Italy wages war on lab-grown food in drive to protect tradition

A butcher cuts meat at a meat shop in the Ballaro market in downtown Palermo
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By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) -Italy's government on Tuesday approved a bill banning the use of laboratory-produced food and animal feed as it aims to safeguard the country's agri-food heritage, its agriculture minister told a news conference after a Cabinet meeting.

If the proposal is passed by parliament, Italian industry will not be allowed to produce food or feed "from cell cultures or tissues derived from vertebrate animals", the bill seen by Reuters said.

A breach of the rules could result in fines of up to 60,000 euros ($65,022).

"Laboratory products in our opinion do not guarantee quality, well-being and the protection of our culture, our tradition," said Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, a senior member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing Brothers of Italy party.

Meloni's nationalist administration has pledged to shield Italy's food from technological innovations seen as harmful, and renamed the agriculture ministry the "ministry for agriculture and food sovereignty".

Agriculture lobby Coldiretti praised the move against "synthetic food", saying a ban is needed to safeguard home production "from the attacks of multinational companies".

The bill stipulates that factories where violations occur can be shut down and producers may lose their right to obtain public funding for up to three years.

ANGRY REACTIONS

The initiative angered organisations supporting the development of "cell-based" agricultural products across Europe, as well as animal rights groups.

"The passing of such a law would shut down the economic potential of this nascent field in Italy, holding back scientific progress and climate mitigation efforts," said Alice Ravenscroft, head of policy at the Good Food Institute Europe.

Food companies' network Cellular Agriculture Europe said Italy was limiting options for consumers who are concerned about animal welfare and the environmental impact of their food choices.

Anti-vivisection group LAV called the bill "an ideological, anti-scientific crusade against progress". It said lab-meat, which is produced from the cells of living animals, represented a good alternative to intensive breeding and slaughtering.

The ban on cell-based meat is not the only initiative from Meloni to block non-conventional food from being served on Italian tables.

Last week, she said the government was preparing a rush of decrees to introduce information labels on products containing or derived from insects, amid a debate on the use of cricket flour.

"People must be able to make an informed choice," she wrote on Twitter.

($1 = 0.9228 euros)

(Editing by Gavin Jones, Ed Osmond and Leslie Adler)