Cultured meat – threat or an opportunity for UK farmers?

Cultured Meat

Farming groups, scientists, and start-ups are teaming up to test how far cultured meat is a threat, or an opportunity, for UK farmers.

Also known as cultivated, cell-based, or lab-grown meat, this technology is further from becoming mainstream than other kinds of ‘alternative protein’ made using plants or fermentation. But it has gained interest from investors because of its potential because of its potential to have the same taste and texture as conventional meat and appeal to committed carnivores.

Cultured meat is assumed to pose a threat to farmers. However, nobody has yet looked in-depth into what effects it could actually have on farm businesses and landscapes, who the winners and losers could be, and what policies might influence this.

For example, is cultured meat more likely to displace chicken and pork, or beef and lamb, or not to reduce meat production at all? What agricultural ingredients does it need? Could it even be ‘craft brewed’ on farms one day?

This new study, which brings together farmers, public interest groups, cultured meat businesses, environmental and social scientists, and others to shed light on this, is being led by Professor Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy & Strategy at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Cirencester.

Speaking ahead of the Cultivate UK conference on Cellular Agriculture in Birmingham, he said: “While eating less meat overall is a crucial step in tackling climate change, how we go about it makes a huge difference to the impact on farmers. Whether cultured meat goes mainstream is one of many factors at play.

“This research is about working with farmers to investigate the threats and opportunities that the technology poses to them, as well as the environmental and health impacts. It is still at a stage where the findings can shape investment and policy and how this turns out.”

The project has recently been awarded funding by UK Research and Innovation as part of its Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund Programme.

Project co-lead Dr Alex Sexton, Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow in Geography at University of Sheffield, added: “Previous research on the impacts of cultured meat has been mostly speculative and focused on the global agricultural picture without much input from farmers.

“We’ll take a more localised approach to explore what cultured meat could mean for a range of real-life agricultural businesses. We want to hear from farmers across the UK who are interested in being involved.”

Project partner Illtud Dunsford, CEO of Cellular Agriculture Ltd and a farmer himself, said: “The cultured meat industry is still taking shape. It’s yet to be seen what role agricultural products will have to play in the long-term future of this nascent industry and that’s something we aim to find out. While farmers and cultured meat businesses are seen as rivals, could they help to feed the world sustainably by working together?”

Caroline Drummond MBE, Chief Executive of Warwickshire-based LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), one of the project’s advisors, said: “Cultured meat and its production are still very novel and their impacts on the food system, farm businesses, and wider society, are not yet fully understood. Understandably, there is both curiosity and concern around this new technological innovation and LEAF is proud to be part of these important conversations.

“This project aims to help shape new policy, regulation, and investment, to mitigate against any serious risks, while also optimising any new opportunities that cultured meat offers to advance more sustainable and climate positive global farming and food systems.”