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

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

Although 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, it is some way from being mainstream or readily available.

Cultured meat, researchers report, 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.

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

“Although 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,” added Professor Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU). “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 StrategicPriorities 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?”

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