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Cultivated Meat in the EU: why banning it is a mistake

The potential of cultivated meat and the controversial bans threatening its future in Europe 

A chef plates  Pan-fried cultivated foie gras
Pan-fried cultivated foie gras Credit: GOURMEY and Romain Buisson

Cultivated meat is an exciting innovation in the food industry. It involves producing real animal meat by cultivating animal cells in a controlled environment instead of through conventional farming and slaughtering. Compared with conventional meat production, cultivated meat has the potential to be far less resource-intensive, decreasing methane emissions, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water pollution, antibiotic resistance, and foodborne illnesses. While it's not yet widely available, ongoing research and investment are progressing significantly. Singapore and the United States have already approved it for sale, and Europe is seeing growing interest in the sector, also thanks to a vibrant startup ecosystem. However, some EU countries are pushing back, influenced by misinformation and industrial agricultural interests. 

Why Are Some EU States Banning Cultivated Meat? 

In November 2023, Italy took a controversial step by banning the production and sale of cultivated meat, arguing it was defending Italian food tradition. Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida emphasised the importance of maintaining the historical relationship between food, land, and labour. Following Italy's lead, other EU countries like Romania and France are considering similar bans. This opposition is driven by concerns over the potential impact on conventional farming and food culture, as well as misinformation and conspiracy theories about cultivated meat. However, these bans raise several questions about their legality and rationale. 

Two smiling women show off some cultivated Pork belly
Cultivated Pork belly Credit: Higher Steaks and Tailored Brands

Can EU Member States Ban Cultivated Meat? 

At the European level, cultivated meat is regulated under the novel food regulation, which requires a thorough assessment of safety and nutritional value before approval. Once approved, it can be sold across all 27 EU countries. The EU's Precautionary Principle allows member states to temporarily restrict novel foods if there's a perceived health risk. However, this principle should only apply after a scientific assessment, which has not been done for cultivated meat since it hasn't been approved yet. Banning it pre-emptively violates this principle. 

Italy's ban on cultivated meat hinges on cultural arguments rather than scientific evidence. The debate excluded experts who support cultivated meat, leading to decisions based on ideology rather than facts. The Ministry of Agriculture cited cultural risks but did not provide evidence of health risks, which is necessary to invoke the precautionary principle correctly. 

Italy also bypassed an important EU procedure designed to prevent regulatory barriers within the internal market. The TRIS Directive requires member states to notify draft laws that might affect the single market. Italy withdrew an earlier notification to speed up the ban, preventing the European Commission and other member states from reviewing it beforehand. This procedural violation could render the ban unenforceable if challenged in court. 

Two smiling women show off some cultivated Bacon
Cultivated Bacon Credit: Higher Steaks and Tailored Brands

The Importance of Supporting Innovation 

The growing skepticism among some EU member states poses a significant risk to the future of cultivated meat. If a blocking coalition forms, it could prevent the approval of cultivated meat products in the EU. This would hinder innovation, affect research funding, and slow down progress in developing sustainable food products. 

The EU has the potential to lead in food innovation and sustainability. Allowing political and ideological battles to stifle progress would harm the continent's economy, the environment, and consumers. Conversely, supporting the nascent cultivated meat industry can help the EU stay competitive and address global challenges like climate change and food security. It's crucial for the EU to prioritise evidence-based decisions and support innovative solutions for a sustainable future.  Further Information

  • According to research, production and consumption of animal products in the EU accounts for 12-17% of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

  • A study led by Oxford University found that – even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately – the world cannot meet its Paris Agreement targets without shifting away from conventional animal agriculture.  

  • Cultivated meat could cut the climate impact of meat by up to 92%, reduce air pollution by up to 94%, and use up to 90% less land. 

  • A recent study from the European Parliamentary Research Service (2024) on Alternative protein sources for food and feed showed that cultivated meat is a promising alternative for a more sustainable and resilient food system. 

  • The EU has invested €25 million in funding for sustainable protein research, including this type of meat. 

  • The WePlanet Rebootfood campaign aims to reshape not only the EU but the global food system with an emphasis on healthy and varied sustainable protein options.   


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