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Investors show appetite for UK lab-grown meat – but regulations need ‘overhaul’

lab-grown meat
Image credit: tilialucida via Shutterstock

Investment into the UK’s cultivated meat sector soared by 400% in 2022, but industry figures have warned that regulation may be stifling growth and causing startups to look overseas.

The data, released by the Good Food Institute, a non-profit think tank, found that between 2021 and 2022, investment in the cultivated meat sector in the UK rose from £12m to £59m. This makes Britain the number one nation in Europe for sustainable protein funding.

Cultivated meat, or cultured meat, is grown from animal cells in a laboratory. It is a process that produces real animal-based meat, but without killing animals and therefore without the associated environmental and ethical ramifications.

While the UK’s lab-grown meat industry is picking up a lot of interest from investors, there remains some concern within the industry that the country isn’t doing enough to support its growth.

The report from Good Food Institute cited R&D tax changes as a factor holding back the sector, along with other areas of innovation.

“The UK has the potential to become a world leader in cultivated meat and other sustainable proteins,” said Linus Pardoe, UK policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe.

“But right now, sustainable proteins are where solar panels were in the 1990s. They exist, and they’re available for eco-conscious consumers who are willing to pay a premium – but they need investment to improve quality and bring down prices.”

‘Optimise’ the lab-grown meat opportunity

Despite this “potential” for the UK to take a leading position in the sector, there are concerns that the regulatory landscape for lab-grown meat in the UK is far behind countries like the US and Singapore.

Ivy Farm, a sustainable meat startup based in Oxford, recently announced it would place a significant portion of its production facilities outside of the UK.

Explaining the decision, Richard Dillon, CEO of Ivy Farm, said “we believe by focusing on a launch market with a more favourable regulatory environment, such as the likes of the USA or Singapore, we’ll be able to make the biggest difference in the most efficient way”.

Dillon told UKTN that “there needs to be a greater sense of urgency” from the government to “provide the Food Standards Agency (FSA) with the support, resources and expertise” to “overhaul the regulations and optimise this opportunity”.

He added that despite concerns, Ivy Farm was “born and bred in the UK, and, while we have ambitions to become a global company, we would like to keep our British core with our R&D HQ”.

In January, a £242m investment fund was launched by Milltrust and Earth First Food to back companies operating in the smart protein space. Other UK cultivated meat startups include Hoxton Farms and Multus.