Sustainable Food Supply and Cultured Meat

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:11 am on 15th June 2022.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 11:11 am, 15th June 2022

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I politely refer him to the Government’s food strategy, published on Monday, which carefully makes the case for a healthy, sustainable and, above all, balanced diet that takes into account all the nutrients we need as the complex beings we are. Our food system is broad and complex, and the way we regulate it affects many different Government Departments. The way we talk about food is incredibly personal to the individual making food choices on a daily basis.

It is important that we as a Government do not stand here telling people what to eat but enable them to make healthy and sustainable choices. That is why it is important that we are having this debate today and looking at new forms of alternative protein that have not previously been available to us. The strategy identifies new opportunities to make the food system healthier, more sustainable, more resilient and more accessible to everybody throughout England.

I would like to give my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet the commitments about investment and regulation that he has asked for. On investment, the UK has been at the forefront of innovative protein development, and we will continue to financially support research and innovation in that area. Indeed, we are already doing so through our partnership with UK Research and Innovation, investing more than £130 million in research across the food system. We will continue to work with UKRI, industry and consumer groups to develop joint priority areas for funding, which will doubtless include alternative proteins.

On regulation, the Food Standards Agency is using the freedoms offered by Brexit to review our novel foods regulatory framework. Whenever anyone wants to put a new food on the market, they have to do so under the aegis of those regulations.

The food strategy commits the Government to developing dedicated guidance materials for those seeking approval for new protein products. A great deal of cross-Government work on alternative proteins is already taking place, with officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs collaborating with the Food Standards Agency. The Cabinet Office is taking a very close interest in this issue, and cross-Government meetings are taking place with the Department for International Trade and the Department of Health and Social Care. A group is starting to form that will take forward the regulatory basis for alternative protein development, if that becomes sensible.

It all sounds very exciting, although it is fair to say, as my right hon. Friend did, that not everyone agrees on the extent of the predicted benefits of the development of alternative proteins. However, it is clear that cultured meat presents a number of fascinating and promising opportunities for the future, and that this innovative technology may well present real economic growth potential. Though some market predictions are perhaps over-optimistic, there is clearly a willingness among private investors to invest in this exciting new industry.

There are significant challenges, specifically around scaling up the new technologies to make them commercially viable and taking steps to address any concerns about consumer acceptance. Government officials from across Whitehall will continue to work together on this matter. I am not going to tell people what to eat, but I want our consumers to be presented with a wide range of clearly labelled options. Not starting from a conclusion is a very good attitude to take towards new forms of alternative protein.

I refer all Members to the Government’s food strategy, which we published on Monday. It sets out exciting new policy ideas and a determination to support our farmers and producers to help us with our food security. It sets a goal of national production, and it also includes the new and quite brave idea of a land use strategy, which I think will address some of my right hon. Friend’s concerns about where we build, where we grow, and where we let nature thrive without growing. The most important takeaway from the strategy is that the Government are committed to supporting farmers to produce the food we need for our national food security—an issue that has rightly gone to the very top of the political agenda.

There are also exciting points in the strategy about public procurement, including the fact that we now have a 50% goal for sourcing locally, and exciting announcements about innovation and technology, which will help to address the matters that were covered in the debate. It makes important points about sustainable farming—regenerative farming, which we will hear about in the nature-friendly farmers meeting that many of us will be attending—and makes it clear that farming, the environment and nature are not exclusive, but can and must go hand in hand. In helping our farmers to produce the food we all need, we have to make sure they do so in an environmentally sensitive way.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.