26 May 2022

Cultured meat - a threat or an opportunity for UK farmers?

Scientists from the University of Sheffield are teaming up with agricultural experts and farming groups to test whether cultured meat is a threat or an opportunity for UK farmers.

Lab grown meat in a petri dish
  • Cultured meat - also known as lab-grown meat - is assumed to pose a threat to farmers, but a new study is investigating whether it could be an opportunity for them to thrive
  • The UKRI funded project will seek to uncover whether cultured meat will reduce meat production in the future, and if so what meats it will affect most severely and how this will impact farmers
  • Experts are looking to speak to farmers about their thoughts on cultured meat, and are working with a range of organisations to see what the future might hold for the new technology

Unlike other kinds of alternative protein, cultured meat - also known as cultivated, cell-based, or lab-grown, is not yet mainstream or readily available. However, cultured meat technology has gained interest from investors because of its potential to have the same taste and texture as conventional meat without the same environmental impact

Cultured meat is assumed to pose a threat to farmers. However, until now the effects it could have on farm businesses and landscapes, have not been examined. 

Some of the unanswered questions include: is cultured meat more likely to displace chicken and pork, or beef and lamb, will it reduce meat production? What agricultural ingredients does it need? Could it be craft brewed on farms one day?

Dr Alex Sexton, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography and Institute for Sustainable Food is co-leading the study, which is being spearheaded by Professor Tom MacMillan from the Royal Agricultural University (RAU). The study, which is the first of its kind, will bring together farmers, public interest groups, cultured meat businesses, environmental and social scientists to shed light on how the rise of cultured meat will affect farmers.

Dr Alex Sexton, Project co-lead and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, said: “Previous research on the impacts of cultured meat has been mostly speculative and focused on the global agricultural picture without much input from farmers. 

“We’ll take a more localised approach to explore what cultured meat could mean for a range of real-life agricultural businesses. We want to hear from farmers across the UK who are interested in being involved.”

Professor Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), said: “While eating less meat overall is a crucial step in tackling climate change, how we go about it makes a huge difference to the impact on farmers. Whether cultured meat goes mainstream is one of many factors at play. 

“This research is about working with farmers to investigate the threats and opportunities that the technology poses to them, as well as the environmental and health impacts. It is still at a stage where the findings can shape investment and policy and how this turns out.”

The project has recently been awarded funding by UK Research and Innovation as part of its Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund Programme. The team is now recruiting a Research Manager to coordinate the study (details at www.rau.ac.uk/about-us/jobs). 

Project partner Illtud Dunsford, CEO of Cellular Agriculture Ltd and a farmer himself, said: “The cultured meat industry is still taking shape. It’s yet to be seen what role agricultural products will have to play in the long-term future of this nascent industry and that’s something we aim to find out. While farmers and cultured meat businesses are seen as rivals, could they help to feed the world sustainably by working together?”


Notes to editors:

The project has been developed with farming organisations, cultured meat businesses, food companies, charities and government, who will continue advising the research. They include LEAF, Soil Association, Innovation for Agriculture, Cellular Agriculture, Aleph Farms, Multus Biotechnology, Sainsbury’s, Campden BRI, Food, Farming & Countryside Commission, ProVeg International, Green Alliance, RSPCA, Breakthrough Institute, Good Food Institute Europe, New Harvest. 

The team brings together scientists and social researchers from the Royal Agricultural University, University of Sheffield, Cellular Agriculture, University of Reading, University of Lincoln, Cranfield University, and Engineering Solutions, with experts from University of Bath, University of Oxford, and University of Colorado Boulder also advising.

The project will start in September 2022 and run for two years. The team is currently seeking a Research Manager to coordinate the initiative. Details are available at www.rau.ac.uk/about-us/jobs.

The project is one of 11 projects awarded funding under Government’s Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) programme. Details of the projects are available at https://www.ukri.org/news/healthy-food-healthy-people-healthy-planet/.