farming

Uncertainties remain about exactly how cultured meat will be produced at scale, what the impact on environment and society will be.

Law, sociology and biochemical engineering experts have joined forces to assess the risks and impact of cultured meat, a novel alternative animal protein, as part of a major new interdisciplinary study funded by the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society with support from the Leverhulme Trust.

Cultured meat produced by growing muscle in vats has been available to buy in small quantities in Singapore since 2020 and could be available to buy in the UK soon – at least two companies have submitted applications for regulatory approval to the UK Food Standards Agency to date. There are over 100 start-up cultured meat companies active globally.

Producers hope cultured meat will be better for the environment, health and animals. But uncertainties remain about exactly how it will be produced at scale, what the impacts on environment and society will be, and how the sale and production should be regulated.

This pioneering interdisciplinary research project has been selected for an APEX Award (Academies Partnership in Supporting Excellence in Cross-disciplinary Research) to analyse the future of cultured meat on politics, society and law and identify risks to be mitigated if it is available for sale more widely.

This includes issues with the technical process of production such as increased costs or energy needs, waste disposal and impact on environment, threats to farming jobs and how the law can protect people when cultured meat is exported between countries.

The results will be shared with scientists, policymakers and the wider public.

Researchers will interview those from the cultured meat industry, including those from UK-based cultured meat companies, and representatives from government, policy and food and the environment sector. They will also hold workshops with members of the public and potential consumers and cultured meat producers.

Researchers involved in the project are Dr Neil Stephens, associate professor in science and technology studies from the University of Birmingham; Dr Petra Hanga, lecturer in biochemical engineering from UCL; and Dr Mariela de Amstalden, senior lecturer in law and technology from the University of Exeter Law School.