The correct conversation around cultivated meat: more sustainability and animal welfare, less fear mongering
During the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRIFISH), Austria’s Agriculture Minister presented an information note on the “CAP’s role on safeguarding high-quality and primary farm-based food production”, which contains incorrect claims about the sustainability potential of cultivated meat, and asked the European Commission to prevent cultivated meat products from being called meat.
A crucial aspect for shifting food consumption patterns towards more sustainable eating is to tackle the barriers that consumers encounter. One such barrier is the ability to easily identify sustainable products and alternatives. If cultivated meat, that is real meat but produced without slaughter, is not allowed to be called meat it will hinder consumers from identifying it as a more sustainable alternative to other meats.
The note, supported by a number of Member States, fails to recognise that there are several studies that show the sustainability potential of cultivated meat. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly recognised cellular agriculture for its ability to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production while it requires less land and water, and addresses concerns over animal welfare.
Cultivated meat can improve animal welfare, as it can replace the large number of animals, currently kept under very poor conditions in factory farming. In addition, it can create room for traditional and robust breeds that can contribute to biodiversity by grazing, while at the same time serving as cell stocks.
Cells for cultivated meat production can be obtained through biopsies that cause no harm to the animals. A major concern on the animal welfare aspect is, as mentioned in the note, the use of Foetal Bovine Serum extracted from unborn calves. While this has been used during the research and development stage to grow the cells, companies are developing animal free mediums and moving away from Foetal Bovine Serum, for both ethical and economic reasons.
Before cultivated meat can be placed on the EU market, it will need regulatory approval, ensuring that it is safe for consumption. An adequate regulatory framework for the safety of cultivated meat, as well as other novel foods, already exists in the EU: the Novel Foods Regulation, hence cultivated meat should not be a pharmaceutical product, as suggested in the note.
The Novel Foods Regulation has a rigorous assessment procedure, based on strict science and data, noted Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, as she highlighted that no formal requests for cultivated meat have been submitted in the EU so far, and the HORIZON Europe project supports the gathering of further data on this alternative protein. “Data and evidence is at the base of our work”, she stressed, while adding that ultimately, “it is up to the consumers to decide what they will eat”.
The note raised the concern of cultivated meat being monopolised by a few industrial scale producers. Currently the vast majority of over 160 companies working on the product are independent startups, but to ensure that cultivated meat can be produced by farmers and companies of different sizes in the future, and that it can be part of diversified small-scale farming, public investments should be made into open-access research, as is the case in the Netherlands.
Cultivated meat can be an important piece in the puzzle of a sustainable food system, providing a more sustainable and ethical alternative for consumers who still want to eat meat. The conversations around this innovative product must be based on science and recognised for its potential benefits on animal welfare, biodiversity and for freeing up land that is currently used to grow feed for industrially raised animals.Camilla Björkbom, Food Policy Political Adviser, Eurogroup for Animals