lab meat

The incoming Labour government could scupper plans for a massive shake-up of the approval system for controversial foods coming to market including CBD products, lab-grown meat, and insect foods, the boss of the FSA has acknowledged.

FSA chair Susan Jebb told a behind-closed-doors meeting that “competing priorities” and concerns over the initial cost could kill off its proposals. Talks are set to be held with Labour ministers to try to persuade them to back the plans.

The Tory government had viewed allowing the UK to bypass EU red tape for approving novel foods as a benefit of Brexit, with the potential to enable a new wave of food industry growth – but the election came only weeks after the FSA had begun to push ahead with its plans.

Jebb told the FSA’s most recent meeting, which was held in private due to the election, that the shake-up now hinged on support from the new government: “I think there is a good case for it but they may have other priorities,” she said.

“A second issue is the cost of doing this,” she added. “Change often comes at a price initially, and whist this may deliver us a better service in the long run, the cost of developing this at the same time as running the existing service should not be underestimated.”

A report which had been due to go before the FSA board on its latest plans has now been put back until September, while the body negotiates with the new government.

In March, The Grocer revealed the FSA had called on MPs to axe regulations that contributed to a backlog of 470 applications in the pipeline for regulated product approval, a process it has now redubbed market ‘authorisations’.

Read more: Can FSA shake-up make the UK a leader on lab-grown meat?

Existing rules make it almost impossible for companies waiting in the wings with new products to get to market, and supporters of new technology warn the UK is falling behind and losing its chance to become a centre of investment for a raft of new food technologies.

In May, The Grocer revealed the FSA was set to unveil plans for a system of international co-operation for approval of products including lab-grown meat, CBD products and insect foods, which would use approvals from countries such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand as a basis for products going to the market in the UK.

The FSA has vowed to prioritise customer safety in the shake-up.

The issue is now set to provide an early test of Labour’s pledge to work with businesses, and also its promise to prioritise growth.

“Inevitably Labour’s approach to the issue of novel food is different to the previous government,” a source told The Grocer. “That said, I do think the initiative very much fits into the Labour growth agenda, and I have heard from reliable sources that Keir Starmer is aware of the initiative.

“Obviously getting the funds to make these changes is nonetheless a significant barrier in the current climate.”

The source warned the FSA may have to look beyond government funding to support elements of the plan.