(CN) — What country is talking about banning “fake” lab-grown meat and flour made from pulverized insects, blocking ChatGPT, not recognizing the children of gay couples and punishing the use of foreign words by officialdom?
In a dizzying few weeks, the government of far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has thrown off its pretense of moderation and shown its reactionary character by opening culture battles over gay rights, the advance of new technologies and what it means to be Italian. Meloni became prime minister after her party, the far-right Brothers of Italy, won national elections last September.
“There's a natural proclivity on the side of this government to deliver on anti-modernity,” said Andrea L.P. Pirro, a political scientist and expert on extreme right-wing politics at the University of Bologna. “There's this idea that the far right has embodied over the decades: A firm stance should be taken against modernity.”
This battle against progress began in earnest about a month ago when Meloni's government instructed Milan's city council to stop registering children of same-sex couples, citing a December court order by Italy's high court, the Court of Cassation, which said such registrations must be approved by the courts.
At the same time, the Italian Senate, ruled by right-wing factions, voted against a European Union regulation that says EU member states need to recognize cross-border same-sex parents.
Italy approved same-sex civil unions in 2016, but the law stopped short of granting adoption rights to same-sex couples, leaving that a legal gray area that mayors in Milan and elsewhere interpreted as allowing them to recognize the children of same-sex couples without a court order.
But Meloni's interior ministry declared such an interpretation illegal. In Milan, police even showed up at the city office where same-sex couples get their children recorded and demanded a backlog of such registrations.
Targeting the children of gay families sent a clear political signal: Meloni, a champion of “traditional marriages,” was seeking to curtail LGBT rights but also laying down a challenge to her new opposition rival, the newly elected leader of Italy's center-left Democratic Party, Elly Schlein, a 37-year-old bisexual who has made defending gay rights central to her platform.
Then a few days later, Italy issued decrees banning flour made from insect powders from being used in pasta and pizza dough. Ministers said they were protecting the “Mediterranean diet” and wanted to make sure Italians aren't unwittingly sold food made from crickets, locusts and mealworms.
These decrees were in response to the EU's recent approval of insect flours for human consumption. Insect-based foods are marketed as healthy and good for the climate because making them emits fewer carbon emissions than regular flours.
The ban on insect flours in traditional Italian foods made few international headlines.
But Meloni's next ban got a far bigger reaction: She proposed making it a crime to cultivate meat in laboratories and to import and export lab-grown meat. Under the proposed bill, offenders face up to 60,000 euros (about $65,600) in fines.
Supporters of the ban argue lab-grown meat must be outlawed because it threatens the livelihoods of farmers, is unhealthy and allows multinational corporations to control even more the production of food.
“We believe lab-grown products do not ensure well-being, also do not safeguard, let's say it with pride, do not safeguard our culture and our tradition,” said Francesco Lollobrigida, the head of Italy's Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty.
Upon taking office, Meloni added “food sovereignty” to the title of the agriculture ministry, a move that was part of a nationalist project by Meloni's Brothers of Italy to “put Italians first” and “protect” Italian-made products and culture.