Jonathan Djanogly: Britain can lead the world in new ways of making meat

16 Jun

This week, the Government set out plans that could make the UK’s food system more sustainable while enabling British businesses to tap into a lucrative global market. The new Government Food Strategy acknowledges that Britain can play a much larger role in a growing industry that makes meat from plants and cultivates it from cells, in addition to raising and slaughtering animals.

It says that the alternative protein sector provides an opportunity for growth, complementing traditional livestock farming, and that the Government will keep the UK at the front of this innovative sector. The strategy also contains a government pledge to work with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on guidance for companies working in this field, as we take up the opportunities presented by Brexit, reducing barriers and reviewing regulations to ensure new technologies can be rolled out quickly at the highest consumer standards.

Britain, with its long history of scientific excellence, its universities brimming with great minds, and its proud entrepreneurial spirit, has a clear opportunity to become a world leader in this space – but we must act now to avoid being left behind by other nations.

Cultivating meat involves taking a sample of cells from an animal and growing them in a nutritious medium so they multiply and become muscle tissue, in the same way they would inside an animal’s body. The final product is exactly the same, down to the compositional level, as the meat people enjoy to eat now.

Plant-based meat, which recreates the flavour and texture of meat using new combinations of ingredients from crops, is already generating millions in sales for many forward-thinking British businesses. However, there is huge untapped potential for improvement and expansion to bring plant-based meat even closer to taste parity, and to lower the price points so it is truly competitive with conventional meat.

Another exciting area in the sustainable protein space is fermentation, which builds on centuries-old methods in innovative ways to create animal-free meat and dairy products.

The potential market for these new foods is enormous. Retail sales of plant-based foods across the UK stood at more than £600 million in 2020 – the second highest rate in Europe. McKinsey & Co project that cultivated meat will be worth £15 billion worldwide by 2030, and Oxford Economics find taking an early advantage could deliver a £2.1 billion boost to the UK economy.

There are also huge environmental benefits to making meat in these ways. When produced using renewable energy, cultivated meat could reduce emissions by up to 92%, as well as using 95% less land, reducing pressure on wild habitats and natural carbon sinks. And plant-based burgers produce up to 90% less emissions than conventionally produced beef.

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change recently pointed out that even in the impossible scenario of fossil fuels disappearing overnight, emissions from the world’s existing food system would jeopardise our Paris Agreement targets of keeping global temperatures below 1.5C. The government is absolutely right to recognise that sustainable proteins will play a crucial role in achieving our own world-leading target of net zero emissions by 2050.

As the world’s population grows and our appetite for meat increases, these sustainable alternatives are an important part of the solution – as a scalable way of meeting demand for meat and dairy more sustainably, which doesn’t rely on people overhauling the way they eat today.  However, sustainable proteins will only be able to deliver on their full potential when they are as cheap and tasty as conventionally produced meat.

In universities and development kitchens around the world, the race is on to find innovative ways of improving flavour and texture, scaling up production and bringing down costs. This week’s white paper lays the foundation for Britain to finally take the lead – but it needs to be followed by well-targeted investment as part of a broader coordinated sustainable protein strategy.

Pioneering work is being done by British scientists and startups. But according to the Good Food Institute, a not-for-profit organisation seeking to advance sustainable proteins, there are three areas holding us back.

Other countries are backing research and development. Just a few weeks ago the Netherlands invested almost £50 million towards developing a cellular agriculture ecosystem, as an initial step towards investing between £200 and £300 million in total. Last year also saw Denmark invest £142 million in plant-based meat, Israel invest £23 million in cultivated meat, and the United States provide funding to set up a flagship research centre – while UK investment has stagnated.

British research has also been uncoordinated, reducing the ability of our scientists to maximise their impact. The level and type of funding which has been available also means there is little room for academic and industry collaboration, preventing scientists’ work from being commercialised here, and meaning companies overseas are more likely to take advantage of their findings – as apparently happened when the results of a Cambridge University study were obtained by a Dutch cultivated meat company in 2018.

In order to achieve the UK’s enormous potential, the government needs to earmark substantial funding every year until 2027 to build a dynamic sustainable protein ecosystem. The government should invest  at least £100 million towards foundational, university-led R&D and £125 million towards fostering close-to-market innovation. The latter should include £75 million in new grants for startups, and £50 million towards establishing an innovation cluster to ensure findings developed in the UK can be used by British companies. Meaningful investment of this kind would build British expertise, stop scientists moving to countries which are prioritising sustainable proteins, and establish dedicated research centres with modern labs able to carry out groundbreaking research.

I hear reports of confusion within government as to which public bodies should be regulating and supporting this sector. So we also need to see a National Sustainable Protein Strategy in order to provide strategic oversight and coordinate between all relevant government departments to foster this green new industry on UK shores.

Becoming a world leader in sustainable proteins would have benefits far beyond our elite universities – indeed they could help level up the country as hubs providing high-value jobs could be set up anywhere. The Department for International Trade pointed to the North East as a possible location, with its flexible arable land, existing facilities, and five universities producing more than 3,000 graduates specialising in subjects such as biology and food science every year.

