In the first significant global pushback on laboratory-grown meat, Italy's right-wing government has backed a bill that would ban cell-based food production on the grounds of protecting Italian food heritage and the health of its people.
The proposed bill follows a series of Italian government decrees banning the use of flour derived from insects such as crickets and locusts in pizza or pasta.
It also follows the collection of half a million signatures by farming lobby groups in Italy calling for protection of natural food versus synthetic food.
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Cell-based meat, as described by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, is derived from animal cells using a combination of biotechnology, tissue engineering, molecular biology and synthetic processes. It does not reproduce the animal itself, but produces a product that is intended to resemble traditional meat from an animal, such as steak or minced meat.
The United States is establishing a framework for regulating cell-based meat and poultry, while the European Union and other countries including China, Israel and Japan are moving to ensure a clear path to market for this method of meat production.
FSANZ's view is that cell-based meats would be captured within existing standards, including foods produced using gene technology and labelling that indicates the true nature of the food.
While proponents say cell-based meat offers similar nutritional benefits to real beef with less environmental impact, Italy's agriculture minister says laboratory-grown products do not guarantee quality and human well being, nor the protection of the Italian food and wine culture and tradition.
While few in Australia's beef industry think it would be likely a push to ban the technology here would gain widespread societal and government support, they pointed to the lack of consumer acceptance of the products as possibly overriding any such move anyway.
Retail and consumer behaviour expert Professor Gary Mortimer, from the Queensland University of Technology, agreed consumer acceptance was definitely not a given.
"Consumers are sensitive to any food grown in a lab, which tends to infer genetic modification and generally, people are hesitant to try that," he said.
"Technically, this is meat, not an alternative like plant-based products but while animal rights groups believe there is value in a real meat product that removes the need to slaughter animals, we really have no idea at this point how the products will go in market and what the consumer reaction will be.
"Plant-based may have received some consumer support but lab-grown meat is very different.
"We do know that anything that is very new and novel generally takes a long time for consumers to adopt."
In the US, a nationwide survey of more than 1800 consumers in 2020 saw 72 per cent chose farm-raised beef, 16pc a plant-based (pea protein) meat alternative, 7pc a plant-based animal-like protein and just 5pc lab-grown meat.
Adding brand names such as Certified Angus Beef, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats increased the share for choosing farm-raised beef to 80pc.
Environment and technology information had minor effects on conditional market shares.
Even where plant and lab-grown alternatives experienced significant price reductions, as much as halved, farm-raised beef maintained the majority market share.
The research, funded by Purdue University in the US, partially supported by the US Department of Agriculture and run by Ellen Van Loo, Vincenzina Caputo and Jayson Lusk, also found more people opposed than supported taxing conventional beef for environmental and animal welfare objectives.
More also opposed having plant and lab-grown alternatives use the label 'beef'.
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