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Can the UK become a world leader in alternative protein?

Can the UK become a world leader in alternative protein?

Research by Oxford Economics (World Economic Advisory Firm) projected the UK’s cell-based meat industry will be worth £1.7 billion in 2030.

The UK is seeing increased interest from both consumers and manufacturers in alternative protein sources, instead of traditional animal-based proteins. The UK has also been named as a potential world leader in alternative protein regulation and development. However, the implementation of alt protein-specific funding and policy targets will be crucial to making this happen.

Barclays bank predicts the global alternative meat market – including plant-based products – will grow to $14 billion in the next 10 years. Technological advances and pressure for more sustainable sources of protein have resulted in increased innovation and product development. This could have a significant impact on the UK food system. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the need for resilient and sustainable food supply chains. According to the Food Security Report, the UK produces over 50% of vegetables consumed domestically. Thus, supporting alternative proteins means backing British produce, increasing food security, and progressing on climate targets.

According to a report by independent research organisation, CE Delft: if produced using renewable energy, cultivated meat could emit up to 92% fewer greenhouse gases, use 95% less land and 78% less water compared to traditional sources.

Implications for the agri-food sector

Post-Brexit the UK has the regulatory freedom to create a long-term alternative protein transition, positioning itself at the forefront of the movement.

A report from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) indicates that Britain’s leaving the European Union should make regulation more agile, making market entry more streamlined. Thus, Brexit could open the door to the rapid expansion of innovation, and technological, advancement within the agri-food sector.

However, the think tank SMF (The Social Market Foundation) stated in their recent report that Ministers have failed to grasp the issue despite identifying alternative proteins as a post-Brexit “opportunity”. Without focus and support from Government, the UK risks falling behind international competitors and having to cut emissions through more difficult means, to meet net-zero commitments. There is a window of opportunity for the food industry to lobby the UK government for regulations that would make Britain a leader in developing alt proteins.

The UK government released its Food strategy in June 2022. This strategy sets out pathways to create a more prosperous agri-food sector. The report emphasises how sustainable and alternative proteins can play a major role in British food production. Despite this, there has been no specific investment in alternative proteins.  This creates room for the food industry to push for specified funding and concrete alt-protein targets. The UK Government Food Strategy earmarks £120 million for investment alongside the UKRI in alternative protein research. Through funding and improving the regulatory frameworks, the post-Brexit government aims to support progress on a wide range of issues, including alternative proteins and gene editing. The strategy further involves working with the UKRI, industry, and consumer groups to develop joint priority areas for funding, including regional priorities, and proposals to access this, for example on industry automation and alternative proteins.

However, the agrifood industry has raised concerns that the strategy neglects cultivated meat offers for food safety, economy, and climate. It has been argued that the plan misses the mark and lacks ambition. It fails to advance the UK’s aim of becoming a leading player in alternative protein.

Elena Walden, Policy Manager of GFI (The Good Food Institute) stated “the UK is well placed to become a global leader in sustainable proteins, but without ambitious and coordinated measures now, we risk falling behind other countries”. This is a crucial time for the industry to step in and emphasise – the government needs to be more specific in its financial and policy commitments.

Current developments

Currently, the Government Food Strategy investment alongside the UKRI’s alternative protein research is making progress within the alt protein and post-meat sphere. If fully implemented, it will result in the UK being far ahead of other European countries. However, the UK alternative protein policy is currently underdeveloped and underfunded.

A comprehensive alt-meat strategy alongside a policy framework that coordinates with technological advancement, and industry stakeholders is what is necessary to progress post-meat within the agri-food sector. The government has made clear its willingness to use Brexit freedoms to help food security and promote sustainable agriculture with its relaxation of legislation surrounding the gene-editing bill. However, it needs to do the same with the alternative protein industry and produce a formal strategy promoting the uptake and production of plant-based meat alternatives within the UK.

Article written by our Agri-food team: Mathilde Chatin, Abie Philbin Bowman and Polly Christie.

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Mathilde Chatin

I currently serve as Senior Director in Penta’s London office. I am primarily involved in corporate communication projects for clients in the food and agriculture industry. I have experience with public relations and institutional affairs in both the private and public sectors.
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