Research into UK farmers’ attitudes towards cell-based meat, led by a team from the University of Lincoln and Royal Agricultural University (RAU), and published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, reports the views of UK farmers on the emerging technology.
The farmers also discussed public health effects of the new technology, how it could lead to consolidation of power in the food system, and how it might affect rural life.
In a statement, the University of Lincoln said: “While there have been many academic papers about the opportunities for cultured meat, very little work has been undertaken to ask how it might affect farming”.
Now, a team of farmers, researchers and start-ups – funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council – are working together to better understand how the cell-based meat industry might affect farming.
Lisa Morgans, senior lecturer in animal health and welfare at the RAU, who led the focus group research, said: “The perspectives shared by farmers on the research so far have been critical in developing our understanding of how cultured meat could affect the farming sectors here in the UK. They have shared insights that we would not have known about, or
appreciated, without involving farmers in a meaningful way.”
She continued: “To ensure disruptive technologies like cultured meat are developed in an ethical and responsible way, it is essential that we engage with, and include, farmers in the research process.”
‘Cultured Meat & Farmers’ is a two-year study looking at farmers’ attitudes to cultured meat, the potential opportunities and risks, and how, if production is scaled up, the industry could affect UK agriculture.
The study summarises discussions with 75 farmers representing a wide range of sectors, across the four nations in the UK.
Louise Manning, from the University of Lincoln and lead author on the paper, commented: “This research is so important to consider how we ensure a just transition for farmers and food processors across the country, many of them microbusinesses, if edible protein is produced using this technology. Informing consumers about how the protein is produced, and ensuring the whole process of regulatory approval, process validation, and scale-up is transparent, is also essential to gain societal trust.”
Among the threats discussed were potential effects on health, and where the product would be pitched in the market, as either a high-value or low-value protein. A common concern was the lack of information on the technology.
A farmer who took part in the study said:
"There’s so much money being thrown at [cell-based meat] that we can’t afford to ignore it. We need to be raising all sorts of questions about things like waste products and sourcing the inputs and that sort of thing. We should be pinning them down on that now. They’re telling us this is the future; they’ve got to tell us what it means.”
Some participants saw opportunities too. One lamb and beef producer thought that marketing their produce as “the real stuff” might give them a competitive edge compared to protein produced in a bioreactor. Others could imagine new markets where farms supply plant- or animal-based raw materials for the process.
The focus group discussions have informed the next phase of the study, mapping how cell-based meat could affect different sectors within agriculture.
The team is now partnering with nine case study farms spread across the UK and representing a wide range of farming systems. Together, they will explore how each farm could respond to this new technology, for example how it could best compete, or how it could supply ingredients, or even produce cell-based meat, on a farm.
The University of Lincoln and the RAU plan to use the findings to produce a heat map of the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in future scenarios where cell-based meat is on sale in the UK. The outputs from the project will support policymakers and investors to consider the technology’s multiple impacts on farming and rural communities. These further findings are due to be published later this year.