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What about cultivated meat?

  • 24 Nov 2022

After having added the competences relating to “food sovereignty” to the Ministry of Agriculture, and assigning it to a politician with a law degree, the Italian Government, through the mouth of the “competent” minister Francesco Lollobrigida, has started a media campaign against “synthetic meat”.

Synthetic meat, which is technically called “cultured,” meaning lab-grown, is meat derived directly from cells. Biotechnologist Vittoria Brambilla explains it clearly on the Good Food Institute website: “The process of cultivating meat uses the basic elements needed to build muscle and fat and enables the same biological process that happens inside an animal. Cultivated meat is identical to conventional meat at the cellular level.Compared to the other pillars of alternative protein production – plant-based and fermentation – cultivated meat is a more recent innovation.”

In fact, the first cultivated burger was grown by Professor Mark Post and his team at Maastricht University in August 2013. Since then, many have been working on meat that isn’t made from meat. What is called “food utopia”, made of beefless steaks, is slowly becoming reality materializing in a strange lump of muscle fibers colored with beetroot juice synthesized in the laboratory from animal cells. In appearance it is similar to a classic ground beef burger.

Getting meat without killing animals is no longer the science fiction it once was; as it often happens, “disruptive” innovations are at the center of massive investments, including those of personalities such as businessmen Richard Branson and Bill Gates or the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Since the advent of the first cultured meat company, UPSIDE Foods, many have come, such as Mosa Meat and Super Meat. JUST Foods sold its first cultured meat product in 2020 by introducing chicken nuggets at a restaurant in Singapore. Meanwhile, plant-based meat, which is less expensive and not difficult to produce, has boomed since Burger King launched its plant-based Impossible Whopper in 2019.

The various cultured meat companies have not yet achieved commercially viable production in terms of size or cost. “From cell line development to bioprocessor design” Brambilla writes ”there are a number of challenges to meet before cultivated meat is widely available and cost-competitive.”

For these reasons, the Good Food Institute has created the Competitive Research Grants Program to support cutting-edge research, also launching appeals for public funds to help biotech agricultural research, cultured meat and other alternative proteins. Naturally, in addition to science and technology, legal standards are needed to guarantee the safety and quality of the product. Standards that should be adopted at the international level, of course.

If we were to stick to Minister Lollobrigida’s statements, all of this innovation will not see the light in Italy because, prohibitionism aside, the light of Giorgia Meloni’s government is concentrated on illuminating “food sovereignty”.

Who knows if whoever selected this new additional wording for the Minister of Agriculture is aware of the movement of Andean-Amazon farmers “Via Campesina“, which, for over twenty years, and with alternating successes, has been fighting to affirm the right of peoples, often indigenous peoples, to define their own sustainable policies and strategies for the production, distribution and consumption of food based on small and medium-sized production and predominantly local distribution.

For the supporters of “soberania alimentaria” – as they call it in South America – the “nations”, just as those in government call “states”, must be able to define their agricultural and food policy on the basis of their own needs by relating to farmers’ and consumers’ organizations. 

“Food Sovereignty” is a political-economic platform, which some could be called tiers-mondiste, therefore traditionally on the left that concerns indigenous peoples traditionally affected by problems of food production and distribution often due to climate change and/or appropriate access to other sources of foods that cause harmful repercussions for health and increase disease.

The most right-wing government of the Italian Republic puts the brakes on technological innovation and looks to the Andes to inspire its agri-food choices. An ideological minestrone typical of a political class that thinks only of its own backyard and does not know how to deal with the future.