UK risks missing out on alt protein boom

The UK government must take bolder action to support the commercialisation of cultivated meat and other plant-based proteins or risk losing investment to international competitors.

The Good Food Institute Europe (GFI Europe), a not-for-profit working to advance plant-based and cultivated meat, called on the UK to invest £390m in sustainable proteins by 2030 as part of its ‘science superpower’ mission.

Failure to ramp up public funding and push ahead with post-Brexit regulatory reforms risks the UK losing momentum to international competitors, GFI Europe said in a new report.

Estimates suggest the UK alternative proteins industry could be worth up to £6.8bn annually and create 25,000 jobs by 2035, according to recently published analysis by the Green Alliance think tank. GFI Europe said it could also bolster domestic food security and significantly reduce greenhouse emissions compared to conventional meat.

GFI Europe’s analysis found that at least 23 companies are working to produce meat directly from cells and the British sector has raised more private investment last year than the rest of Europe combined. 

UK Research and Innovation, the country’s main research funding agency, has invested at least £43m in sustainable protein R&D since 2012 – two-thirds of which has been since 2022. However, cultivated meat has received the most funding, according to GFI Europe, which said public research dedicated to developing tastier and more affordable plant-based meat has so far been neglected despite the UK being the second-largest market for these foods in Europe.

It added that precision fermentation – which uses organisms like yeast to produce ingredients such as real egg or dairy proteins – also remains undeveloped compared to countries like Israel and the United States.

The report said that with strong political leadership, the UK could emulate the success of other green industries by creating sustainable protein industry clusters, with regional hotspots including the north east, Yorkshire and the Cambridge-Norwich corridor.

To do this, it said the government should invest £78m annually between 2025 and 2030 to fund open-access research, business grants and a new sustainable protein catapult – enabling small businesses in the sector to prosper.

GFI Europe also urged the government to give the Food Standards Agency (FSA) a £30m funding boost in the 2023 autumn statement to increase confidence in the sector, reduce the risk of start-ups moving overseas due to regulatory uncertainties and enable the FSA to fulfil its expanded post-Brexit role.

It also wants to see the UK government overturn retained EU laws preventing plant-based dairy companies from using everyday language like ‘milk’ and ‘cheese’ to label and market their products.

“Failing to act risks the UK missing out on economic and environmental benefits as other countries race ahead,” said Linus Pardoe, UK policy manager at GFI Europe.

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