Lab grown meat an ‘opportunity’ not a threat for Welsh farmers amid calls to eat less meat

Following recommendations by the Climate Change Committee and the Welsh Government to eat less meat and dairy products, a cellular meat company in Carmarthenshire say they offer an "opportunity" not a threat to Welsh farmers.

Illtud Dunsford and his co-founder Professor Marianne Ellis set up Cellular Agriculture Limited, the first company in the cultured meat space in the UK, in 2016. 

The company designs technology that can produce cultured protein in a factory setting at the price parity of traditional meat.

Illtud told S4C Hansh’s GRID that the inspiration for the lab-grown meat venture came from his previous business.

“My previous business which was a meat processing business, a relatively high end business supplying some of the London food halls.

"The basis of that was really to do with quality and to do with the ethical sourcing of the meat products that we used, but I realised that there was only so much that we could do within that business, and we couldn’t provide access to everyone to good quality protein.

"When I came across this technology and met my cofounder it was quite transformative to understand that there was technology that could produce the part of the animal that people want to consume, but at a significantly reduced impact to the environment.”

What is cultured meat?

A lab-grown meat burger made from Cultured Beef Credit: PA IMAGES

Cultured or lab-grown meat is when a cell is taken from an animal and fed as opposed to the animal itself. It is a form of cellular agriculture. Cultured meat is produced using tissue engineering techniques traditionally used in regenerative medicines.

“The significant reductions that we see in comparison to traditional meats, and especially in beef are a reduction of 90% in greenhouse gas emissions, and 90% in land use, and a significantly similar reduction in water use as well," Illtud continued.

According to the United Nations, almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and other related land use. The UN estimates it makes up more than 14% of all man-made greenhouse gases globally, including methane. 

However, Illtud, who comes from a farming background, says this new technology doesn't intend to replace existing agriculture here in Wales.

“In terms of this industry, when I came to it I had the same initial reservations as anyone would for something that’s new.

"But, what I understood was there are potential opportunities within this industry for the agriculture industry, potential to produce cells, as a feedstock industry, produce nutrients to feed those cells, but also the additional benefits of the reduction in the number of stock intensity on the land and that has the additional effect then in soil erosion, and an increase in biodiversity.” 

The Welsh Government's net-zero plan recommends substantially increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and decreasing meat and dairy usage by 20% by 2030.

Ty Mawr Llan has been farmed by Gerallt Hughes and his family for more than 30 years. Credit: S4C Grid

Gerallt Hughes farms around 200 cows and 1200 ewes on Ty Mawr Llan farm in Anglesey and says he’s frustrated by the Welsh Government plan.

Mr Hughes said: “The message that I would like to see out there is that we would like to see people eating less processed meat, and see them eating meat of good quality, local meat that hasn’t travelled far, that’s been produced sustainably here in Wales, and I think that’s the message the government should be saying rather than saying that they want people to eat less meat generally. It’s certainly not a useful message.”

When asked about the future of farming, Gerallt said: “Traditional farming is not threatened in the short term.

“There are going to be changes, that’s for certain… But synthetic meat might run in parallel.

“What Illtud is doing is never going to replace the tukey on the table on Christmas day, or the leg of lamb on Easter.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We want the people of Wales to have a healthy balanced diet including some protein from meat, fish and eggs, and plant-based sources such as beans and pulses.

"When we do eat meat we would encourage people to buy local, high quality produce.

"Our climate is better suited than many other parts of the world to producing sustainable and high quality red meat and we encourage everyone to consider the positive impacts of eating locally sourced food.”