Bolstering biotech: World Economic Forum pushes for easing of lab-grown meat regulations
24 Jan 2023 --- The World Economic Forum (WEF) stresses that the two biggest challenges of our time can be tackled with biotech. The goal is to feed the growing human population with nutritious foods and, at the same time, combat climate change.
“We are already seeing the devastating impacts of climate change, and it will prove fatal to ignore the available solutions like those offered by biotechnology. The decisions we make now, whether through policy-making, business, or in society at large, will drastically impact our future and the world in which we live. It will not be easy, but we must try much harder,” the WEF says.
A third of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the current global food systems, making it impossible to feed the world’s eight billion people with nutritious and sustainable diets. The WEF says that the potential of biotechnology to deliver green transition is yet to be realized.
NutritionInsight speaks with John Clinkenbeard, COO at Roslin Technologies, the food and agri-tech company based in Edinburgh, Scotland, which produces lab-grown meat from animal cells without raising animals.
“To make cultivated meat safe, nutritious and affordable, the production process needs to start with high-quality starter cells, and we believe the sector is in strong need of better cells,” says Clinkenbeard.
As the human population grows, so too does the food system imbalance. As explained by the WEF, the lack of balance is “straining the planetary boundaries further and putting even more people at risk of lacking access to safe and nutritious food, which in many cases will lead to fatal malnourishment.”
Besides access, our food choices also play a significant role, as dietary choices lead to a mismatch between land resources, nutritional preferences for livestock-based foods, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Biotechnology and food
In transforming the economy and food systems, biotech has previously focused on offering farmers sustainable alternatives to chemical pesticides and alternative food waste reduction. Currently, plant-based protein is the main alternative to animal-based diets.
The WEF highlights a few industry players contributing to the improved food system. One of them is Novozymes, the Danish-based biotech company that produces sustainable nutrition through food, beverages and plant-based solutions.
Novozymes merged with Christian Hansen to “show the world the true power of bio-solutions,” Ester Baiget, CEO of Novozymes, previously said.Last month,
“By making our cells available to producers globally, we help accelerate the development of the cultivated meat sector through a high-margin and capital-efficient business model,” says Clinkenbeard.
They further detail BIOMILQ, an American start-up that developed the first cultivated infant formula with cells from mammary cells.
“If we replace meat-based proteins with alternative proteins, we can drastically reduce global warming, water use and land use by over 80% in Europe alone,” says the WEF.
The Dubai Future Foundation also praised lab-grown meat for environmental sustainability and food insecurity. Futurists said that cell-based nutrition might be the answer to improved planetary and human health.
The road ahead
The process of harnessing the potential of biotechnology has progressed differently across regions.
Following the example of Singapore – the first country worldwide to introduce lab-grown meat for consumption – the US Food and Drug Administration recently approved chicken-based cultivated meat for human consumption to “pave the way for a new environmentally friendly diet.”
Meanwhile, Europe is a few years behind. Although public and private investments in Europe have driven research and innovation to discover solutions to accelerate the transition toward a green agri-food system, the WEF says that “scientific discoveries often get lost in translation due to obstacles that prevent innovations from leaving the lab and reaching the market in time.”
One example is meat alternatives. As the interest in such products grows among the public, the authorization process for the products to enter the market needs to be faster. The slow process has stopped European companies from applying for approval for cultivated meat products.
“Food systems are always transforming. For cultivated meat, the production economics need to reach a point that a cost parity is reached with traditional meat production, and a significant amount of investment in production infrastructure (production plants) is still required,” details Clinkenbeard.
“If we were to take an example of when a significant amount of the world’s population can start eating cultivated meat, say when 1% of the world’s meat market has moved to cultivated, it’s likely to be 10-15 years from today,” details Clinkenbeard.
How can we go about it?
The WEF stresses the need for policy changes and funding for research and innovation, as well as the need to implement a more negligible risk on investments in new technologies and to reduce the time for the products to enter the market. Lastly, the organization says that the utilization of biotech applications must be incentivized throughout the entire agri-food value chain through measures such as the introduction of carbon pricing.
Clinkenbeard also highlights the need for investments and incentive creation and adds that “governments can also subside and incentivize more sustainable production methods to put the whole food system on a more sustainable path.”
“Without a high level of ambition and trust in science, we will not be able to achieve our European and international climate objectives, which will have dire consequences for people and the planet,” the WEF concludes.
By Beatrice Wihlander
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