In the paper, the government outlined its commitment to invest £2bn (€2.3bn) into engineering biology, a category that includes alternative proteins. The government also aims to create ‘regulatory sandboxes’ (tools to allow companies to test new ideas under supervision from a regulator) to accelerate development.
This follows on from other recent commitments, such as the government’s existing plans to invest £15m into an alternative protein research hub.
One of the key barriers to the development of alternative proteins in the UK is infrastructure shortages. In its policy paper, the government pledged to focus on infrastructure as one of its six main priorities.
Costly infrastructure is an issue built into how some alternative proteins, such as cultivated meat, are produced.
“The materials and equipment needed to make cultivated meat are currently too expensive to produce affordable products,” Linus Pardoe, UK Policy Manager at the Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe, told FoodNavigator.
“The National Vision for Engineering Biology . . . highlights that they are ‘overengineered,’ since infrastructure like large-scale cultivators are currently designed for use in the life sciences sector rather than for food production. It is simply unnecessary and unaffordable for individual start-ups to be investing in the kind of equipment and facilities that will help them scale up their processes."
This is where state-level funding comes in. “That's why the government's new strategy recognises the need for more food-grade pilot facilities, which can support a range of alternative protein companies to unlock the potential of foods like cultivated meat.”
The UK government has already pledged to invest £15m in an alternative protein research hub. While the hub “will enable academics to undertake cutting-edge research and – crucially – focus on commercialising the best alternative protein innovations, delivering real benefits for the UK economy,” Pardoe told us, this may not be enough.
“An analysis funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office and ClimateWorks in 2021 estimated that, globally, governments must invest £3.4bn in public R&D spending every year up to 2050 to make alternative proteins widely available, affordable and delicious,” Pardoe told us. The same analysis suggested that such an investment would have a profound impact on climate mitigation and may boost jobs in the process.
Innovation requires regulatory approval. In its policy paper, the UK government pledged to create between three and five regulatory sandboxes for engineering biology, in order to give companies more flexibility to try new things.
“The Food Standards Agency has recognised that its process for bringing new alternative proteins onto the market needs to be modernised and is currently undertaking reforms,” Pardoe told us.
“Many of the changes that the FSA could make to its processes don't require changes to legislation. To highlight one example, at the moment the FSA does not issue specific written guidance to cultivated meat companies to help them prepare their application for approval, which creates inefficiencies for both the regulator and the company. The FSA is set to bring forward proposals for regulated product reform in 2024.”