Wanted: farmers to help identify the winners and losers of cultured meat

26 June 2023

A team led by the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), which is looking to understand how cultured meat could impact UK agriculture, is appealing to farmers who might be able to help build a clearer picture of the risks and opportunities of the controversial technology.

Cultured meat, also known as cultivated, cell-based, or lab-grown meat, is a type of meat substitute which has attracted interest from investors because of its potential to have the same taste and texture as conventional meat, and thereby appeal to committed carnivores. 

The UKRI funded team of farmers, researchers, and start-ups has identified the types of farm which are most likely to be affected and are now looking for farmers who might be interested in playing a funded part in help identify the winners and losers.

Professor Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy & Strategy at the RAU, who is leading the project, said: “Around the world, decisions are being made about whether cultured meat will reach our dinner tables. In the US it has been cleared for human consumption while the Italian government has proposed banning it.

“Decisions will need to be made in the UK too and it is critical that, when they are, we consider how it might impact farmers. Right now, we just don’t know who will be affected or how. This project intends to map out who the winners and the losers might be and gives farmers an opportunity to have their voice heard in the debate.”

Despite reams of research into the health, environmental, and economic impacts of cultured meat, few have asked how it might impact farmers. Cultured Meat & Farmers is a two-year study looking to redress this by finding out what farmers really think of cultured meat and how it could affect UK farm businesses.

The team has already held focus groups with famers across the UK where concerns were raised not only about how the technology could displace livestock farming, with the risk that carcase imbalances could amplify this effect, but also about its wider effects on nutrition, health, and corporate power in the food industry.

Some saw opportunities, ranging from strengthening the proposition for grass-fed meat, to supplying high-value inputs or even the possibility of producing cultured meat on-farm.

Dr Lisa Morgans, Senior Lecturer in Animal Health & Welfare at the RAU who led the focus groups, said: “The next phase of the research involves working with farms of the types most likely to be affected, for better or worse, to give us a picture of the impact cultured meat could have on UK farming. The findings will be used to advise on policies affecting this fast-growing industry.”

The team is keen to partner with farms that falls into each of the following categories:

  • pig
  • poultry
  • conventional beef or lamb – particularly hill farms
  • pasture fed or organic livestock
  • rare breed livestock
  • dairy
  • fruit or vegetables
  • arable
  • protein growers eg. peas, beans, quinoa
  • and a farm with an on-farm food processing or brewing enterprise.

Dr Morgans added: “Any farmers who partner with us will be recompensed for their time and the findings could provide valuable business insights that could help them adapt or innovate in response to this and other emerging issues.”

Illtud Dunsford, part of the project team and CEO of Cellular Agriculture Ltd, is interested in the opportunity of establishing a cultured meat business on his own farm. He said: “I have long considered cultured meat as an evolution of agriculture, part of the 5th innovation era for the industry. The reason I wanted to take part in this project was partly to demonstrate what is possible.

“Cultured meat presents opportunities that many farmers might not be aware of, growing it requires a starting population of cells and feedstocks to produce scaffold and the nutrient rich media to feed the cells, all of which could potentially be sourced from farms.

“If we are going to produce cultured meat in the UK, I want farmers to see the benefits, to be invested in the process, and for policy makers to be armed with research like this so they can make that happen.”

If you are a farmer who would be interested in taking part in this project, please email Dr Morgans at Lisa.Morgans@rau.ac.uk.