With the right support, British farmers could also benefit from public investment in sustainable proteins – as they free up land for high nature value farming, provide new diversified income opportunities, and strengthen domestic supply by reducing reliance on overseas imports. Investing in this space would support our ambitions to establish the UK as a global science superpower to level up our regions , and reach net zero by 2050.

Other parts of the world are already taking the lead and the UK cannot afford simply to ride on their coat-tails. The country that gave the world the electric light bulb, the programmable computer and the world wide web should now be at the forefront of this emerging technology. The Government needs to join the race and invest in sustainable proteins now.

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Emily Carver: The EU’s botched vaccine rollout showed the limits of the precautionary principle. Global Britain, take note.

29 Sep

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Light a bonfire of Brussels red tape! Brexit, we were told, would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to slash regulation, relieve small businesses of burdensome bureaucracy, and get our economy firing on all cylinders. The ability to innovate would be at the heart of this.

Theresa May spoke of her desire for Global Britain to be “a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead”.

Last summer, Boris Johnson said in his characteristically upbeat tone that “we have the knack of innovation”. Indeed, we do. Centuries of ingenious inventions, from the telephone to the steam engine, have doubtless transformed the world for the better.

Now that we’ve left the EU, and the worst of the pandemic is over, reinvigorating Britain’s position as global leader in innovation has risen up the political agenda, with the Government consulting on how we can reform our regulatory framework and adopt a tailored approach that best suits Britain’s needs.

It’s well known that the EU tends to err on the side of caution – indeed it was one of the main frustrations free marketeers had with being a part of the bloc. The hard to define, and even harder to interpret, precautionary principle is pervasive and often misapplied, stifling new ideas and damaging competitiveness, as well as holding back economic progress.

We’ve seen first-hand over the past year how cumbersome this regulation can be in practice. While Britain ramped up its vaccine rollout, most EU countries paused Oxford AstraZeneca jabs, following only a few dozen reports of a rare blood clot disorder.

Thousands of people were dying across Europe every day, a third wave was on the horizon, yet the principle of precaution prevailed, and the vaccination was stalled, potentially leading to the death of many, many more people than this level of risk aversion could possibly have saved.

In agriculture, the overzealous application of the precautionary principle has held the EU back from what could potentially be historical and ground-breaking innovations. Take the EU’s ban on hormone-fed beef, which Britain fiercely resisted at the time.

Or perhaps restrictions on GM foods intended to avoid unknown potential harms for which there is little evidence – restrictions that may have prevented improvements in agricultural productivity that could do more to alleviate poverty in developing countries than any government-backed aid programme.

We must now ensure that we don’t continue with this excessively cautious approach; to do so, would be to squander the opportunity. This principle already applies in numerous instances concerning environment and climate policy and informally pervades regulatory and legislative decision-making in a far wider range of fields than many assume.

However, as it stands the EU’s precautionary principle will become legally binding in UK law, but without the protections for innovation (however inadequate) from the EU legal system.

Understandably, there have been calls to scrap the precautionary principle altogether from the new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR), chaired by Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

An ambitious idea, but removing the principle as a legal commitment altogether may prove too politically difficult in the short term; besides, the UK has already legislated in the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act to apply the precautionary principle in matters relating to environment and climate policy.

Instead, as a new paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs argues, the Government could take clear steps to improve the regulatory process and foster innovation in the UK. We could do this by implementing a binding innovation principle to apply alongside, and give balance to, the precautionary principle.

We could invest in training and resources for ministers and officials to use the existing regulatory framework (in particular, impact assessments) more effectively, and perhaps we could consolidate innovation considerations into a toolkit that ensure official give due weight to innovation.

None of this means throwing all caution to the wind, nor should a British Innovation Principle be used to favour one sector or technology over another. The object should simply be to avoid unnecessarily restricting innovations that could lead to better and more efficient products and services.

As we look beyond the pandemic, and assess the damage it and lockdowns have done to our economy, improving the competitiveness and productivity of our economy will be essential. A British Innovation Principle may be one way to, as the Prime Minister put it, “release the talent, creativity and chutzpah that exists in every corner of the United Kingdom”.

George Freeman: The industrial strategy reforms I led helped to deliver Britain’s vaccine success. Now for the next phase.

1 Feb

George Freeman is a former Minister for Life Science and Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board (2016-18). He is co-author and editor of the 2020 Conservatives book Britain Beyond Brexit.

The combination of Covid-19 and the Crash of 2008 have left this country facing the most serious crisis in our public finances since 1776. Unless we make the post-Brexit, post-Covid recovery a transformational renaissance of enterprise & innovation on a par with that unlocked by Thatcher Governments of the 1980s, we risk a decade of high debts, rising interest rates and slow growth.

We have a truly unique opportunity before us. As a science and innovation superpower, with the City of London now outside the EU’s rules for the first time in nearly fifty years, we can unlock a New Elizabethan era of growth – with Britain a world-leader in global commercialisation of science, technology and innovation. It is what our entrepreneurs have been crying out for. Now is the moment to make it happen.

