Agriculture ministers discussed a note that contains a series of false claims about cell-based meat and called for a regulatory overhaul at yesterday’s (23 January) EU AgriFish Council meeting.
The note, which will not lead to any direct legislative changes, was tabled by Austria’s Agriculture Minister, although the country’s Ministry of Health – responsible for food safety – has said this does not reflect the Austrian Government’s position.
The note, titled “The common agricultural policy's role in safeguarding high-quality food production,” focuses on requesting four key changes to the EU regulatory approval process for cell-based meat.
It calls on the EU Commission to present an impact assessment of cell-based meat prior to any regulatory authorisation, to cover ethical, economic and social considerations. It also calls for The European Food Safety Authority to create guidelines on regulating cell-based meat, drawing upon the regulatory process for new pharmaceutical products, including the need for pre-clinical and clinical studies.
It also requests the Commission to launch a public consultation on cell-based meat and asks the Commission to ensure that the labelling of cell-based meat is restricted to prevent the use of the term “meat”.
During the Council debate, several countries supported the questions raised by the Austrian Minister’s note, but others voiced their disagreement.
The Netherlands’ representative said: “We of course understand the concerns with regards to the public health and the future of livestock farmers, but also at the same time we are talking about how we secure the global food security, and the world population as we all know is growing fast and so is the demand for animal proteins.”
The representative continued: “Therefore, we believe that it is important to support innovations that create production methods for animal proteins complementary to, and not as a substitute to, conventional sustainable production. So, more research is needed to ensure the safety and the lower energy use, and therefore in the Netherlands we invest in this research, and so I would plea to let’s also look at the opportunities of this development and not only see the threats.”
The Danish representative said: “We understand the concerns that have been raised under this item, but Denmark remains very positive towards the development of new innovative biotechnological solutions that could lead to new sustainable proteins. And, like the Netherlands, we believe that we must also focus on the upside and therefore we look forward to the biotech initiative from the Commission that will look into the opportunities.”
“We already have EU regulation on novel food in place. This sets a clear legal framework that is solidly based on science. Denmark sees no reason for hindering the development and marketing of cell-based products, as long as such products are safe and fulfil the legal requirements and as long as they are labelled in a way which is not misleading to consumers. If these requirements are met it must then be up to consumers if they want to buy these products.”
Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, responding to the note, pointed out that the EU’s existing Novel Foods Regulation makes sure that human health and consumer interest are well protected in a functioning internal market.
Alex Holst, senior policy manager at GFI Europe, added:
“This non-binding statement spreads misinformation about cultivated meat and undermines Europe’s world-leading regulatory system. The EU’s Horizon Europe programme and countries like Germany, Spain and the Netherlands have already invested in cultivated meat R&D, recognising its potential to improve food security, reduce emissions, and satisfy growing demand for meat.
He continued: “Overhauling the gold standard Novel Foods regulatory process now is completely unnecessary, and risks preventing the EU from taking a leading role in this sector – just as the US and China invest in cultivated meat to boost their economies and create future-proof jobs.”