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What do UK farmers think about cultured meat?

Research Digest
Agri-TechE

What do livestock farmers think about the potential impact of cultured meat? A team, including researchers from the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology, discovered that farmers saw the opportunities offered by the new technology and wanted to explore these further.

Cultured meat, heralded as a transformative solution for sustainable agriculture, has garnered attention for its environmental and social implications. While discussions have predominantly revolved around the opportunities it presents, the voices of farmers, integral stakeholders, remain largely unheard. Until now…

The Study

A research initiative aimed at understanding UK farmers’ perspectives on cultured meat, led by a team from the University of Lincoln and Royal Agricultural University (RAU), funded by the BBSRC and published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, reveals nuanced reflections and considerations about this potentially disruptive technology.

University of Lincoln

The study engaged 75 farmers through six focus groups, representing diverse sectors and regions across the UK. Questions explored their understanding of cultured meat, potential impacts, and envisioned business scenarios. Thematic analysis was applied to transcribed discussions.

The Technology

Cultured meat is a novel production method that involves cultivating animal cells in a controlled environment. While still in the early stages of development, this technology could address environmental challenges associated with intensive livestock farming. Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing’s ‘Cultured Meat Technology’ provides a deeper explanation.

Given that cultured meat is strategically positioned as a potential replacement for traditional livestock farming, understanding farmers’ perspectives on this emerging technology is crucial. The study aims to bridge the gap between technological innovation and the agricultural sector, providing valuable insights into the sentiments and considerations of farmers who may be directly affected by the advent of cultured meat.

Their perspectives are essential in navigating the potential impact of cultured meat on established farming practices, ensuring a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to the evolving landscape of agricultural technologies.

Cultured pork meat from Uncommon
Cultivated pork from Uncommon (uncommonbio.co)

Perceived risks and unexpected insights

Farmers expressed complex views, addressing ethical, environmental, and socio-economic narratives associated with cultured meat. Reactions reflected initial scepticism, emphasising the need for clear communication on health implications, market positioning, and technological intricacies. Ethical concerns and worries about power concentration in the industry also emerged as prominent themes.

However, some farmers also revealed cautious optimism; the greatest opportunities were seen for arable farming, which the participants believed could pivot more easily toward providing cultured meat inputs. Some farmers envisioned new markets, supplying raw materials or even producing cultured meat on-farm. It was generally agreed among the participants of this study that larger-scale, single-output farms would have a greater early advantage in this transition than smaller-scale, mixed farms.

Conclusions

The report makes several recommendations:

  1. Better Representation: Farmers, as a crucial stakeholder group, should be more inclusively involved in decision-making and the technological development of cultured meat.
  2. Critical Debate: Responsible innovation in food systems necessitates a thorough debate on both the opportunities and threats posed by technologies like cultured meat to different stakeholder groups.
  3. Regulation: Specific binding legislation, voluntary codes of conduct, standards, certification, and self-regulation are essential to ensure safeguards for public health and the environment.
  4. Legislation for Standards: There is a need for legislation to ensure a level playing field regarding food and marketing standards across traditional and cell-cultured meat production.
  5. Knowledge Sharing: Facilitating knowledge sharing is crucial to inform farmers and other stakeholders about opportunities for commercial collaborations.

Next Steps

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 cultured meat, on farm.

The findings will be used to produce a heat map of the winners and losers in future scenarios where cultured meat is on sale in the UK.

Read the paper:

Manning L, Dooley JJ, Dunsford I, Goodman MK, MacMillan TC, Morgans LC, Rose DC and Sexton AE (2023) Threat or opportunity? An analysis of perceptions of cultured meat in the UK farming sector. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 7:1277511.

doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2023.1277511