On the path to net zero: 9 ways the UK can build a ‘world-beating’ sustainable protein ecosystem
Government should invest £78 million annually in research between 2025-2030 as part of its science superpower mission.
Forging a path to net zero
A new report calls for the UK government to invest £390 million in foods such as plant-based, fermentation-made and cultivated meat to help create green jobs, bolster domestic food security and turn Britain into a science superpower.
International nonprofit the Good Food Institute Europe (GFI Europe) says the government must take bolder action to develop sustainable proteins – capable of reducing climate emissions by up to 92% compared to conventional meat – on the path to net zero or risk losing momentum to other countries.
What did the report find?
- The UK’s cultivated meat sector is a growing success story, with at least 23 companies working to produce meat directly from cells. The British sector, raised more private investment last year than the rest of Europe combined.
- UK Research and Innovation, the country’s main research funding agency, has invested at least £43 million in sustainable protein R&D since 2012 – two-thirds of which has been since 2022.
- However, cultivated meat has received the most funding, while public research developing tastier and more affordable plant-based meat has so far been neglected despite the UK being the second-largest market for these foods in Europe.
- Precision fermentation – which uses organisms like yeast to produce ingredients such as real egg or dairy proteins – remains undeveloped compared to countries such as Israel and the United States.
The report states that with strong political leadership, the UK could emulate the success of other green industries by creating sustainable protein industry clusters, with regional hotspots including the north east, Yorkshire and the Cambridge-Norwich corridor.
As well as clearing the path towards net zero, this could also deliver significant economic benefits. Recent Green Alliance research found that the UK’s sustainable protein industry could be worth up to £6.8 billion annually and create 25,000 jobs by 2035.
How the government can build a world-leading UK sustainable protein industry
The report recommends that the government:
- Invests £390 million by 2030 to fund open-access research, business grants and a new sustainable protein catapult – enabling small businesses in the sector to prosper.
- Gives the Food Standards Agency (FSA) a £30 million funding boost in the 2023 Autumn Statement to boost confidence in the sector, reduce the risk of startups moving overseas due to regulatory uncertainties, and enable the FSA to fulfil its expanded post-Brexit role.
- Uses the forthcoming engineering biology action plan – focusing on the science underpinning sustainable proteins – to showcase its support for scaling up production.
- Creates a level playing field for sustainable proteins by overturning retained EU laws preventing plant-based dairy companies from using everyday language like ‘milk’ and ‘cheese’ to label and market their products.
Linus Pardoe, UK Policy Manager at the Good Food Institute Europe, said: “The UK is home to dynamic food producers, world-leading scientists and a strong plant-based market – all the tools needed to build a globally competitive sustainable protein industry capable of reducing emissions, creating green jobs and making the country less reliant on imports.
“The government promised to keep the UK at the forefront of this growing sector in last year’s food strategy, but it must act now to deliver on that ambition, including investing £390 million in research and giving the Food Standards Agency the resources it urgently needs. Failing to act risks the UK missing out on economic and environmental benefits as other countries race ahead.”