Food Technology Needs A Regulatory Revolution

By Russ Tucker, Technology and Public Policy 2022

Our global food system is more fragile than we might think. Many of us have enjoyed a boom of eating what we want, when we want it, and are only now starting to face the consequences. After energy, food is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, yet it took 27 COP meetings for it to feature on the main agenda of the conference. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has alerted us to the risk of zoonotic disease, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the risks and rewards of an international supply chain.

The good news is that new technologies, such as precision fermentation and cultivated meat, provide an exciting opportunity to address these challenges while boosting global growth and creating jobs.

For these products to hit the shelves, they need to be regulated. Yet global food regulation is playing catch-up and currently frustrates economic growth, acting as a cost-and-time sink for industry and regulators. But with some simple changes to the regulatory system, countries can unlock the potential of the fledgling novel-food industry while maintaining high safety standards. The introduction of a system for provisional approval, allowing companies to manufacture and sell limited quantities, can provide the regulatory kickstart that the industry needs. Here’s what needs to happen:

  1. Design and implement a provisional novel-food authorisation (pNFA) process.
  2. Carve out a team at the regulator dedicated to pNFAs, providing expert upfront guidance and ongoing support to food-tech companies as they prepare their pNFA submissions.
  3. Target timelines of three months to review and decide on a pNFA submission, providing either approval or feedback that allow food-tech companies to make progress.
  4. Prioritise pNFA applications based upon their potential to contribute to net-zero targets, in line with government policy and regulator strategy.

Countries that embrace novel foods can expect an economic boost. And those that ignore the opportunity should expect an exodus, as companies shift operations to more favourable environments. In some cases, the exodus has already started.

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