A Bilateral Deal with Israel Could Fast-Track UK Cultivated Meat Approval – Report
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The UK is set to fast-track its approval of cultivated meat as part of a bilateral agreement with Israel, according to the Telegraph. The news comes two months after Israel’s Aleph Farms became the first cultured meat company to file for regulatory approval in the UK.
Currently, the UK still retains its pre-Brexit rules and follows EU regulations when it comes to cultivated meat. In the EU, it’s regarded as a “novel food“, and companies thus need to gain premarket authorisation for the sale of their cultured meat products. In the UK, the body handling this matter is the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
In 2021, the FSA conducted a consumer poll to test acceptance of alternative proteins, and found that 78% of Brits had heard of cultivated meat, and a third would be willing to try it. Despite that, only three in 10 perceived it as safe to eat, and 42% said that nothing could encourage them to try cell-based meat. However, 27% said they could be persuaded if they knew it was safe to eat, and 23% if they knew it was properly regulated.
According to alt-protein think tank the Good Food Institute (GFI), the FSA then launched a review of the UK’s novel food regulation to “identify and evaluate a range of potential regulatory models for novel foods”. So while the EU model remains in place for now, GFI said “we may see a new system for evaluating cultivated meat products in the future”.
And we might just be soon. The Telegraph reports that UK ministers and regulators are looking to accelerate the approval of cultivated meat to boost food security, ease the cost of living, and provide alternative, planet-friendly meat sources for a growing population.
Taking inspiration from Israel’s cultivated meat sector
The newspaper says the UK is set to sign a deal with Israel to boost collaboration on cell-cultured meat. With more cultivated meat companies per capita than almost anywhere else, Israel is home to many pioneers in this space, including Believer Meats (formerly Future Meat), SuperMeat, BioBetter, and Aleph Farms. In 2021, it invested $18M in the world’s largest cultivated meat consortium, while government funding has contributed $13M to early-stage startups and infrastructure in this sector.
Some have predicted that Israel could be the next country to greenlight the regulatory approval for cultured meat. It’s against this backdrop that the nation is said to be at “the forefront of the movement”, as the Telegraph puts it. The UK’s FSA is now reportedly “considering future changes” to its regulatory process to cut red tape and “remove unnecessary burdens on business”.
“There are some good signs that in the DNA of homosapiens, there’s a need for meat and we are not going to be able to meet that through traditional husbandry with nine billion hungry mouths to feed by 2050,” said science minister George Freeman. “We’re going to have to generate novel sources.”
The cost-of-living crisis has hit the UK hard, with prices of some meat and vegetables almost doubling over the past year. “If we don’t quickly generate ways to develop very low-cost protein, we’re going to see huge geographical instability,” Freeman said.
Freeman and FSA officials visited Israel earlier this year to taste the cultivated meat and see how the market is regulated in the country. The deal between the two nations comes on the heels of another recent agreement to boost quantum research and academia links and allow Israeli businesses to submit new tech for regulatory approval in the UK.
The UK’s cell-cultured opportunity
In August, Aleph Farms became the first cultivated meat company to file for cultivated meat approval in the UK. It’s already in talks with commercial partners and plans to begin production in the country in the next few years, expecting the regulatory process to take “a couple of years” but calling the potential “huge”.
It signalled the opportunity for cultivated meat in the UK. GFI Europe reported that investment in the sector grew by 400% between 2021-22 – more than all of Europe combined – while separate research found that British companies received £28.55M in investment for cultured meat, behind only the US, Israel, Netherlands and Singapore. Moreover, research has found that the UK’s overall alt-protein sector could create 25,000 jobs by 2035.
Moreover, earlier this year, the UK government made its largest investment in alt-protein with a £12M grant for the creation of the Cellular Agriculture Manufacturing Hub. Similarly, the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has set aside £20M towards sustainable protein development.
Additionally, according to the Telegraph, the UK is home to more than a third of all companies working on cell-cultured meat globally. Among them are Ivy Farm, which opened the UK’s largest cultivated meat facility in Oxford last year, and Extracellular, which is building what it claims will be “Europe’s largest” contract pilot plant for cultivated meat in Bristol (due to be operational by December).
James Cooper, deputy director of food policy at the FSA, told the Telegraph: “The FSA is committed to supporting business innovation in new markets by delivering effective and proportionate regulation to protect consumers. We are always keen to learn more from other countries about their approach to the regulation of emerging technologies and are developing relationships with international organisations to learn about their approach to cell-cultivated products.”
“Israel has very strong expertise in protein replacement and in agri-tech and turning deserts into a garden,” said Freeman. “It is possible for us to be a world producer of very high standard beef, poultry and pork, whilst also making sure that we’re able to produce very low-cost protein for hard-hit families that are struggling and can’t afford a £70 joint of beef. It’s not an ‘either or’.”
He added: “It’s making sure that we’re able to maintain our very high food quality standards and international reputation, reduce the cost of living, and help develop the technologies that the world needs.”
Sunak’s climate U-turn and calls for improved cultured meat regulation
The news comes two weeks after UK prime minister Rishi Sunak U-turned on the country’s climate commitments and pushed back the deadline for gas and diesel car bans from 2030, garnering fierce criticism. Sunak said he remained committed to sticking to the UK’s net-zero goal for 2050, but wanted to be “more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic” in his approach. But he has not outlined how he would do so. In June, the UK’s Climate Change Committee said its pace of action to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030 from a 1990 benchmark is “worryingly slow”.
The Telegraph’s report follows analysis by GFI Europe in August, which found that the UK needs to invest £390M in alternative proteins between 2025 and 2030 to avoid losing momentum to other countries and reduce the risk of startups moving overseas due to regulatory uncertainties.
“As other countries, from the Netherlands to Singapore, invest heavily in sustainable proteins, and as many British startups look to the US following the landmark approval of cultivated meat, failing to act now could see the UK falling behind in this global challenge,” GFI Europe’s UK policy manager Linus Pardoe told Green Queen at the time.
An independent review by Deloitte in June found that the UK’s regulatory framework for novel foods needs refreshing. And the GFI Europe report said that the FSA should learn from best practices of more innovation-focused regulatory bodies, both domestically and overseas.
“Currently, the UK’s regulatory framework isn’t optimised to foster the growth of this new way of making sustainable food,” Pardoe added, “and our report recommends that regulators move urgently to introduce ‘quick win’ reforms to the novel foods framework to build confidence in the sector.”