Italy takes a step back: it proposes stricter plant-based food labeling and a ban on cultured meat


In March, a proposal was made in Italy to ban alternative meat products made from plant proteins with "meaty" names. The new bill seeks to ban such foods from being called tofu steaks, vegan hams or plant-based sausages. Although the proposal states that this would help preserve people's health and the country's culinary heritage, and protect the interests of consumers, the draft law received a lot of criticism.

Plant-based food consumers and producers see such a proposal as a step backwards for Italy in the global fight against climate change. The non-governmental organization "Gyvi gali", which aims to popularize plant-based food in Lithuania, claims that the processes of plant-based food production emit half the amount of greenhouse gases than the production of products of animal origin, so countries' laws should not restrict, but rather encourage society to switch to more flexitarian nutrition, in which plant-based food is preferred. Wider use of meat substitutes can help solve many problems of our time, from ensuring animal welfare, reducing the impact of climate change, to improving food safety.

Concerns about nutritional value are unfounded and misleading

A proposed bill in Italy says plant-based products labeled as "meat" could mislead people about their nutritional value compared to animal meat. The head of the non-governmental organization "Gyvi gali" Meda Šermukšnė calls this argument unrealistic. According to her, studies carried out in several countries have shown that consumers understand that they are plant products when buying plant alternatives. "Vegetable meat products may not compromise their nutritional value, being full of proteins and other substances needed by the body. In addition, they have many other advantages compared to animal meat, as they are not only rich in healthy fiber, but also free of harmful cholesterol, antibiotic residues, hormones, heavy metals and viruses. In addition, plant-based meat substitutes help consumers diversify their diet and eat more vegetables, as such products are usually made from various beans, vegetables, mushrooms or grains," says M. Šermukšnė.

In Italy, such a bill was proposed after regulators in other countries and the livestock industry tried to tighten controls on how plant-based meat and dairy products are labeled. For example, the so-called vegetable burger ban was adopted in France last year. Veggie Burger Ban), but after a lot of public dissatisfaction, it was finally stopped by the country's highest court. According to plant-based food consumers and producers, such bans are an attempt to slow down the growing popularity of plant-based food and oppose the development of a more sustainable food system, which is one of the main priorities of the European Union.  

Despite various proposals for strictures, in Italy, as in many other countries of the world, there is a growing interest in plant-based food. Statistics show that in 2022, the number of consumers of herbal products in Italy increased by almost three percent, and as many as 22 million Italians consume these foods regularly. The most popular products in the market are plant-based burgers, ready-to-eat meals, vegan ice cream and various desserts. It is interesting that even 50.4 percent Italians regularly consume plant-based milk drinks based on nuts, oats or other plant-based products.

Cultured meat is also being banned

Tightening plant-based food labeling is not the only criticism of Italy's food ambitions. Italian authorities recently began developing a bill to ban cultured meat and other foods grown from cells. 

Cultured meat is animal meat that has not been grown in the animal's body, but in a medium that is favorable for cell proliferation, directly acting on the animal's stem cells. Although this technology is just beginning to be developed in many countries, it is predicted that such meat products will reach European store shelves within a few years. Several European countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain, are investing heavily in research and development of cultured meat technology that would reduce (or even eliminate) harmful industrial animal farms and the environmental pollution caused by them. Based on scientific research, cultured meat production would increase to 92 percent. less air pollution than regular meat, and it would require up to 90 percent less land area. Also, the spread of cultured meat production would significantly reduce the need for animal farms, and at the same time, the number of animal deaths. 

Trends show that interest in alternative proteins, both plant-based and cultured, is growing for a variety of reasons. Significant investments are being made to create changes in the food system, in some cases even at the state level. Consumers who care about animal welfare and more environmentally friendly nutrition accept alternative meat and dairy products positively, and the growing sales and expanding supply on store shelves perfectly prove this. 

For these reasons, proposals to tighten the labeling or production of such products, which are increasingly being heard in some countries, are met with indignation from the public. M. Šermukšnė, head of the "Gyvi gali" organization, says that non-governmental organizations working on the promotion of alternative proteins are monitoring the situation and are ready to react if such or similar laws are tried to be implemented in other countries, and Lithuania is no exception. "Considering climate change and other issues of our time, the production of meat alternatives should receive more encouragement, rather than hasty bans at the state level." We are ready to take steps so that the market of alternative proteins in our country has the opportunity to grow, and their producers are not faced with putting sticks in the wheels", says M. Šermukšnė.

The author of the photo used for the visual of the article - Higher Steaks

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