The Food Standards Agency (FSA) will put forward options for a streamlined system of testing at its next meeting on 20 March, with a raft of novel food companies said to be “queueing up”.
The Grocer revealed in June regulatory experts were considering how to speed up approval for novel food technologies, also including insect-based food, after a major report by accountants Deloitte, commissioned by the FSA, found the move could help the UK meet its carbon reduction targets.
It recommended the FSA could allow products such as lab-grown meat to reach the market much faster by scrapping existing novel foods laws.
Plans on the table are believed to include setting up a so-called ‘cultured meat sandbox’ which would facilitate fuller dialogue between regulators and engineering biology companies on new products and bypass the usual long and drawn-out novel food approval process.
In December, the FSA announced it was bidding to win funding under a £5m scheme announced in the budget by Jeremy Hunt to establish the new regulatory sandboxes, which would enable tech pioneers to test products in a confined safe space.
Meanwhile the FSA has been considering a “radical reimagining” of the EU-inherited Novel Foods Regulatory Framework, based on ramping up consumer awareness of novel foods and having a “single front door” approach for all food safety assessments in the FSA to slash red tape.
Other countries including the US, Israel and Singapore have been rowing back on previous restrictions on the use of lab-grown meat and other novel technologies.
“This is part of the government policy more generally of promoting innovation and one of the areas that has been identified is lab-grown meat,” said a source.
“It is one of the few ways the government could demonstrate that Brexit has brought a benefit to businesses by encouraging investment in the UK by attracting startup businesses.
“There are strong suggestions new recommendations are going to be on the table when the FSA sits down in March. Something is going to shift; how big a shift is still in question.”
Katrina Anderson, associate director at Osborne Clarke and a lawyer involved in the area, said the FSA’s plans could unlock major investment in the food technology sector, if it could satisfy safety concerns.
“The uncertain timelines and lack of transparency in the existing novel foods approval process mean it is very challenging to bring innovative sustainable alternative proteins such as lab-grown meats and specific fermentation products to market in the UK,” she said.
“This is all the more the case for products requiring multiple approvals, for example if an alternative protein also needs additive or GMO approval this can make the approvals process even longer and less certain.
“A modernised, streamlined process which gives businesses seeking multiple approvals under different regulatory regimes one point of contact has the potential to unlock the potential of these innovations while maintaining food safety.”
FSA deputy director of food policy Natasha Smith said: “The FSA is committed to supporting business innovation in new markets like that of cell-cultivated products, whilst making sure food is safe and is what it says it is. Ensuring the safety of any new and innovative food product, including cell-cultivated products, is paramount, and we must balance fast paced technological advances and industry demands for rapid approval processes with protecting public health.
”We are currently considering future changes to the regulated products approval process across all regimes, and we will be discussing this reform further at our March Board meeting.
”We continue to engage with the cell-cultivated products industry to gain their insights about how to best manage applications and to set expectations about the approval process, including timelines and the type of information that applicants should provide when submitting a product dossier.”