food technology farm research greenhouse

“If NPD isn’t affordable, relevant and sustainable, it won’t last long in the current market,” said Alexandra Hayes of food and drink consultancy Harris & Hayes in The Grocer last month.

Affordable, relevant, and sustainable: three words I live by as CEO of an innovative start-up providing a fermentation platform. My team and I use these as our reference point, and as a recipe for success.

As a developer of food ingredients using fermented fungi proteins, we chose the Netherlands as our home base because Europe, including the UK, has been proactive in its approach to novel foods. It has authorised a range of novel food products over the years, including insects, algae-based products, and new sources of protein. At the same time, it has always been at the forefront of food safety regulations and standards.

All good, one would say, but there are two sides to this. Under current EU and UK regulations, our product is a novel food and as such has to undergo a long and complicated approval process before we can even think about going to market.

While we absolutely understand and support the need for safe and healthy food, there is an urgent need to simplify and speed up the authorisation process. Novel food technologies demand that we adapt our approach to accommodate and facilitate these becoming available, acceptable, and affordable. This will help to promote innovation and diversity in the food industry and contribute to feeding a growing world population.

Contributing to future-proof, nutritious and sustainable foods is a road to be travelled in good company. We are fortunate to be part of a growing community of smart, ground-breaking, innovative companies in the food and beverage space, supported by forward-looking investors. It gives me hope and courage in the belief that innovation in food plays an essential part in addressing many of the worldwide challenges we are facing.

And while looking at so many great initiatives, it pains me to see the enthusiasm and hard work is often not matched in our regulatory perspective. Not in the EU nor the UK. Food writer Anthony Warner deserves recognition for his recent article in The Grocer, in which he stated clearly the barriers faced by companies active in the innovative field of food when trying to file their dossiers at the EFSA or the FSA.

As a start-up, we know and accept we usually have to jump through hoops when developing new technologies. It’s all part of the process. However, when hearing our governments talk about the importance of battling climate change and stimulating the economy on one hand, and experiencing the lengthy and untransparent approval process and route to market on the other, the contrast couldn’t be greater.

It makes me wonder whether any of this is reaching the decision-makers in the EU and UK. Are they truly aware of how important sustainable food innovation is for tackling climate change and achieving a sustainable future?

Whilst I bang the drum, those of us in start and scale-up technologies recognise that being active in this space means travelling the road less travelled, and finding solutions for the issues we encounter. With several companies pioneering fungi fermentation, we formed a new, global trade association a few months ago: the Fungi Protein Association (FPA). It represents the interests of its member companies, including advocating fungi protein in public policy.

We already represent more than 25 companies across the globe of all shapes and sizes. We have united to inform, influence, and further innovate as we do our utmost to provide solutions to speed up the system and keep pace with technology development and advances.

Besides inspiring and disrupting the traditional food industry, we wish to shine a light on the regulatory challenges and together push boundaries to accelerate this food transition and remove unnecessary barriers to trade.

Let us think more creatively and look ahead. We can look to overseas, where regulatory agencies in the US and Singapore enable a route to market taking 12 to 14 months. We in Europe are looking at two to four years. Let’s look at what food innovations have to offer: a crucial future-proof contribution to feeding a growing population in a healthy and sustainable manner.