UK maps path ahead for precision fermentation and cultivated meat

03-04 | |
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

Moves to stem unnecessary delays in regulating foods such as cultivated meat and precision fermentation have been agreed by the UK’s Food Standards Agency to ensure consumers have quicker access to a wider choice of safe, innovative products.

Pace of innovation merits further changes

But while its Board in March agreed to the creation of an new public register of regulated products, replacing the current system, which requires a Statutory Instrument to be laid in Parliament before new products can be placed on the market, one think-tank, the Good Food Institute, says further changes must follow given the pace of innovation in the alternative protein sector.

New products still to be assessed

The FSA said it would still conduct a through and evidence-based assessment of new products’ safety and nutritional value before they can be sold in the UK and ministers will still make the final decisions. Another reform will free up the FSA’s capacity by removing the requirement for products already on the market to be reauthorised after several years – which will also benefit other food sectors. The FSA says 22% of regulated product applications are reauthorisations, many of which are for animal feed.

This is a huge opportunity for the FSA to drive benefits for consumers by enabling new and innovative products that we assess as being safe to come to market more quickly. It will set a new way of doing things that will be viewed with real interest by regulators around the world.

Professor Susan Jebb, FSA chair

Concerns post-Brexit

The UK uses a similar regulatory framework to the EU but concerns have been raised about the increasing size of the agency’s post-Brexit work. In a recent paper, officials at the regulator said: “Without urgent action, we will be unable to keep pace with this growing caseload. This will affect consumers’ choice and access to new and potentially beneficial products.”

The FSA expects to use powers in the Retained EU Law Act in the next few months to revise relevant rules, including the novel foods regulations.

Steps forward are welcome – but more is needed

Linus Pardoe, UK policy manager at GFI Europe, welcomed the steps forward but said more needed to be done: “More than 2 years after reforms were promised to how the UK regulates new alternative proteins, it is positive ton see the FSA taking sensible measures to modernise its process while continuing to enforce one of the world’s most robust regulatory systems.

“Alternative proteins could be a game-changer in helping the UK achieve its science superpower ambitions and boost food security, and while regulators must play a crucial role in ensuring consumers have confidence in these foods, regulatory frameworks must keep pace with innovations. These reforms are a step in the right direction but much more can be done.”

The FSA said further proposals were likely to come forward at its June Board meeting.

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Tony McDougal Freelance Journalist