Op-Ed: Has Cultured Meat Already Been Cancelled For French School Lunches, Before Even Coming To Market?
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In an op-ed column for Le Monde, Nathalie Rolland, a specialist in cellular agriculture and co-founder of Agriculture Cellulaire France, denounces the adoption of an anti-ecological amendment by France’s National Assembly that was slipped into the Climate and Resilience Act at the last minute.
Le Monde has granted permission for the original piece published on April 21, 2021 and titled “Agriculture : « La viande cultivée se voit déjà privée de cantine »” to be reprinted here. English translation from French by Nathalie Rolland. Read the original here.
On 18 March 2021, a special committee of the National Assembly was considering vegetarian meals in collective catering. Among the few amendments adopted that day, a rather unexpected subject was put on the table: meat cultivated from cells. On Friday 16 April, the National Assembly adopted in public session this new article 59 bis of the climate law, banning cultured meat, a product that is not even commercialised yet, and whose marketing depends on European law, in canteens. Paradoxically, the discussions on this law offered some MEPs the opportunity to successfully attack one of the most promising ecological innovations. This innovative process, which consists of reproducing in a vat the cell multiplication that usually takes place in the body of animals, would require fewer natural resources than conventional meat production. Thus, in addition to a carbon footprint that could be very advantageous in a country like ours where electricity production is low in carbon, the strong point of cultured meat lies above all in the very small amount of land required (almost 20 times less than conventional meat).
Its development would therefore make it possible to return many areas to nature, with very positive benefits for biodiversity, and to store significant quantities of carbon through reforestation. But while French start-ups are only planning to put it on the market in a few years’ time, cultivated meat is already being deprived of canteens.
A liberticidal and anti-ecological amendment
Following the vote on this amendment, the administrators of the various public catering establishments could be forbidden to offer their users dishes made from cultured meat. How did this anti-environmental, liberticidal amendment get into the climate law?
The text first of all invokes the defence of the economic interests of “our local farmers, who are already facing significant competition and who deserve to be supported”. Our farmers did not wait for the development of cultured meat to face international competition, and cultured meat offers a complementary way to livestock farming to complete the supply of animal products, whose worldwide consumption is strongly increasing. Furthermore, legislation is not intended to distort competition by preventing innovative products from competing with well-established sectors, even if they are as influential as the industrial livestock sector. The young and still fragile French companies working on cultured meat are rather waiting for much-needed support for innovation in order to compete with the Dutch, American and Israeli precursors.
Combating the industrialisation of livestock farming
The second argument put forward concerns ‘the potential health effects of these meats’, a subject whose importance cannot be denied. In fact, cultured meat is likely to have interesting benefits for human health. Unlike conventional meat, its production does not require antibiotics, deworming or hormones (before insemination). Its development in a sterile environment limits the risks of contamination by Listeria, E. coli or salmonella. From a nutritional point of view, the possibility of “tailor-made” meat for human consumption would make it possible to adjust the ratio between proteins and fats or to replace saturated fats with omega-3. Finally, in our very particular health context, it should be remembered that industrial farming and its impact on biodiversity drastically increase the risks of the appearance of new infectious diseases (swine flu, bird flu, etc.). Replacing part of the conventional meat with cultured meat would make it possible to fight against the industrialisation of livestock farming, in France as elsewhere.
Contempt for the actors of the sector
While the threats induced by the consumption of factory farmed meat are proven and our health authorities have been advising for years to limit its consumption, this amendment prohibits an alternative that is in principal less dangerous, without the slightest scientific study supporting this decision. Finally, the safety of cultured meat will have to be certified by European regulations before it is marketed, as for any new food product entering the market.
The fact that neither French companies nor scientists and specialists working on the subject were consulted before the decision was taken is a sign of the contempt shown towards the players in the sector. We can also regret the fact that many MEPs have used pejorative terms to refer to cultured meat. As Huguette Tiegna (Lot, LRM), a member of the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices, pointed out, behind the “lab grown meat” (the nickname given to cultured meat by some MEPs), there are researchers working, and this work makes it possible to find solutions for human beings. It is therefore insulting to talk about “lab grown meat”. We have the right to expect more reflection from our representatives and not to be subjected to the vote of amendments on subjects which they apparently do not understand. Because the environment must not be an adjustment variable for today’s economic interests, we must also give tomorrow’s ecological solutions a chance.
Lead image courtesy of Aleph Farms Facebook page.