Principal Investigator: Professor MacMillan, Royal Agricultural University
This research will critically assess the potential impact of cultured meat on UK agriculture, a technology with possibly profound and uncertain implications for the future of food and farming.
Also known as ‘clean’, ‘cell-based’ and ‘cultivated’ meat, cultured meat is engineered animal tissue intended for people to eat. It is a type of alternative protein. Alternative proteins are strategically important to UK and global food systems because they can:
- use less land and water than livestock products
- lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
- cut antibiotic use and the risk of new zoonotic diseases
- help promote animal welfare.
Early data suggest that cultured meats could yield such benefits but may struggle to compete with other meat alternatives on energy efficiency and cost. They are important because they could substitute more directly for livestock meat than other alternatives. They are also at an earlier stage of development, which means they are more open to influence by policy-makers and investors.
While cultured meat is potentially transformative, its benefits remain speculative. It also brings risks in nutrition, food fraud and food safety. Technical, regulatory, market and cultural uncertainties mean that the sector may not develop in the UK commercially, or may develop but fail to deliver public benefits.
This project focuses on how cultured meat could affect farming in the UK. This is relevant to its environmental, economic and animal welfare impact, and to public and political attitudes that will shape how it gets regulated. Cultured meat is commonly assumed to be a threat to farmers, producing food in ways that could put some out of business. However, nobody has actually looked into this in-depth, or explored these issues with farmers in the UK.
In practice, the different ways that cultured meat might develop could bring diverse risks and opportunities for farmers. The technology may create demands for new agricultural products, such as:
- cells (donor herds for cell harvesting)
- feedstock for growth media (arable, forage, sugar beet)
- feedstock for edible scaffolds (cellulose, pea, bean, soya) and current waste streams (glucose, cellulose)
In some scenarios, cultured meat might even be produced on farms, in facilities owned and operated by farmers, or could complement campaigns for ‘less and better’ meat. Alternatively, it may not reduce livestock meat consumption at all, or it may compete directly with high-welfare meat production.
This research is designed to influence how this potentially transformative technology affects the UK food system. We will work with farmers and other people who may be affected by the technology to investigate whether they can see responsible ways of developing cultured meat. We will examine what farmers currently think of cultured meat, and explore different ways the technology could develop. We will also work with farmers in a wide range of different situations to model how their businesses could get involved in or be affected by cultured meat production, and assess the environmental, social and economic consequences.
We aim to answer the following questions:
- How do UK farmers currently perceive cultured meat?
- What threats and opportunities does the development of cultured meat pose to UK farm businesses in different scenarios?
- Under what conditions, if any, would on-farm production of cultured meat be practical, economically viable and desirable in the UK?
In answering these questions, we will consider not only the direct effects of cultured meat on farm businesses and livelihoods, but also wider ecological, nutritional, cultural and ethical implications. We will also examine how cultured meat might complement or conflict with the ways land use and diets in the UK could change to become sustainable.This research will critically assess the potential impact of cultured meat on UK agriculture.