lab grown meat (2)

Food safety bosses are to announce plans for a system of international co-operation for approval of lab-grown meat, CBD products and insect foods, next month.

The Food Standards Agency has revealed it has already held talks with countries including Singapore, where lab-grown meat was approved for sale last year, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

It plans to unveil a “sliding scale” of international agreement for the approval or regulated products, including these and other types of products currently facing a huge logjam waiting for FSA approval, which would be based on the track record of other countries.

However, despite the UK looking to international co-operation to speed up approvals, experts say the European food regulator, EFSA, is conspicuous by its absence in the list of collaborators. 

In March, The Grocer revealed the FSA had called on MPs to axe regulations that currently contribute to a backlog of no fewer than 470 applications in the pipeline for regulated product approval. This was making it almost impossible for companies waiting in the wings with new products to get to market, it said.

It is consulting on plans to dispense with the requirement for MPs to pass a statutory instrument as part of the approval process and scrap the requirement for 10-year re-approvals for the likes of smoke flavourings, feed additives and GM food.

Sources said the plans now being discussed by the FSA for a system of international collaboration went “much further”.

Peter Quigley, deputy director of regulatory services at the FSA, told a forum in Westminster the proposals being discussed would allow both for regulatory agreements between countries but also for approvals to be written in to trade agreements with other countries around the world.

He said the FSA was planning to use a “sliding scale of international engagement”.

“As the UK regulator, we’ve been in touch with colleagues in Singapore, colleagues in Australia, New Zealand, and all over the world,” he explained.

“We have to be careful about naming specific countries where we may have a free trade agreement with them or may not. And so we probably aren’t going to set up a shopping list of the top five people we want to pick up the phone to.

“It’s more having a framework of how we’d engage.”

Mosa Meat created fie

Mosa Meat created fie “first lab-grown beef burger” in 2013

A source told The Grocer it was notable that the FSA did not refer to the EU food safety body when setting out its update.

“Currently EFSA is not open to discussions with the FSA. All of which would tend to suggest that while there might be greater recognition of international approvals, this will not, most likely initially, include EU approvals.”

However, Katrina Anderson, principal associate at Mills & Reeve LLP, said the FSA’s plans were a bold move.

“International co-operation between regulators, particularly if this allows for mutual recognition of at least some aspects of the approvals process, has the potential to significantly speed up how quickly alternative proteins and other regulated food products can be brought to market in the UK,” she said.

Rich Dillon, CEO of cultivated meat producer Ivy Farm Technologies, also welcomed the moves by the regulator.

“The FSA seems to be trying to be more nimble and aligning with countries that have good regulatory practice, which would save a huge amount of time,” he said.

“You’ve got brilliant scientists in different countries doing the same amount of work on the same products. It makes sense to co-operate, and it already happens in other industries.

“We really welcome the direction and think it will leverage other countries’ expertise.”

However, another source said the UK had been far too slow to harness global agreements which had left UK companies developing regulated products trailing behind countries like Singapore, Israel and the US.

“This should have been done a while ago,” they said. “This could have been a way of outsourcing some of the resources needed and we wish it had happened directly after Brexit.”

FSA chair professor Susan Jebb said: “The board has been clear that overhauling the way we authorise new foods is an 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.  

”At the June Board meeting we expect to see detailed proposals for the next steps, including an outline of a more streamlined Regulated Products Service.

”One of the options we have asked officials to consider is the possibility of extending the way we work with regulators in other countries where we are aligned in the safety standards of foods.   This could involve greater sharing of information or technical expertise as we assess the potential risks, whilst maintaining autonomy over decision-making.”