UK Regulator Eyes State Funding to Build Lab for Safety Testing of Cultivated Meat by Autumn

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In what would be a major step towards the regulatory approval and commercialisation of cultivated meat, the UK is aiming to begin safety testing by this autumn, with the Food Standards Agency hoping to win government funding for the lab facilities.

It was in August that Israeli cultivated meat producer Aleph Farms announced the submission of its dossier for regulatory approval from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA). Five months later, the company became just the third in the world to receive the all-clear to sell cultivated meat – but this was in its home country of Israel, not the UK.

However, Aleph Farms may soon be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, with the FSA reportedly planning to start conducting safety tests for cultivated meat this autumn, according to the Grocer. The FSA is in talks with food companies and has issued a call for scientists to work alongside to pilot a ‘sandbox’ testing project, which will enable them to assess the novel proteins for human consumption.

The FSA is seeking government funding for the labs that would be used to conduct the tests, with a bid to win financing through a £5M scheme announced by UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt last autumn.

“Following the chancellor’s announcement late last year that new regulatory sandboxes would be created to help support transformative innovations in emerging sectors, the Food Standards Agency has signalled its interest in creating a sandbox environment for cultivated meat,” Linus Pardoe, UK policy manager at alternative protein think tank the Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe – which has previously called on the chancellor to provide the FSA with a £30M injection – told Green Queen.

Slow post-Brexit regulation drives UK producers elsewhere

hoxton farms
Courtesy: Hoxton Farms

The FSA still follows pre-Brexit rules set out by the European Food Safety Agency, which classes cultivated meat as a novel food that requires premarket authorisation. These are said to be the strictest regulations around food safety in the world, and so far, no alternative protein company has received the go-ahead to sell cultivated meat.

Publicly, Aleph Farms is the only one to have applied in Europe – though both filings were in countries outside the EU (Switzerland and the UK). Dutch company Meatable has announced it will soon apply in the Netherlands, after it cleared the route for public tastings of cell-cultured meat.

In the UK, there was talk of fast-tracking the approval of these foods through a bilateral deal with Israel, with government and FSA officials visiting the country to taste cultivated meat and see how it’s regulated in the Middle Eastern nation. But this was just before its conflict with Hamas began, which has likely derailed any such deals for the time being.

But now, even as many EU countries ban or attempt to restrict these proteins, cultivated meat regulation could be preparing for a shakeup in its former member nation. The FSA will next month present plans for an overhaul of novel foods (among other products) in its board meeting next month, in the face of criticism that it has been too slow to capitalise on post-Brexit freedom in this area.

Speaking to Green Queen in August, Pardoe warned that the UK could risk losing momentum in the regulation race if it didn’t ramp up investment in the sector – countries like the US and Singapore had already approved cultivated meat for sale by then, and the Netherlands and Israel were making good progress. The prophecy has come true, with British cultured pork fat company Hoxton Farms considering a move to the US in order to speed up the regulatory green light.

“We’re very confident we will get approval from the US FDA [Food and Drug Administration], so we’re considering building our first manufacturing facility outside the UK,” CEO Ed Steele told the Financial Times this week. “That’s not what we want to do, but we need to do what’s best for the company.”

The Grocer has previously reported that an FSA-commissioned report by Deloitte in 2023 found that speeding up novel foods regulation could help the UK meet its carbon reduction plans (the country has earmarked 2050 as its net-zero target). A GFI report from last year found that cultivated meat can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of meat production by 92%.

“We are actively engaging with CCP [cell-cultured product] companies to understand their novel technologies and understand how we can support innovation,” FSA deputy director of food policy Natasha Smith told the Grocer. “Engagement is ongoing, and we are continually speaking to industry about how to best manage applications and to set expectations about the approval process.”

Increased funding supports cultivated meat progress in the UK

cultivated meat regulatory approval
Courtesy: Aleph Farms

“Should it receive funding, the FSA will be able to use the sandbox to further develop its understanding of the key food safety considerations and nutritional value of cultivated meat, helping it implement the UK’s robust regulatory framework and build consumer confidence in this food,” said Pardoe.

Regulatory sandboxes involve companies to test new concepts – in this case, cultivated meat – with real customers under the supervision of a regulator, as designed by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.

“If funding is granted, we can create a team in the FSA that works with the cell-cultivated product industry to agree on what should be included within their applications, address complex regulatory questions, and provide pre-application support to CCP companies,” said the FSA’s Smith.

In August, GFI Europe urged the UK government to invest £390M in alternative proteins between 2025 and 2030, while a report by the Green Alliance suggested that, with the right combination of targeted investments and regulation, this industry could be worth £6.8B annually and create 25,000 British jobs by 2035.

In that vein, earlier this month, government body UK Research and Innovation made an investment through its Technical Missions fund for University of Oxford cultivated meat researcher Hua Ye. And fellow state agency Innovate UK awarded close to a £500,000 grant to turn the northeast into a cultivated meat production hub, with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), MarraBio Ltd and Aelius Biotech working together to create cost-effective and low-emission cultured meat products.

“Ensuring the safety of any new and innovative food product, including cell-cultivated products, is paramount, and we must continue to balance fast-paced technological advances and industry demands with protecting public health,” said Smith.

One source told the Grocer that both the FSA and cultivated meat producers hoping to commercialise their products agree that proving the safety of these foods is crucial. “The sandbox is really zeroing in on cultivated meats specifically,” they said.

As mentioned above, there has been a lot of backlash from EU countries like Italy, France and Romania, who have either outlawed the production and sale of cultivated meat, or are hoping to do so. Among the main reasons cited are to protect culinary heritage, livestock farmers, and human health.

But the source argued that cultivated meat would be safer than conventional meat from a hygiene perspective. “You are talking about food being grown in what is essentially a sterile laboratory, in contrast to your average abattoir,” he noted. “It’s going to be a laboratory with scientists from the FSA looking all over it, I doubt it’s going to get any cleaner than that.”


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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