Italy Moves to Punish 'Synthetic' Food Companies

The legislation would outlaw lab-grown food and establish stiff fines for those who make it or sell it.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni presides over a Cabinet session in Cutro, March 9, 2023.
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni presides over a Cabinet session in Cutro, March 9, 2023.
Antonino D'Urso/LaPresse via AP

ROME (AP) β€” Italy's government has endorsed legislation that would outlaw laboratory-grown food and allow stiff fines for those who make it or sell it, a proposal that is part of Premier Giorgia Meloni's crusade to protect "made in Italy" products.

Meloni celebrated with farmers after her Cabinet on Tuesday evening approved measures that provide for fines as high as 60,000 euros ($60,000) and for the confiscation of "synthetic food." The proposed penalties, which the Italian Parliament would need to turn into law, cover both food for people and animal feed.

Championing the law was a close Meloni stalwart, Francesco Lollobrigida, who is the minister of agriculture, food sovereignty and forests. His ministry's title is a new one that reflects the focus of Meloni's right-wing coalition government on homegrown products.

A government statement said the ban on lab-grown food was proposed, "in respect for the principle of precaution," to protect human health and Italy's "farm-food heritage."

Meloni's five-month-old coalition has a comfortable majority in Parliament, but Italy's legislative process is usually a long one, and there was no indication when such a law might become reality.

"We couldn't help but celebrate with our farmers a measure that puts Italy into the vanguard on a theme not only in the defense of excellence, a particularly important subject for us, but also on the theme of the defense of consumers,'' Meloni said outside the premier's office after the Cabinet meeting.

Members of Italy's powerful farm lobby, Coldiretti, an important source of votes, especially in the country's north, were on hand to clap for the Italian leader.

The lobby said some 500,000 Italians had signed petitions as part of a drive it launched to demonstrate support for the proposed measures. It said the appeal aimed to "save 'Made in Italy' on the dinner table from the attack by multinational" companies, which are pioneering lab-grown meats.

Agriculture is a mainstay of the Italian economy. Last month, Coldiretti estimated that Italian food exports, including of wine, were valued at more than 60 billion euros ($65 billion) last year.

Campaigns against laboratory-grown meat run counter to pushes by environmentalists to limit greenhouse gases, much of which is produced by agriculture, particularly the cattle industry.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, no food made from cultured animal cells are currently available for sale in the United States. The process that the FDA calls an "emerging area of food science" involves taking a small number of cells from living animals and growing them in a controlled environment to create food.

For now, manufacturers are working on how to ramp up their processes to yield quantities large enough for competitive pricing.

Meloni has long railed against food trends that contrast with Italy's classic Mediterranean diet, which is heavy on fruit and vegetables as well as pasta and fish. During her election campaign last year, she repeatedly lambasted European Union rules regulating the use of insects for human food, saying the bloc should have concentrated more on energy policy than on niche foods.

Separately, the agriculture minister announced that the government had signed four decrees regulating flour derived from insects such as crickets. The decrees specify that labels must clearly indicate to consumers that the flour contains ground-up insects.

Meloni's government is promoting Italian cuisine for possible heritage-for-humanity designation by UNESCO, the U.N.'s educational, scientific and cultural agency.

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