Red tape could strangle Britain’s lab meat revolution, warns new report
Marc Glendening writes in Conservative Home
Annabel Denham appears on Politics Live
Research from the Institute of Economic Affairs urges government to create a more favourable regulatory regime for food innovation
– We are in the foothills of a cultivated meat revolution that could mitigate the effects of intensive farming;
– Conventional meat has a devastating impact on the environment, animal welfare and human health;
– While there is a general consumer trend towards more ethical choices, government interventions to reduce meat consumption will have limited impact;
– Lab grown meat can replicate the sensory and nutritional profile of conventional meat, satisfying customers’ tastes;
– However, the EU’s novel food regulations – which were designed to be precautionary – have held back innovation in this area;
– Post-Brexit, the UK could repeal this regulation and speed up approval for further innovation, adding up to £2.1bn to our economy by 2030.
While 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 per cent and 45 per cent, greenhouse gas emissions by 78 per cent to 96 per cent, water use by 82 per cent to 96 per cent and land use by 99 per cent.
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, $366m was invested in over 70 American cultivated meat companies.
But the EU’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 here in Britain 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 we to update the existing regulatory framework we could add up to £2.1 billion to the UK economy by 2030, give Britain a competitive edge, and accelerate efforts to make cultivated meat widely available to consumers.
Matthew Lesh, IEA Head of Public Policy and author of Bangers and Cash, said:
“It sounds like the stuff of science fiction – producing meat without animals. But it’s closer than we realise. 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 commercialisation.
“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.”
Jonathan Djanogly, Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, said:
“At its heart, cultivated meat is an innovative and cutting-edge solution to the significant challenges posed to the environment by intensive livestock farming. 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 towards 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.”
Sam Hall, Director of the Conservative Environment Network, said:
“Reducing barriers for cultured meat production would support the UK’s objectives of improving food security, growing the economy, and protecting the environment. This paper clearly sets out why ministers should prioritise reforming EU-derived novel food rules to widen consumer choice and enable innovation.”
Eamonn Ives, former Special Adviser to the COP26 President and Head of Research at The Entrepreneurs Network, said:
“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. 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.”
Natascha Engel, former Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire and co-founder of Palace Yard, said:
“Cultivated meat could play an important role in tackling climate change and reducing the health and animal welfare harms associated with intensive livestock farming.
“This is a welcome paper which sets out how the UK can take advantage of this technology, attracting more entrepreneurs to start up businesses here in Britain, and providing certainty to the investors who will support those businesses as they grow.”
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IEA spokespeople are available for interview and further comment.
A copy of the paper can be found here: https://iea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/DP118_Bangers-Cash_web-2.pdf
The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expanding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.