Red tape could strangle the UK’s lab meat revolution, warns new report
Although meat production provides a source of protein and enjoyment to billions of people, livestock farming has a devastating effect on the environment – including greenhouse gas emissions, polluted ecosystems and lost biodiversity. It raises significant issues around animal welfare and health security – including infectious diseases.
But given meat’s popularity, taxes or prohibitions are unlikely to significantly reduce consumption. The most effective response to the challenges associated with conventional meat, therefore, is innovation that provides customers with a quality and affordable alternative.
Lab-grown meat could offer the solution, reducing energy use between 7-45%, greenhouse gas emissions by 78-96%, water use by 82-96% and land use by 99%.
The alternative protein product, produced in vitro using animal cells, can taste the same, look the same and smell the same as conventional meat. Firms across the globe are transforming it into a commercially viable product. In 2020, US$366 million was invested in over 70 US cultivated meat companies.
But the European Union’s novel food regulations – which have been retained in UK law post-Brexit – have delayed the kind of innovation we need to tackle the challenges associated with industrial farming.
By embracing the precautionary principle, legislation which is now over 25 years old is holding back progress. The regulatory process takes on average 35 months to approve new products, creating uncertainty for potential investors and deterring new businesses from setting up in the UK over countries with less burdensome legislation.
The UK risks falling behind those countries where regulators have begun approving lab-grown meat. Late last year, the US Food and Drug Administration approved their first product, following Singapore in 2020.
Were the UK to update the existing regulatory framework, the country could add up to £2.1 billion to the UK economy by 2030, give the UK a competitive edge, and accelerate efforts to make cultivated meat widely available to consumers.
“It sounds like the stuff of science fiction – producing meat without animals," said Matthew Lesh, IEA Head of Public Policy and author of Bangers and Cash. "But it’s closer than we realize. The first cultivated or lab-grown meat product was presented in 2013, while the first sale was in Singapore in 2020. Now, across the world, there is a race to widespread commercialization.
“But in the UK this could be held back by unnecessarily cumbersome and precautionary regulation. Brexit provides the opportunity for the UK to diverge from the EU’s approach and introduce a regulatory regime that is more welcoming of food innovations such as cultivated meat, allowing us to become a world-leader in the transformative technology.”
“At its heart, cultivated meat is an innovative and cutting-edge solution to the significant challenges posed to the environment by intensive livestock farming," added Jonathan Djanogly, Member of Parliament for Huntingdon. "Farmers across the country deserve our thanks for the work they do in providing nutritious and quality produce but, with demand for meat continuing to rise globally, it is only right that alternatives are considered – especially where those alternatives can taste, look and smell the same as conventional meat. This report is a welcome move toward greater such consideration, and it is crucial that UK-based companies are given the support they need to lead the world in this growing, profitable and sustainable industry.”
“Reducing barriers for cultured meat production would support the UK’s objectives of improving food security, growing the economy, and protecting the environment," noted Sam Hall, Director of the Conservative Environment Network. "This paper clearly sets out why ministers should prioritise reforming EU-derived novel food rules to widen consumer choice and enable innovation.”
“Successfully developing cultivated meat could not only eliminate animal suffering and mitigate climate change, it’s also a huge economic opportunity for Britain’s entrepreneurs," stated Eamonn Ives, former Special Adviser to the COP26 President and Head of Research at The Entrepreneurs Network. "But, as this excellent paper makes clear, for us to grasp that prize while the market is still maturing, we need a regulatory regime that supports – rather than stifles – innovation in this sector.”
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