An initiative that aims to put an end to humans’ use of animals for food, fashion, and entertainment is gaining traction in the EU. But not without pushback.
The ultimate goal of the movement, known as End The Slaughter Age, is to “abolish and criminalize all forms of animal exploitation.”
Its first effort is an attempt to block animal husbandry companies in the EU from receiving government subsidies. And instead, incentivize the alternative protein sectors.
The move has, perhaps unsurprisingly, angered many meat and dairy producers. As such, in Italy (where End The Slaughter Age was born), a proposed ban on cultured meat production is picking up steam.
End The Slaughter Age
On April 27 of last year, the European Commission approved a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) penned by Italian activist Nicolas Micheletti, president of End The Slaughter Age (both the name of Micheletti’s animal rights organization and the ECI).
The ECI asks the European Commission to exclude animal farming from its list of activities eligible for agricultural subsidies. And, to include more “ethical and environmentally friendly” alternatives in its place, such as the production of vegan food and cultured (also known as cell-based) meat.
Further, the ECI requests that the EU incentivizes the production and sale of such plant-based and cellular products, including meat, milk, and eggs produced without rearing or killing animals.
The proposal seeks to gather one million signatures from EU citizens, across at least seven countries. If it reaches that number, the European Commission will be forced to deliberate on the matter. The petition officially began on June 5, 2022, on National Animal Rights Day, and will end on June 5, 2023. At the time of publication, it had gathered nearly 70,000 signatures.
Pro-vegan campaign sparks controversy
The End The Slaughter Age initiative has made headlines throughout Europe, and has been blasted by those who wish to maintain the status quo.
Roberto López, spokesperson for the Spanish meat lobby Agromuralla, said that the petition’s publicity “worries me a lot.” Similarly, Polish MP Jan Ardanowski described the initiative as “an exceptionally important threat to the production of food of animal origin.”
Former Member of the European Parliament, Spanish politician Esther Herranz, said: “If this initiative is successful, which I sincerely hope it is not, the price of European beef, pork, rabbit, chicken, turkey, or eggs would be prohibitively expensive.
“Many families would have to stop consuming animal protein.”
Former Polish Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechociński stressed that the proposal would not go unchallenged. When questioned about End The Slaughter Age, Piechociński said: “The time is coming when we carnivores must introduce new initiatives so that those who live next to us and who want to ban us from eating meat as part of democratic procedures, will also be forced to make more effort.”
Italy versus cell-based meat
Italy, in particular, is not shy about its disdain for alternative protein – in this case, cell-based food. Coldiretti, the largest association representing Italian farmers, has been rallying for signatures on a petition of its own. The petition seeks to ban the production, use, and marketing of “synthetic” (cultured) food in Italy. Or, as Coldiretti’s president describes it, “Frankenstein food.”
It has, so far, received a high amount of support. One of the first things the new Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, did after being elected in September last year was sign it. The petition has also been backed by the World Farmers Markets Coalition, World Farmers Organization, Farm Europe, and Filiera Italia.
Italy’s Minister of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forests has also made his stance on the cultured protein industry clear. Francesco Lollobrigida, who took up the position in October 2022, declared the following month: “I guarantee that as long as we are in government on the tables of Italians, foods created in the laboratory will not arrive.”
Lollobrigida, like Prime Minister Meloni, is a member of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party. But negative views towards cultured meat are counted across various Italian political parties. For example, Carlo Calenda, the leader of liberal party Action, also signed the anti-cultured food petition.
Consequence of a cultured meat ban
Some fear that Italy’s rejection of cell-based meat could backfire, harming the nation’s economy in the long run.
Sergio Saia is an associate professor of Agronomy and Field Crops at the University of Pisa, a 679-year-old university heralded as one of Europe’s most prestigious.
“The possible prohibition of the production of synthetic meat in Italy will lead to the inability to develop the sector, with the associated loss of potential earnings,” they said. “At the same time, it is rather unlikely that a state within the EU can prohibit the use and marketing of a product permitted by [the European Food Safety Authority].”
“A similar story was, and still is, that of GMOs, which cannot be cultivated in Italy but are imported and consumed (also for the production of the so-called ‘Italian excellences’), which has generated a serious problem of competition on the part of our farmers and a reduction in the development of the soybean and corn production sector.”
Support for cell-based meat
However, other political parties in Italy have spoken in favor of cultured meat. Apart from minor parties such as Italexit, Unione Popolare, and the Italian Animalist Party, among those present in parliament is the Movimento 5 Stelle, or the Five Star Movement. The populist party, led by former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, even included cultivated food in its electoral program before the last election.
More than 170 organizations across Europe, as well as a growing list of artists and notable figures, have thrown their support behind the End The Slaughter Age cause, which, along with its food system-related demands, aims to ensure that animal institutions like shelters and sanctuaries are legally recognized and publicly funded throughout Europe.
“The technology to save the world exists,” End The Slaughter Age writes on its website. “Cultivated meat and vegetable proteins: for a world without slaughterhouses.”
Those in the EU who are interested in signing the petition can do so here. An official identification document such as an identity card, passport, or SPID is required to sign it.