Cultured meat, the whole history of a law with obstacles and the latest puzzle of the EU ruling

4 min read

If there is one law that was born troubled, it is the one on cultured meat. Agricultural associations categorically reject this product, because they see “laboratory steaks” as the end of traditional farming. The Italian Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, Francesco Lollobrigida, supports the farmers’ representatives and leads the Italian Parliament, the first in Europe, to approve a law that prohibits both its production and trade. Accusations of obscurantism are being raised from a good part of the scientific world – and from part of the parliamentary opposition. In front of Montecitorio even rags fly. And now the EU Commission has come to say goodbye to the Italian ban. But what happens around cultured meat? Let’s go in order.

The parliamentary process

When last November the Italian Parliament approved the bill of the Government that banned cultured meat, there was not even a shadow of the latter in Italy. For a very simple reason: the introduction of new foods, the so-called “novel foods”, on the market is a decision that falls to the European Union. In particular, EFSA has a say in the matter, the Food Safety Authority: a new food is submitted to its experts, it is evaluated and, if it is recognized as not harmful to human health, it is admitted onto the market. This, for example, happened with insect flours. In short, Italy has legislated on cultured meat on a non-topic.

The principle of the common market

What Italy, however, did not take into account is that no EU member can make decisions that hinder the free movement of citizens, goods and services within the EU. This is a founding principle of the Union. To avoid even unintentional errors, the procedure provided for by the Tris directive exists in Europe: Member States must inform the Commission of any draft technical regulation before its adoption. Once Brussels has been informed, three months must pass during which the notifying Member State cannot adopt the technical regulation in question, in order to allow the Commission and the other Member States to examine the notified text. If it emerges that the contents of the text may create obstacles to the free movement of goods or the free provision of information society services, or to secondary EU law, the Commission and the other Member States may present a detailed opinion to the Member State who notified the project.

Let’s assume that in the Netherlands cultured meat is produced, that the producing company obtains EFSA authorization and that this product is marketed in Europe: Italy, due to the principle of free circulation of goods, could not prevent its marketing. Our national law would be challengeable. But it didn’t have to come to this to turn on the red light: the Italian ban was stopped before. In fact, on 29 January the Commission informed our country that the notification procedure on the Tris portal was closed because Italy promulgated the law before the expiry of the standstill period provided for in Article 6 of the Tris Directive.

The formal flaw of the Tris procedure

For Minister Lollobrigida, this step does not constitute a significant obstacle, indeed it would be the demonstration that the rule promulgated by Italy does not collide with the principles of European law: «The European Commission – we read in a note from the ministry – has closed the procedure Tris, initiated following the notification of the Cultivated Meat Act. The closure means that the compatibility of the law with the principles of EU law regarding the internal market has been definitively ascertained by the European Commission. Otherwise, the Commission would have proceeded with a detailed opinion, regardless of the notification methods. There will therefore be no infringement procedure, nor will Italy be asked to repeal the law. The Commission only asks to be informed about the application of the law by national judges. As with all measures that come into force in Italy, it is up to the national judges, during the application, to further examine the compatibility with EU law».

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