All eyes are on the next country in the world to approve and regulate the sale of alternative meat products produced by cell culture techniques.
Singapore was the first after giving Just eat the green light to sell its cultured chicken in 2020. The speculation was that the United States would be next, after remarks from big cell-based meat startups like Upside Foods hinted they would be on sale d ‘by the end of 2021. While the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have agreed to jointly oversee the production of meat grown in the United States, and the USDA published a prior notification of proposed regulation (ANPR) on how to label cultured meat, nearly a year later it is still unclear when regulatory approval will come.
The potential premium for a country to allow the production and sale of alternative meat products without animal slaughter is significant. Estimates vary, but UK bank Barclays predicts the global market for meat alternatives – including plant-based products – will growing up to $140 billion over the next 10 years. With a meat industry estimated to grow to over $1.3 trillion over the next few years, according to Statistathe advantage is enormous.
Besides the United States, some commentators and researchers believe that the United Kingdom has a chance to become one of the main producers of fake meat.
Scientific leadership, voluntary consumers
Elena Walden of the world’s leading promoter of alternative proteins, the Good Food Institute (GFI)believes that the UK is well placed to enter this market given its “state-of-the-art science base and industrial capabilities across the agri-food supply chain”.
“The UK is well placed to become a global leader in the sector given its scientific strengths,” said Walden, policy director for European subsidiary of GFIrecount APN. “It’s a world leader in life sciences like regenerative medicine and therapeutics, and things that are really relevant to the science behind cultured meat.”
“The UK has a very good consumer appetite for food innovation and more sustainable options. Britons already eat the second most plant-based meat in Europe, so we have that innovation there,” adds- she.
Research from Oxford Economics and UK cultured meat start-up Ivy Farm Technologies predicts that the country’s cellular meat industry will be worth £1.7 billion ($1.9 billion) in 2030.
Ivy Farm, a startup that has already raised more than $20m in venture capital and plans to be the first to sell cellular meat in the UK, is promoting the industry as a key medium for the UK to reduce its climate footprint and improve its economy. If produced using renewable energy, cultured meat could emit up to 92% fewer GHGs and use 95% less land and 78% less water compared to traditional sources, according to the European Environment Agency, to which Ivy Farm refers in new research conducted with global consulting group BCG.
The report reads: “If the market share of cultured meat replaced that of imported meat, it would not negatively affect UK farmers. Additionally, when the entire cultured meat value chain is included, the industry could generate significant value for the wider UK economy. He adds that according to the Oxford Economics study, “for every pound of cultured meat consumed, an estimated 2.70 pounds of additional value is generated by producing the necessary inputs, including bioreactors and nutrient-rich media. in which meat is grown, and the associated uses.
The report’s authors also believe that cultured meat will account for a larger share of the overall alternative protein market in the UK compared to other countries around the world, as “a third of consumers are already willing to try cultured meat” . and product acceptance is higher than in most European countries or the United States.
Innovation is accelerating faster than politics
As in other countries, the regulatory approval process for protein alternatives in the UK for cultured meat appears to be slow. For startups rushing to start generating revenue, it can get expensive.
Currently, the regulatory approval process involves submitting a dossier on how they produce their meat and proof of its safety. A government response to this could take up to 12 months. Meanwhile, the startup is improving its technology and manufacturing facilities to reduce costs and improve product quality. By the time they get a response, the startup has already changed its processes, which then requires another case to be submitted to include the new technologies. This is in addition to labeling rules that must be adhered to.
“We are growing meat, the growing process is new and therefore it has to go through what is called novel food regulation. The novel food regulations that the UK has put in place are not fit for purpose. They haven’t kept up with the speed of technology,” notes Richard Dillon, CEO of ivy farm.
The Oxford Economics report highlights that faster approval could be beneficial in helping startups achieve cost viability faster, gain market expertise and leverage their technology.
While the UK has focused on alternative proteins, as evidenced by the June 2022 report Government Food Strategy, it is likely to lag behind other European countries as well as the United States and Chinaaccording to GFI’s Walden.
“I think policy measures in particular are a bit slower and we really risk falling behind on this specific measure,” she notes.
Dillon points to the need for a more iterative approach to regulating food technology. The industry also needs the expertise of the regulator to ensure that both parties work together to cover whatever is necessary to deliver safe products to the consumer.
Post-Brexit opportunity for alternative proteins in the UK
Post-Brexit, the UK has the opportunity to create its own regulatory frameworks in different sectors. A report of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) indicates that Britain leaves the European Union should make regulation more agile, facilitating and accelerating market entry.
Dillon hopes the government choose food technology as an area to build muscle and show he can go a lot faster.
“The alternative protein industry could be at the heart of two important policy issues. One is this drive to become a tech powerhouse and the other is a drive to get the British public to eat healthier food and eat better and therefore healthier. We think alternative protein can be at the heart of this and why we think the UK government should focus specifically on cultured meat,” he says.
Both Walden and Dillon believe that for the UK alternative protein sector to establish itself as a leader, it needs to invest in establishing more support for the sector to grow in the country, in addition to the regulatory landscape. Investing in open-access research and development as well as general infrastructure with non-dilutive capital, debt financing, project financing, or even equipment leasing for companies developing cell-based products, could build confidence in the sector in the UK and attract new investment into the ecosystem as a whole.
“We’ve seen funding for research, but again, it’s not on the same scale as in other countries. It’s also not specifically aimed at the sector. We don’t have as many types of research grants and research funds specifically for sustainable protein research,” says Walden. “What we need to see are funds specifically earmarked for the advancement of science, technology and research so that we can start building a more vibrant ecosystem.”
“We would like to see ecosystem support from the UK, not just with academic research, but also with grants and government funding,” adds Dillon.
If this were rolled out in full, it would put the UK far ahead of other European countries such as the Netherlands, which designated €60 million ($60.4 million) through its National Growth Fund to support its cellular agriculture industry. This decision was presented as the most significant public funding for this industry.
Spain also invested $5.2 million last year in a project called the ‘Culturedmeat Project’ by a Spanish cultured meat startup. Biotech foods.
Educating UK Consumers of Alternative Proteins
“Everyone must participate must take ownership of education” was a sentiment highlighted in the UKRI report, stating that all stakeholders, from producers, government and knowledge partners to scientists, should contribute to educate consumers.
The report noted varying levels of consumer familiarity and acceptance for various protein alternatives. Consumers of plant-based alternatives showed higher levels of acceptance as it was the fastest growing trend in alternative proteins. For cultured meat in particular, there is uncertainty due to its nascent nature. The nomenclature used to describe cultured meat such as “cell-based”, “lab-grown” or “test-tube” meat may leave consumers with some reservations.
In research conducted by Ivy Farm, the way questions were asked affected cultured meat consumption rates. Two-thirds of respondents were more willing to buy cultured meat if they got a blurb about the manufacturing process and the benefits of meat.
Organizations like GFI also work with companies to win knowledge on things such as the factors that motivate them to buy sustainable proteins, what drives the adoption of these proteins, the barriers to alternative proteins, among others.
Safe to say positioning the alternative protein industry in the UK as a European leader will be a factor in many things, public and private sector support, the development of a comprehensive alternative meat strategy as well as ‘a policy framework that tracks changing technology advancement, education of consumers, all industry stakeholders as well as the continued advocacy of alternative proteins by institutes like the GFI and the Association of alternative proteins.