of livestock farmers, but also at the same time we are talking about how do we secure the global food security, and the world population as we all know is growing fast and so is the demand for animal proteins. 

“Therefore, we believe that it is important to support innovations that create production methods for animal proteins complementary to, and not as a substitute to, conventional sustainable production. So, more research is needed to ensure the safety and the lower energy use, and therefore in the Netherlands we invest in this research, and so I would plea to let’s also look at the opportunities of this development and not only see the threats.”

Danish Deputy Permanent Representative Søren Jacobsen, said: “We understand the concerns that have been raised under this item, but Denmark remains very positive towards the development of new innovative biotechnological solutions that could lead to new sustainable proteins. And, like the Netherlands, we believe that we must also focus on the upside and therefore we look forward to the biotech initiative from the Commission that will look into the opportunities.

“We already have EU regulation on novel food in place. This sets a clear legal framework that is solidly based on science. Denmark sees no reason for hindering the development and marketing of cell-based products, as long as such products are safe and fulfil the legal requirements and as long as they are labelled in a way which is not misleading to consumers. If these requirements are met it must then be up to consumers if they want to buy these products.”

Europe’s ‘gold standard’ regulatory system

Of course, consumers need to know this food is safe before it arrives on tables across the EU, but the existing Novel Food regulation is already the most rigorous in the world and includes provisions for the additional steps the note calls for.

As Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, pointed out while responding to the note, the EU’s existing Novel Food regulations make sure that human health and consumer interest are well protected in a functioning internal market. 

Any approval will be based on a thorough and evidence-based assessment of a product’s safety and nutritional value, taking at least 18 months. Imposing barriers before the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has had the chance to review cultivated meat’s safety would disregard the expertise these leading scientists provide and undermine the clear and rigorous Novel Food framework.

Provisions for the ‘broad debate’ the note calls for already exist, with countries having opportunities to engage with the authorisation process and hold public consultations before any approval. 

The note also includes commonly repeated false claims about cultivated meat, such as:

  • A non-peer-reviewed UC Davis study, claiming cultivated meat would not be better for the environment than beef, which a Changing Markets Foundation report found is being used as part of a misinformation campaign. Its findings are based on incorrect assumptions about how cultivated meat is produced and deviate significantly from the existing literature. Peer-reviewed research has found that, when made with renewable energy, cultivated meat could cause up to 92% less emissions than conventional beef.
  • Ethical questions raised by FBS – a by-product of cattle slaughter. While FBS has historically been used in cell cultivation, it’s unsuited for large-scale cultivated meat production, as it’s expensive, inconsistent and limited. Many cultivated meat companies have already abandoned it, and an FBS-free cultivated chicken product has been approved in Singapore.
Fit for the future

Commissioner Šefčovič talked about the need for a strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture earlier in the meeting.

He said the impact of climate change, biodiversity loss and growing resource scarcity means we must act to make sure Europe’s agrifood sector remains competitive while falling within planetary boundaries – creating a future where farming and nature go hand-in-hand.

Cultivated meat can play a huge role in responding to these challenges. 

Peer-reviewed research has found it uses up to 90% less land than animal agriculture, creating the space farmers need to meet the EU’s targets on reducing food emissions, expanding organic farming and restoring natural habitats – without asking consumers to cut meat from their diets or increasing our reliance on imports.

And, as countries like the United States and China invest in cultivated meat to boost their economies, enhance food security and create future-proof jobs, taking a leading role in this growing field will enable the EU to remain competitive on the global stage.

The EU’s flagship Horizon Europe programme, as well as member states such as Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, have invested in much-needed R&D, but political statements such as this threaten to undermine this progress.

Cultivated meat has moved on a lot since it was first developed by Dutch scientist Dr Mark Post just over a decade ago, but it remains in its infancy. And while the EU is home to visionary companies and some of the world’s best scientists in this field, they need certainty if their innovations are to benefit Europe rather than being used overseas.

Spreading misinformation and undermining the EU’s world-leading regulatory process risks holding Europe back as other regions move forward in the race to bring this sustainable food to consumers.


Alex Holst

Alex Holst Deputy Head of Policy – EU

Alex works with NGOs, think tanks, businesses, and other political actors to advance sustainable proteins in Europe.