UK ‘could be world leader in alternative protein but ministers must act’

The UK has the potential to lead the world in alternative protein products but the Government must act to ensure the sector grows, campaigners have said.

Analysis from environmental group Green Alliance shows that the UK alternative proteins industry could be worth £6.8bn a year and could create 25,000 jobs by 2035.

The group added that the global market is still in its infancy but could be worth £226 billion a year by 2035 – more than twice the value of the UK construction sector.

Alternative proteins can be plant-based meat alternatives, often using soya and peas, products that use protein derived from a fermentation process, or cultivated or cell-based products made from animal cells grown in a lab.

The report said the UK has several sources of competitive advantage when it comes to establishing an alternative proteins sector.

These include some of the world’s highest food quality and safety standards, significant consumer demand and a burgeoning domestic industry to build upon.

Britain is also a world leader in life sciences and agri-tech research, and has regional clusters of alternative protein production, particularly in Teesside and the golden triangle of Cambridge, Oxford and London.

Meanwhile, UK supermarkets are increasing investment, such as Tesco, which aims to triple the alternative protein products it sells by 2025 and British brand Quorn is a world leader in the fermented market.

However competitors like Denmark, the Netherlands, China and the United Arab Emirates are ahead of the UK in terms of investing in alternative protein producers.

Green Alliance said that without action, most of the products consumed in the UK will be made elsewhere, more jobs will not be established and the opportunity to set high food safety and health standards for this growing market will be gone.

The report also said land use in Britain needs to change in order to restore depleted nature and achieve net zero.

Green Alliance is calling for the UK to adopt a series of policies to grow the sector, adding that not enough has been done since the National Food Strategy recommended investing in the industry two years ago.

The group recommends the Government commit to a minimum £250 million in funding for innovation in two areas – the golden triangle and Teesside.

It has also urged the Government to support research and infrastructure to scale up production of alternative protein products.

Other policy recommendations include joining up existing institutions and tailoring regulations, including supplying the Food Standards Agency with £10 million to develop regulations suited to enabling companies to bring new alternative protein products to market swiftly.

Elsewhere, Green Alliance called on ministers to allocate funding to identify how the protein products could be made healthier than the products they replace, making sure public health is put at the heart of developing the sector.

The Government should also build on existing links between UK farmers and alternative protein companies, the environmental group said.

It also called on ministers to improve food standard agreements with the European Union, due to the risk that future regulatory divergence could undermine the commercial rationale to invest in this industry in the UK.

Cameron Witten, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance, said: “Reducing meat consumption in favour of alternative sources of protein can have substantial benefits for the climate and the natural environment.

“It’s been two years since the National Food Strategy recommended investing in this industry, capitalising on our competitive advantage.

“Supporting the research and infrastructure needed to scale up production now would give the UK the power to shape how the industry develops and maximise the benefits for the country.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “As set out in the Government food strategy, we support a thriving agri-food sector and consumer choice which includes backing our British farmers and a successful alternative protein sector.

“We have invested over £41 million on a range of projects looking to overcome technological barriers and encourage further industry investment.

“We are also looking at ways to reduce agricultural emissions from our farms, which could include modifying animal feed and feeding practices – and, in the long-term, our new farming policies will ensure we produce food sustainably while protecting and enhancing our natural environment.”