Commission stands by €2 million EU grant for synthetic meat

Cultured meat, also known as synthetic, artificial or in-vitro meat, is a product obtained by harvesting animal muscle cells that are then placed in a bioreactor and fed with protein to help tissue growth. [SHUTTERSTOCK/ANYAIVANOVA]

The European Commission, challenged by Italian EU lawmakers, has defended the move to grant €2 million from the EU’s Recovery Fund to a research and development project designed to move forward in cellular agriculture and curb costs of lab-grown meat.

The ‘Feed for Meat’ project is developed by the animal nutrition firm Nutreco together with Mosa Meat, the company that produced the world first ever lab-grown burger in 2013.

Cultured meat, also known as synthetic, artificial or in-vitro meat, is a product obtained by harvesting animal muscle cells that are then placed in a bioreactor and fed with protein to help tissue growth.

The project aims to further improve the sustainability of the cellular agriculture value chain and is funded under the REACT-EU, one of the largest programmes under ‘Next Generation EU’, the Commission’s financial framework for the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Support from the government is a great contribution in bringing cultivated beef to the European market,” Peter Verstrate, Mosa Meat co-founder, commented after the grant was awarded.

However, the decision has sparked criticism with MEPs from Italy’s right-wing party Lega, which submitted a parliamentary question to the Commission asking for an explanation of the criteria used to finance the project through the REACT-EU programme.

“It is unacceptable that Brussels is investing millions of euros of European citizens’ money in meat produced in laboratories,” Lega’s MEPs said in a note.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a Commission source explained that the management of the cohesion policy programmes is shared between the EU and the member states.

This means that, in line with the shared management principle, the project has been selected by the managing authority – which in this case is the South Netherlands region – appointed by the member state and responsible for projects’ selection and their implementation.

The Commission was informed by the South Netherlands authority that the Feed for Meat project contributes to the green and digital transition on which REACT-EU focuses in the Netherlands, considering that it provides research and development support in order to enable the scaling up of cultivated beef.

“Cellular meat farming requires less animals to be kept. As a result, there will be fewer emissions of greenhouse gases such as ammonia and methane and there will be less soil pollution,” the EU source told EURACTIV.

The project, the source added, also invests in the development of the breeding ground-based on circular raw materials with the lowest possible environmental impact and supports the development of digital tools.

A number of startups across Europe have started to invest in lab-grown meat technology. Mosa Meat is aiming to get cultured hamburgers on the market in Europe in the next couple of years.

In Europe, food consisting of, isolated from, or produced from cell culture or tissue culture derived from animals, plants, micro-organisms, fungi or algae falls within the scope of the EU Novel Foods Regulation.

Cultured meat would, therefore, require a pre-market authorisation, as well as approval by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), although it is not yet clear what type of nutritional and toxicological evidence EFSA would require to approve cultured meat.

Cultured meat could be on the EU market 'as early as 2022'

After environmentalist George Monbiot’s controversial “Apocalypse Cow” documentary recently suggested that we may soon see the end of all farming, EURACTIV took a look at cultured meat to see what it is and where we’re at.

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