That’s why I’m delighted to have been asked by the Prime Minister to help set up the new Taskforce for Innovation and Growth through Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) with Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers.

Reporting directly to the Prime Minister & the Chancellor’s Cabinet Committee on deregulation, and supported by a secretariat in the Cabinet Office, the Taskforce will consider and recommend “quick wins” to use our new regulatory sovereignty to unlock high growth sectors of the economy to drive post-Brexit post-Covid recovery.

Rest assured: there will also be no big report or a thousand pages of footnotes to wade through. We will be crowd-sourcing the best ideas from the business community and the entrepreneurs and innovators who are the engine of our economy.

The Prime Minister has asked me to bring my career experience in business starting & financing high growth bioscience technology companies as well as my experience as Minister in Health, BEIS and Transport leading our groundbreaking Industrial Strategy for Life Science which has paid such dividends this year.

The reforms I led in our Industrial Strategy – launching Genomics England, the Early Access to Medicines Scheme, MHRA and NICE reform, Accelerated Access procurement have been fundamental to our ability to lead the world in developing a Covid vaccine.

We now need to make Brexit & Covid the catalyst for bold reforms to unlock big UK opportunities for recovery & GlobalBritain across a range of high-growth sectors such as those I have worked on extensively as both entrepreneur and Minister:?

  • LifeScience: harnessing the potential of the NHS as a research engine for new medicines, unlocking digital health & innovative approaches to Accelerated Access, clinical trials & value-based pricing.
  • Nutraceuticals: health-promoting “superfoods”, cannabis medicines.
  • AgriTech: smart clean green twenty-first farming technology like the blight resistant potato banned by the EU.
  • CleanTech: new biofuels, Carbon Capture & Storage & digital “smart grids” to reward households & businesses for generating more and using less.
  • BioSecurity: harnessing the potential of Porton Down and UK vaccine science for plant, animal & human biosecurity.
  • Digital: removing barriers to UK digital leadership outside the EU GDPR framework.
  • Hydrogen: using the full power of Gov to lead in this key sector as we did in genomics.
  • Mobility: making the UK a global test-bed for new mobility technologies,

Before being elected to Parliament, I spent 15 years working in life sciences around the Cambridge cluster, financing innovation. I saw time and time again how the best British entrepreneurs and their companies struggled to build business to scale here in the UK.

So often we have invented the technologies of the future and failed to commercialise them effectively.

After several years working as the Government Life Science Adviser, I published my report for the Fresh Start Group on The EU impact on Life Sciences: Avoiding the Global Slow Lane.

Three years before Brexit, the report was the first to highlight the growing hostility of the EU to ‘biotech’ and the increasing tide of ‘anti- biotech’ legislation – driven by a combination of the German Green Party, Catholic anti-science and lowest commons denominator regulation by the “precautionary principle” which was having a damaging effect on the Bioscience Economy and risked condemning the EU – and by extension the UK – to the global slow lane in biotechnology.

The report set out how the genomic revolution was beginning to offer untold opportunities across medicine and agriculture to help generate huge economic, social and political dividends for mankind. Billions of people were being liberated from the scourge of insufficient food, medicine and energy. The main threat to that? The EU’s hostile regulatory framework.

This was seen clearly in numerous case studies. At the time, the EU’s hostility to GM led German-based BASF and major U.S firm Monsanto to announce their withdrawal from Europe in agricultural research and development. My report argued that unless something was done soon, other companies would follow suit, with dire consequences for the UK Life Science sector.

The report recommended a shift away from the increasingly widely used risk-based ‘precautionary Principle’ and greater freedoms around data protection, using public healthcare systems to help accelerate early access to medical innovations, and for the UK to be able to ‘go it alone’ in designing appropriate regulatory frameworks for GM crops.

The UK’s departure from the laws and requirements of the EU provides us with a once-in-a-generation chance to redesign and improve our approach.

This new Taskforce, therefore, is emphatically not another long-term Whitehall de-regulation ‘initiative’. Neither is this is about cutting workers’ or environmental rights that we rightly guaranteed in the 2019 election manifesto.

It is of vital importance that the UK maintains the high regulatory standards that we have consistently championed. In some of the fastest growing new sectors like Digital Health, Nutraceuticals and Autonomous Vehicle Tech, clear global regulatory standards are key to investment confidence. By setting the new global standards here in the UK we can play a key role in leading whole new sectors.

But we must think innovatively about supporting businesses to start and grow, and make the most of the cutting-edge technologies and sectors we nurture in our universities for global impact. For example, why don’t we use our freedom to pioneer new disease and drought- resistant crops, and use our aid budget and variable tariffs to help create new global markets for UK Technology Transfer?

We won’t unlock a new era of the UK as an Innovation Nation generating the technologies and companies of tomorrow with technocratic tinkering. We need bold leadership, clear commercial vision and reforms to support innovation and enterprise. The two go hand in hand. We won’t unlock an innovation economy without an enterprise society. So we will need to look at tax and regulatory incentives for high risk start/ups like the “New Deal for New Businesses” I proposed back in 2010 to drive recovery after the Crash.

This is a once-in-a-generation moment. Together we must seize it.