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Cell meat: how Europe is falling behind

While cellular meat is a highly innovative and new product, its perception from the global market is highly fragmented as well.In 2020 Singapore became the first country to authorise the production and consumption of cell meat, allowing the company Eat Just to sell cultivated chicken. Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given approval to two companies producing cell-based meats.Meanwhile, Europe is lagging despite its rising interest in food innovation.

Cellular meat, also referred to as cultivated meat, is a type of meat that is produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells. The concept of cellular meat has gained growing attention in recent years due to concerns for animal welfare, the environment and food shortage.However, the legal procedures to allow its placement on the market vary considerably from one region to another, making its future somewhat uncertain for the companies considering a worldwide launch.Actually Singapore became the first country in the world to approve the commercialisation of cell-based meat by granting regulatory approval to Eat Just, a San Francisco-based company that produces chicken from animal cells.

Then and more recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light to two companies to commercialise cell meat, by sending in November 2022, a first ‘no question’ letter to UPSIDE Foods, meaning that the FDA considers its cultivated chicken to be safe. Just a few months ago, it issued a new no question letter to the company Eat Just Inc.

This is very encouraging for all alternative production methods in general.

However in comparison, Europe is obviously lagging in the development and commercialisation of cell-based meat products.Although a number of start-ups have been working on cell-based meat technology for years, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in charge of assessing food safety has not yet given the green light for any cell cultured meat: because no company has even submitted an application for authorisation. This is due to many factors.The length of the European procedure is reputed to be longer than the one in other regions of the world: once the first dossier is submitted, the EFSA assessment will run at least over two years, certainly more since some questions and related stop – the clock delays are anticipated regarding the novelty and sensitivity of cultured meat.

In addition, and more worryingly, some Member States have started taking a stand against cellular meat.

In March 2023, the Italian government – using the precautionary principle which allows Member States to take restrictive measures in case of strong scientific evidence about an environmental or human health hazard – introduced a draft law that aims at banning lab-grown meat from being commercialised and sold in Italy.

The fact that this measure is being proposed even before the European Commission has taken a position on the subject illustrates the serious reluctance of some Member States.

One month later, the French Senate published a report on cellular food, stating its opposition and calling for a strengthening of the authorisation procedure. The report also stressed the need to better inform the consumer and protect the animal production sector by agreeing on clear rules for labelling and intensifying research on cellular feeds while focusing on livestock farming and plant proteins to meet the challenge of protein autonomy.

But despite national ethical and philosophical concerns, it is primarily up to EFSA and the European Commission to reach a conclusion on novel food applications for cell meat based on technical, scientific and regulatory criteria only.

Once authorised, and therefore supported by scientific evidence, it will be more difficult for Member States to justify their opposition.

Undoubtedly, Europe is presently lagging behind. The question remains as to whether it will manage to catch up with the pace of progress.


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