lab grown meat

Food safety bosses are urging ministers to back controversial plans for the fast-tracking of approval for “regulated food products” such as lab-grown meat, before the general election.

The Food Standards Agency this week published plans to allow technologies, also including novel foods like insect-based foods and CBD products, to be put on the market months faster than under existing laws inherited from the EU.

Under the proposals, the FSA plans to use the approval of regulators in other countries as grounds to let products come to the market, though it stressed safety was its top priority.

The government and food safety regulators have faced criticism for being too slow to take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit to allow companies to bring innovation to the market.

The FSA said “without urgent action” it would be unable to keep pace with the growing caseload from regulated products, with currently more than 450 applications on its books, with companies waiting on average two-and-a-half years.

It said its new, more efficient regime would allow it to escape EU “bureaucracy”, with the plans set to slash the regulations surrounding thousands of products across sectors from animal feed to food for human consumption.

The proposals say the FSA and its counterpart Food Standards Scotland will draw up plans for a network of internal collaborators, enabling them to use their decision on food safety as the basis for products hitting shelves in the UK.

“We are now absolutely moving forward with these proposals,” FSA director of policy Rebecca Sudworth told The Grocer. “We have an opportunity for the UK, now that it does not come under EU regulation, to create a system that is more streamlined and more efficient. But safety is and always will be our number one priority.”

It’s understood many companies are waiting in the wings with lab-grown meat products waiting to take advantage of a relaxation in red tape, though currently only two applications have been made under the FSA existing process.

The plans will also scrap the need for regulated products already approved by the FSA to gain re-approval every 10 years, a system which currently means nearly 100 products are in a queue waiting to be re-approved. The agency said this was causing a major logjam in the launch of new products.

The FSA warn that with food companies waiting in the wings with new technology, its resources would be put under “considerable strain” unless the requirements were dropped.

It also recommends the need for the government to pass statutory instruments in parliament for products is scrapped, saying they can add up to six months to the approval process.

The moves come after The Grocer revealed last month that joint lab tests between FSA and industry scientists to assess the safety of cell-cultivated meat products are to be launched by the autumn, under a so-called new ‘sandbox’ testing environment.