UK eyes alt protein space to keep up with global moves in cell-based meat
03 Jun 2022 --- The National Food Strategy for Britain underscores how the UK needs to become a food innovation hub to compete with Europe and other regions already making waves in the spaces of alternative proteins and cell-based meat – two significant food techs forecast as prominent methods for feeding the planet in the future.
Brexit, it says, presents a unique opportunity to bypass burdensome legal frameworks and bureaucracy and speed up regulation toward lab-grown meat products.
This, in turn, could transform the country into a hub for alternative proteins and cultured agriculture, much in the same way as Singapore – where the world’s first cultivated meat approval was granted – and Israel, where numerous start-ups are racing toward cultured meat commercialization.
“In the post-Brexit environment, the UK has a window of opportunity to put in place the enabling conditions required to be a global leader for innovative alternative proteins, thereby building more resilience in its food supply chains, boosting national food sovereignty, and meeting critical environmental goals,” Robert Jones, head of public affairs at Mosa Meat, in the Netherlands, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
Similarly, the UK expects to introduce a Bill that paves the way for genetically modified (GM) crops in the country, with new food laws expected to pass through Parliament in the coming months.
“The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will remove unnecessary barriers to research into new gene-editing technology, which for too long has been held back by the EU’s rules around gene-editing, which focus on legal interpretation rather than science – hindering the UK’s world-leading agricultural research institutions,” says Defra.
GM crops and other “future foods” are also forecast to mitigate the food crisis, which was already spiking in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but has been accelerated by the war in Ukraine.
What stands out for the UK, as laid out in the recent food strategy, is Britain’s potential as a disruptor and ability to stake its claim in food innovation. Without the need for member state backing, the report recommends the nation captures EU market share of the cell-based business.
Even if cows and sheep can be made to emit less methane, like many countries, the UK would still be left with the high land-use footprint of ruminant production and the associated health risks of red meat.
A potential UK food cluster would be expected to ramp up alternative protein efforts, which include cell-based meat, insects for proteins, alongside the more obvious plant-based proteins from vegetables and legumes.
Also on the horizon is precision fermentation-derived proteins, which use microbes such as yeast, algae or bacteria to replicate existing animal products (e.g. casein, egg proteins), create novel meat substitutes (e.g., Quorn), or create ingredients to flavor and enhance other foods, notes the report.
Lagging behind top competitors
The UK government admits, to a certain extent, that thus far, Britain has lagged behind alternative protein innovation on a global scale.
“Along with the environmental and other benefits, growing the alternative protein sector will benefit the UK economy. If the UK produces all of the new alternative protein it consumes, the industry could create an additional 10,000 good manufacturing jobs. In addition, 6,500 jobs would be retained in farming to produce inputs for the industry. Without a strong domestic alternative protein sector, these factory and farming jobs could be lost to other countries,” it says.
“The UK’s competitors know this, which is why investment in the sector is growing globally. The US leads the global market in production of alternative proteins, with companies like Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats and Perfect Day last year raising US$700m, US$161m and US$300m respectively in capital.”
The report also mentions the Netherlands Food Valley model “with universities, start-ups and multinationals working together to create new vegan foods.”
“We look forward to collaborating with regulators and policymakers on ways to optimize the approval process for cellular agriculture products in a way that quickly delivers safe and sustainable food to U.K. consumers that crave change,” Jones adds.
“Singapore and Israel have both proactively fostered alternative protein start-ups, and Singapore was the first country to give regulatory approval to a cultured meat product. If we do not take action to support this sector, it is likely that start-ups will be more attracted to these other countries.”
The UK already produces world-class food science and invests a lot in agricultural research. But the UK is also less effective than comparable countries at innovation – the successful application of ideas. This has been a particular concern for businesses and policymakers concerned with food and agriculture.
To compensate for this, according to Defra, the UK is trying to be a welcoming environment for investors and consumers in the sustainable protein market sector.
The report also claims the UK is the largest European market for meat alternatives. Experiencing “40% growth from 2014 to 2019 and being projected to rise above £1.1billion (US$1.38 billion) by 2024.”
Singapore and Israel: beacons of the future
CellMEAT, a Korean cell-based seafood player, showcases the state of the sector. The start-up is receiving governmental funds and is actively involved in the regulatory process aiding the government.
However, a definition for cultivated meat has not been crafted yet in South Korea. This forces companies to schedule future releases in their local country and Singapore. It is a real possibility that Singapore consumers can taste traditional Korean Dokdo shrimp from CellMEAT before the peninsula consumers.
Shiok Meats, a Singapore lab-meat company, explained to FoodIngredientsFirst that they have received support from their government for over three and a half years.
In Israel, the cell-based sector is also on the move. Wilk Technologies is edging closer to genuinely replicating breast milk, and BioBetter is searching for applications in cell-meat development from tobacco plants.
By Marc Cervera and Gaynor Selby
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