The advent of cultivated meat has been hailed as a revolutionary development in the food industry. This innovative technology promises to address some of the most pressing issues of our time, including environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and food security. However, for this promise to be realized, customer trust is paramount. And a key pillar of this trust is robust and effective regulation.
Regulation, in this context, refers to the rules and standards set by government bodies to ensure that products are safe, of high quality, and ethically produced. It’s a system of checks and balances that protects consumers and ensures that businesses operate in a fair and transparent manner. In the case of cultivated meat, regulation plays a crucial role in building customer confidence for several reasons.
Firstly, it assures the public that the product they are consuming is safe. Cultivated meat is a novel product, produced in a way that is very different from traditional meat. It involves the use of scientific techniques to grow animal cells in a lab, without the need for raising and slaughtering animals. While this process has many advantages, it is also unfamiliar to most people. Regulation helps to alleviate any fears or concerns by ensuring that the product has been thoroughly tested and deemed safe for consumption. Secondly, regulation ensures that the product is what it claims to be. In a market where terms like ‘natural’, ‘organic’, and ‘free-range’ are often used ambiguously, regulation provides a standard definition and criteria for what constitutes ‘cultivated meat’. This prevents misleading marketing and ensures that consumers know exactly what they are buying. Thirdly, regulation promotes fairness and competition in the market. By setting a ‘level playing field’ of standards that all producers must meet, it prevents any one company from cutting corners or using unethical practices to gain an advantage. This not only protects consumers but also encourages innovation and quality in the industry.
While regulation is crucial for ensuring safety and building trust, it’s important to note that an overly stringent regulatory environment can also have its drawbacks. Leonie Jahn, co-founder of MATR Foods, a company producing plant-based meat alternatives, has described the novel foods regulation as a ‘huge hurdle’. The approval process in Europe, she argues, is highly limiting in terms of what can be done, how quickly it can be done, and how viable the business plan is. This is particularly challenging for universities and startups, which often struggle to secure the necessary funding for the required toxicological studies. Moreover, the stringent regulation can inadvertently stifle innovation. Staffan Hillberg, chairman of Millow, a company making a meat analogue from mycelium and oats, points out that the novel foods process is time-consuming and expensive. As a result, his company has chosen to use mycelium strains that are not classified as novel foods, despite the fact that there are potentially millions of unexplored fungal strains that could offer exciting opportunities for innovation in terms of taste, color, texture, and nutritional qualities.
Deloitte has proposed a new approach to regulation that could address some of these challenges. They call it “collaborative regulation“. This approach recognizes that in a rapidly changing technological landscape, traditional regulatory approaches may not be sufficient. Instead, they advocate for a more dynamic, flexible, and collaborative approach to regulation. Collaborative regulation involves a shift from a purely compliance-based approach to one that is more proactive and involves ongoing dialogue and cooperation between regulators, industry, and other stakeholders. It’s about creating a regulatory environment that is not only protective, but also enabling. This means that rather than simply enforcing rules, regulators work alongside businesses to understand emerging technologies, identify potential risks, and develop appropriate regulatory responses.
In the context of cultivated meat, this could involve regulators working closely with producers to understand the science and technology behind their products, and to develop standards and guidelines that ensure safety and authenticity while also fostering innovation. It could also involve greater transparency and public engagement, to ensure that the regulatory process is not only robust but also trusted by consumers. It’s a vision of regulation that is not about stifling business, but about enabling it to thrive in a way that is safe, ethical, and sustainable.
As we have seen, in the long term, regulation is key to creating a sustainable market for cultivated meat. It provides the stability and predictability that businesses need to invest and grow. It also fosters public trust, which is crucial for consumer acceptance and widespread adoption of this new product. Without regulation, there is a risk that incidents of poor quality or safety could undermine the entire industry.