Italy Rethinking Its Plant-Based Meat Labelling Ban to Avoid ‘Conflict with Italian Companies’

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Despite its hard-line stance on alternative protein in the last few months, Italy is reconsidering its ban on using meat-like terms on plant-based product labels, with Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida indicating that he doesn’t want to have any conflict with local manufacturers.

It’s been an eventful few months for Italy and its adventures with alternative protein. In November, it became the first country to ban cultivated meat, citing health reasons, a risk to the country’s tradition, and a need to safeguard the livestock industry.

However, this wasn’t the only ban introduced by Italy, with another legislation going slightly under the radar. As part of the cultivated meat legislation, the country also prohibited the use of meat-related terms like ‘steak’ and ‘salami’ on the product packaging of plant-based meat, which alternative protein think tank the Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe says is consumed by half of Italy’s population.

Labelling is a hot topic of debate in countries across the world, but perhaps it carries even greater weight considering Italy’s position as the third-largest vegan market in the EU, with a 21% sales hike from 2020-22. Agriculture Minister Lollobrigida appears to be changing tact, with the government reconsidering the move after backlash from food industry groups.

Food industry group argues that consumers aren’t confused

italy plant based ban
Courtesy: VegFather

The decision comes after Unione Italiana Food, which describes itself as Italy’s leading association for direct representation of food product categories, hit back at the government’s labelling ban by appealing to the EU Commission and requesting the removal of the article about plant-based food.

Outlining its intention to introduce the legislation, Italy’s government submitted a Technical Regulations Information System (TRIS) notification to the EU, which meant the country needed approval from the bloc if it wanted to ban cultivated meat and plant-based meat labels, with other EU members getting the chance to weigh in on the decision as well.

In response to this notification, Unione Italiana Food had outlined its stance. As a group with over 550 companies and €51B in turnover, which offered a broad range of plant-based products, it noted that these have “nothing to do with food consisting of, isolated from or produced from cell cultures or tissues derived from vertebrate animals”.

Unione Italiana Food argues that the protection of consumer information and the correct regulatory framework was already in place and that at the national and EU level, food labels are regulated by EU parliament rules. The bloc passed a landmark ruling in 2020 that rejected calls to ban the use of meat-related terms on plant-based product packaging.

“It does not appear that consumers are confused by plant-based products’ denomination – on the contrary, they are generally consumers who read labels and who are very clear about the nature of what they are purchasing,” the association wrote. The European Consumer Organisation BEUC conducted a survey in 2020, which found that over 85% of Italians did not have any concerns with plant-based products using meat-like terms, as long as they were clearly labelled as vegetarian. “These names… do not give rise to risks of misunderstanding, also because they are always followed by the specification ‘vegetable’,” wrote Unione Italiana Food in its comment.

“It’s not possible to change the names of products that have been around for 30 years,” the group told local newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. “This way, 20 million Italians who consume them knowingly will be confused. Our labels allow consumers to easily find and choose the products they intend to bring to the table without the risk of confusion on the shelves. Instead, the prohibition will end up generating confusion and disorientation.”

GFI Europe’s public affairs consultant, Francesca Gallelli, had said at the time: “Eliminating the possibility of using familiar terms to facilitate product recognition undermines transparency, generating confusion for consumers where none currently exists, as demonstrated by surveys.”

Supply chain discussions are needed as plant-based sales grow

plant based meat labeling ban
Courtesy: Atlante/Vivera

Italy soon withdrew this notification, as it knew that the proposal would be rejected by the EU. This was followed by the formal ban, which many stakeholders felt would not hold, as it likely violated EU law. “We are the first nation to ban [cultivated meat], with all due respect to the multinationals who hope to make monstrous profits by putting citizens’ jobs and health at risk,” Lollobrigida said after the ban.

While the noise was louder for cultivated meat, it’s plant-based meat products that were more affected, given that they’re the ones currently in the market. But now, it seems the Agriculture Minister is going back on his own words.

“The last thing I want is to create conflict with Italian companies, so we have decided to start a process with Unione Italiana Food to develop a shared plan for the use of meat terms on plant-based products,” he told local reporters. “Our objective is to combine the needs of the industry with the protection of the consumer, who must not be misled.”

While the deadline for the process was set to be February 16, Lollobrigida has said that it wasn’t an “imperative” date and that more discussions with supply chain players were required. He noted that the request “does not affect the entire law” of cultivated meat, but only the individual article about plant-based products, which is why he is happy to discuss it.

“If it were a problem from this point of view, we could make an evaluation,” he said. “Through a gradual process, for example, we could decide not to change the names of the flagship products of some companies and instead modify those that are less well-known.”

With plant-based sales in Italian retail and foodservice growing by 2.8% last year – in a global landscape where sales have regressed for these products – Unione Italiana Food will hope the conclusion is a positive one.


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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