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Will the UK become the new Singapore?

July 26, 2023

There has been so much exciting news since my previous column that it’s hard to know where to start! We have seen USDA clearance for cell-cultivated chicken to be marketed in the USA. We heard the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority say out loud at their Scientific Colloquium that they are ready and waiting for cultivated meat dossiers. And in June we saw the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK publish an executive summary highlighting the long-awaited review of its novel food framework!

For this edition, though, I just wanted to focus on the updates from the UK and what this means for the future of novel foods. Even though this is just a summary of the review performed by Deloitte, it contains some valuable insights into the potential future direction that the UK may take.

So, what are the key takeaways? Based on their research into other novel food regulatory frameworks and interviews with regulators and food businesses, they identified the following key features that make a successful framework:

• Regular outreach by regulators;

• Pre-submission advice and early engagement with applicants;

• Clear guidelines and checklists, that are updated regularly;

• Clear policy on tastings;

• Aligning food safety standards with peer nations;

• Greater transparency and publication of non-confidential dossiers;

• Clearly defined and predictable timelines.

Based on this feedback, Deloitte identified five potential models that the UK could adopt: a) The ‘No regrets’ model (cue Édith Piaf): retain key features of existing framework but remove key pain points; b) Triage-based model: retain the current approach but change the pipeline of novel food applications by assigning applications as high/medium/low risk and/or prioritizing applications based on certain criteria; c) Life-cycle-based model: Shifting to a staged approach to regulation including conditional authorization and ongoing monitoring; d) Collaborative model: Recognition of risk assessments and authorizations from other regulators; e) Innovation-centric model: Shifting to a consumer-awareness model of novel food safety.

Since leaving the EU, the UK is in a unique position to create a new and exciting regulatory environment that will foster and support novel food innovation

I am not completely sure that I understand what the purpose and benefit of models c) and e) are, but a combination of a), b) and d) would be very welcome!

But what is the reality? I expect the FSA (in consultation with the other devolved administrations) will go for the ‘No Regrets’ model, which offers easiest route to reform where policy changes can be made without making changes to the existing legislation. More fundamental changes will be difficult and take much longer to implement! Small tweaks such as offering pre-submission advice, providing updated guidance, and having more predictable timelines will already be a big improvement. But if the FSA goes for the model of offering a shorter pathway to market for novel foods that have already been risk-assessed and approved in different regions, that would be a game changer!

What are the timelines and next steps? The FSA in consultation with other stakeholders will review the options for reform and identify what makes the most sense for the UK. They are committed to building a novel food framework that will be better tailored to meet the needs of the UK and is evidence-led and safety-based, collaborative, and transparent, user-centered, efficient and future-proofed.

We have already seen the FSA in collaboration with Food Standards Scotland launch a new regulated product application portal which is designed to be more user-friendly and help applicants submit a complete application. Applicants will be able to see the progress of their application, and will also receive regular updates, via the platform. Based on the recent FSA board meeting notes, they plan to implement changes by 2026.

Since leaving the EU, the UK is in a unique position to create a new and exciting regulatory environment that will foster and support novel food innovation, with the potential to propel the UK into a food-tech powerhouse to rival Singapore. Maybe some good will come out of Brexit after all!

Dr Hannah Lester is the CEO & Principle Consultant of Atova Regulatory Consulting and also Head of Regulatory at Gourmey. This article is republished from the July/August 2023 edition of Protein Production Technology International, the industry's leading resource for alternative proteins. To subscribe to all future editions, please click here

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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