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The Dutch dream: Netherlands’ parliament approves cultured meat tastings to build cell-based “silicon valley”

March 20, 2022
Food & Drink

The Dutch government has approved cultured meat tastings in the Netherlands for the first time, in a move local industry and politicians hope will regain the nation’s former standing as a pioneer in the cell-based market.

Approved by the Netherlands House of Representatives following a motion put forward last week by parliament member Tjeer de Groot, the tastings are an obligatory measure for future approval by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA).

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, De Groot says his party – D66 – has been campaigning to get cultured meat tastings approved for years.

“The Dutch were the first to patent cultivated meat in the 90s, and since then, we kind of lost this head start, mainly because of conservatism in the government,” he says.

“This means the tech isn’t supported anymore, which is why D66 is very motivated to get regulations applied in a different manner.”

Religious reactionaries
De Groot asserts a number of legal and cultural hurdles have stood in the way of cultured meat becoming legalized in the Netherlands since Dutch pharmacologist Mark Post (the scientist behind the world’s first cultured burger) first began researching the topic decades ago.

He says that to get tastings authorized, you must complete a dossier for the European Commission, but for the application to be passed, a tasting must be done. “This is a Catch 22.”

In 2018, a tasting was made ready but local authorities stepped in and confiscated the produce. “After that, I started hearings on the pros and cons of cultivated meat, highlighting that it is very concrete – France and Germany already did it under controlled circumstances, and Israel and Singapore already have it on the market.”

Despite demonstrating that advances in the cultured meat space are already underway safely in other countries, De Groot met opposition from the Netherlands’ conservative religious leaders, he explains.

“The Ministers of Agriculture and Health together were not in favor. They have religious and ethical motivations.” These motives do not seem to make much sense, he says. “Some Christians don’t have a problem with torturing God’s creatures in slaughterhouses, but modifying cells is seen as problematic.”

Cell-based silicon valley
The approval for tastings, which was passed by a large majority in the House of Representatives, could pave the way for the Netherlands to build a “silicon valley” of cultured meat and bring business back to the place where the technology began, De Groot says.

“I think we should really invest in this technology by creating an environment for knowledge sharing, an ecosystem where companies can take the knowledge and go to the market with it. At the moment, it’s mostly privatized – money isn’t the problem, but organization is.”

“We need a cultured meat ally in the Netherlands. This is our dream.”

Robert E. Jones, head of public affairs at Mosa Meats, the company that emerged from Mark Post’s early research, tells FoodIngredientsFirst: “We are excited to see strong political support for cellular agriculture in the House of Representatives. The Netherlands has always been a leader in food systems innovation, and there is a real sense of pride in cultivated meat as a Dutch invention.”

“We look forward to working with the Ministry of Health and food authorities to work out the details on how we will conduct tastings of our beef in a controlled and safe way. These tastings sessions will provide stakeholders with an opportunity to see the possibilities of cultivated meat in person and provide valuable information for us about future consumers.”

Catching up
If the Netherlands is to succeed in rebuilding its status as the global hub for cell-based animal proteins, it will have a long way to go. Currently, start-ups working in the US and Asia are soaring ahead of the competition. Some – like Aleph Farms – claim to have already developed methods that will slash production costs once legislation allows for market retail.

Securing cultured meat technology in Europe is more essential than ever, says Jones, as “serious disruptions to the food supply chain from the pandemic, the crisis in Ukraine, and climate change are stark reminders that we need to grow more local, sustainable protein.”

“Leaders across Europe see cellular agriculture as a future-proof way to reduce dependence on harmful imports, build resilience in the supply chain, and feed a growing population in a sustainable way.”

“This [Dutch] vote is another sign of the building momentum for adding cellular agriculture to the toolbox of solutions needed to achieve the goals of the Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy. It is not a matter of if, but when cultivated meat will be approved for sale in Europe.”

By Louis Gore-Langton


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