Mosa Meat created fie

Source: Mosa Meat

Mosa Meat created the ‘first lab-grown beef burger’ in 2013

Lab tests to assess the safety of cell-cultivated meat products are to be launched by the FSA by autumn, under plans revealed in talks with food companies.

The Grocer understands the agency plans to parachute scientists in to work alongside companies chosen to pilot a new ‘sandbox’ testing environment, so products can be passed fit for mass human consumption.

The agency, which is bidding to win funding for the facilities under a £5m scheme announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in autumn 2023, told companies last week it was seeking to recruit scientists to work on the project.

The move comes with the FSA due to unveil plans for a wider shake-up of regulation surrounding novel foods and other regulated products at its board meeting next month, amid criticism it has been too slow to take advantage of the freedoms in the area provided by Brexit.

“The sandbox is really zeroing in on cultivated meats specifically,” a source told The Grocer. 

The source said both the FSA and companies aiming to bring lab-grown meat products to the market agreed on the paramount importance of proving the products were safe.

Natasha Smith, FSA deputy director of food policy, told The Grocer: “If funding is granted, we can create a team in the FSA that works with the cell-cultivated product industry to agree on what should be included within their applications, address complex regulatory questions, and provide pre-application support to CCP companies.

“We are actively engaging with CCP companies to understand their novel technologies and understand how we can support innovation. Engagement is ongoing and we are continually speaking to industry about how to best manage applications and to set expectations about the approval process.

“Ensuring the safety of any new and innovative food product, including cell-cultivated products, is paramount, and we must continue to balance fast-paced technological advances and industry demands with protecting public health.”

The Grocer revealed last year a landmark report by Deloitte, commissioned by the FSA, found a major deregulation of restrictions on novel foods could help the UK meet its carbon reduction targets.

The FSA was criticised this week by experts speaking to the Financial Times for moving too slowly to speed up novel foods approvals in the wake of Brexit, leaving it behind other countries including the US and Singapore.

However, the rollout of cultivated meat products is likely to be hugely controversial.

In November, Italian MPs voted to back a law banning the production, sale or import of cultivated meat or animal feed.

The source on the FSA plans said: “In principal, lab-grown meat should be safer certainly from a food hygiene point of view.

“You are talking about food being grown in what is essentially a sterile laboratory, in contrast to your average abattoir.

“It’s going to be a laboratory with scientists from the FSA looking all over it, I doubt it’s going to get any cleaner than that.”

The FSA’s sandbox proposals come as a raft of companies are lining up lab-grown products.

This week, three organisations in the north east – planning to turn the region into a “hub for lab-grown meat production” – were celebrating after winning a grant worth close to half a million pounds from Innovate UK to develop new, more cost-effective technologies.

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), MarraBio Ltd and Aelius Biotech said they would work together to develop low-emission food production systems at a lower cost than is currently possible.

Dr Peter Chater, CEO at Aelius Biotech, said: “Lab-grown meat has huge potential as an alternative source of protein in our diets, and it’s great to be working with the teams at MarraBio and CPI on a technology that can help make this a reality.