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What we talk about when we talk about cultured meat

Pros and cons of a technology that causes debate


Synthetic meat or cultured meat? Danger for local production or good news for the environment and consumers? The debate on this new type of meat peaked in early December 2023 when the Italian parliament banned its production and selling in our country. A move that caused much uproar and many doubts. According to the Good food institute Europe, the debate on the subject in Italy “has been influenced by misinformation”.

Let's try to understand more about cultured meat and its implications together with those in Italy who deal with this subject with a unique approach.

The Feat recipe

Luca Lo Sapio, Professor of Moral Philosophy, heads Feat (FeaturEATing), an international multidisciplinary research group on the food of the future born within the University of Turin. Also working with him are two other philosophers, a professor of psychometrics and one of molecular biology, as well as historians of science, a social psychologist, a food chemist and an agronomist. Together they form a hub that tackles issues related to cultured meat from multiple points of view “to provide greater awareness to citizens and counter the one-sided and sometimes misleading approach that has been imposed in Italy”.

Cultured meat, not synthetic

From a technical point of view, the researchers explain on the research project website, cultured meat is obtained by a process similar to taking the sprout of a plant and growing it in a greenhouse. The sprout, however, are stem cells that, after being taken from farm animals, are then “fermented” and multiplied in the laboratory. Nothing synthetic, therefore, as the detractors and much of Italian politics suggest.

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A big misunderstanding 

According to Lo Sapio, when discussing cultured meat, it is not made clear that it is a possible answer to the problems raised by intensive livestock farming “responsible for the depletion of water and land resources and greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere”. The research on cultivated meat, following Coldiretti's complaint, has instead led to the mobilisation of many small farmers who fear for their market. A big misunderstanding, according to the professor.

No panacea

However, Lo Sapio is keen to remind us that we are not talking about a definitive solution, a panacea for all the ills of animal food production, but about a technology that has potential but still has problems from a technical point of view. "We don't know how it will develop, but if we block funding, we exclude ourselves from the possibility of introducing a technology with possibly beneficial implications for mankind.

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Experts also point to the possibility that research in this field could lead to advances in other areas, such as regenerative medicine, which could make use of affordable cultured tissue.

An ethical question 

There is also an important moral issue that Feat says needs to be taken into account when talking about the food of the future because “choosing what to buy and what to consume means supporting a certain production model and the values that support it”. Producing and eating cultured meat could in this sense be an ethical choice not only for those who are already vegetarian, but also for those who, with reservations about the impact of intensive production on the environment, health and animal life, continue to eat meat.

Why not

It would not even be true, as has been tried to be passed off in recent months, that Italians are a priori against cultivated meat. On the contrary, data collected by Feat show that, while there is some resistance from the older age groups, the majority of young people would at least be willing to try this type of meat. “To say that the conditions for the spread of a new eating style are already in place is another matter”, Lo Sapio points out.

In any case, sushi also arrived in Italy at the end of the 1980s, after strong initial resistance. Now all you have to do is look around.



Illustration by Acrimònia Studios