Dear Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Fund the Future of Food!
We're calling for a moonshot investment into a rapid protein transition to make the United Kingdom a world leader in sustainable proteins, like plant based, precision fermented and cultured meat and dairy.
Dear Prime Minister Rishi Sunak,
CC: Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Secretaries of State; Thérèse Coffey, Claire Coutinho, Kemi Badenoch, Chloe Smith, Steve Barclay, Graham Stuart.
We call on you to make a £1 billion ‘moonshot’ investment between now and 2030 to fuel a rapid protein transition and help make the UK a world leader in the crucial technology of sustainable proteins.
We are standing on the cusp of a technological revolution, a food revolution unprecedented since the dawn of farming thousands of years ago. This revolution, led by the rapidly evolving sector of animal-free protein production leaves us, post-Brexit, with a choice: to invest now and reap the benefits, or to dither and delay whilst the rest of the world takes the lead.
Agriculture today is the largest single cause of biodiversity loss and emits up to a third of all greenhouse gases - more than all our cars, planes and ships put together. Most of the damage is caused by livestock farming; feed and pastures for beef and lamb covers 70% of the landmass of the UK - almost five times the area of woodland. Meanwhile war, climate shocks and supply chain vulnerabilities are driving food shortages that imperil our food security.
The crises caused by our diets seem insurmountable. But are they really? Just as clean energy sources are quickly coming to replace fossil fuels, sustainable protein production shows the potential to displace the most harmful forms of animal agriculture at a speed and scale previously unimaginable.
Sustainable protein production includes three crucial areas of innovation: precision fermentation (an advanced form of brewing in which microflora are used to produce the individual proteins and fats found in animal products), cultivated meat (a method in which animal cells are scaled up in a bioreactor to produce real animal tissues) and plant-based foods (which includes everything from whole-food beans and pulses to plant milks and plant-based burgers, sausages and steaks).
Of these, precision fermentation shows particular promise but has received the least attention. In this field, food innovators have now perfected the ancient process of brewing to do something remarkable: produce proteins that are biologically identical to those we find in traditional meat and dairy. By partnering with the microscopic world, precision fermentation companies here in the UK now have the technical ability to make animal-free cheese that melts, smells and tastes just like the cheese we eat today. Meanwhile beyond these shores precision fermentation ice cream, egg whites, ‘bleeding’ burgers and more are already reaching the market. Most importantly, precision fermentation is already proven at a global scale, producing 99% of global insulin, over 80% of global rennet and the vast majority of the world’s citric acid.
If done equitably and as part of a wider systemic transformation of our food system (including correcting market signals, supporting other sustainability efforts and addressing demand side interventions) the environmental and socioeconomic benefits of the protein transition are enormous. The environmental and socioeconomic benefits of the protein transition are enormous. Moving to sustainable proteins could reduce the climate impacts of meat by up to 92% and investments in the sector offer the greatest decarbonisation potential of any industry per dollar of capital invested - greater even than direct investments in clean power. Ecologically, by freeing up vast areas of land from livestock farming the transition will allow for an unprecedented scale of nature restoration that can help bring back vital habitats and draw down further carbon.
Economically, a fully deployed sustainable protein sector could bring $1.1trillion in gross value added and create up to 9.8m green jobs worldwide by 2050. These green jobs will also importantly include opportunities for farmers, not only in the production of plant-based ingredients and feed stocks but also in increased Ecosystem Services Payments for carbon sequestered on rewilded land.
But of all these benefits, the greatest of all is sustainable proteins' unrivalled resilience to the shocks and instability of our current food system’s fragile supply chains. It is surely for this reason alone that the rest of the world is rapidly moving ahead. Pioneering nations such as Singapore, Canada, the USA, Israel, Japan and China are now leading the world in supporting the R&D and commercialisation of sustainable proteins while urgently improving their regulatory, tax and labelling landscapes to help them enter the market. In the USA, precision fermentation ice cream and milk are now available to consumers, while in Singapore cultivated meat is already on the market.
But here in Britain, despite the promise of increased post-Brexit ambition, we are being left behind. A recent UKRI investment of £12 million to create an alternative protein research hub is laudable, but pales into insignificance in the face of an equivalent €177 million investment made by Denmark, a country whose population is 11 times smaller than ours. In recent decades, Britons have watched with dismay as other parts of the world took the lead with internet and information services, AI and a host of other high-tech industries, so we cannot sit by and watch it happen with our food. The protein revolution will happen with or without the UK. The only question now is whether we will proudly help steer this transformation, or are passive bystanders. With others already leading the race, this is now a pressing matter of fundamental food security.
This is why we the undersigned are calling on you to commit to an immediate investment of at least £1bn by 2030 and to collaborate with the EU to turbocharge the commercialisation of a British sustainable protein industry situated in a wider European hub of innovation. This figure, though ambitious, represents less than 5% of the £22bn committed under the UK Infrastructure Bank’s new plan to tackle the climate crisis and reflects the fact that sustainable food technologies must be taken as seriously as other crucial climate technologies such as wind and solar. With such a public led investment, we can also ensure that the benefits of the sustainable protein transition are widely shared in an open-source manner and are not captured entirely by private sector corporations.
We believe that this measure, alongside much needed regulatory, tax and labelling refinements, will make the food revolution unstoppable, and make nutritious and affordable diets accessible to all, while unlocking profound ecological, climate and economic benefits. It’s time to rediscover our British spirit of innovation and enterprise. It’s time for Britain to lead the food revolution.
Supporting our open letter
We are proud to have garnered support from leading organizations, academics and thought leaders who share our vision of a sustainable protein future. Their dedication and expertise validate the importance of this cause. Join us and add your voice to the growing movement.
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