Report Synopsis

On Meat: niche production, value adding, ethics and its future within cellular agriculture

Illtud Dunsford

Countries visited: UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, Italy, China, Brazil, USA.

Native livestock breeds provide the genetic building blocks of our modern developed and hybridised livestock industry but are oft sadly relegated to a second tier within commercial agriculture. Due to their slow growth and often lower yields, shorter supply chains are needed with high value-adding products to compensate and gain a sufficient margin. However, these breeds hold a value, even if it is not deemed economic. They are an intrinsic part of vernacular food culture, often forming the centre point of traditional and heritage food products, both in indigenous communities and modern society. The genetic diversity of these breeds may yet prove to be of greater value, providing the source material once more to breed efficient livestock.

The inspiration for this study arose from work undertaken as Project Manager for the Pedigree Welsh Pig Society, which included feed trials with Harper Adams University, a series of taste panels, DNA mapping of the breed with Aberystwyth University and an EU Protected Food Name application for Traditionally Reared Pedigree Welsh Pork. The work on the project was intertwined with our own farm diversification charcuterie business, Charcutier Ltd. Our long term goal has always been the production of high value, air dried hams in the Southern European tradition. Understanding the specifics of breed and husbandry to that purpose was also a key driver for the study.

The itinerary of travel centred largely around major international conferences spreading a wide gamut of specialisations within the livestock and meat industry. Native pig breeds across Europe, North America and Asia were reviewed both on-farm but also through researching industrial processing, the production of traditional products, niche value adding and through the tasting of produce. Though super-niche products were to be the focus initially, the management of waste and the profitability of waste also became a key focus area, specifically looking at the use of blood, fat, skin and bone in food production.

Unbeknownst to me, the remit of my study would spread wider, pushing the boundaries of my initial scope to include the new field of cellular agriculture. Opportunities emerging from bio-medicine and the use of bio technologies for the production of food, specifically cultured meat would provide a new focus and would substantially change the course of my final visits.

Food security, and the drive for increased food production by 2050 also became a central focus to my study. Looking to understand the multifaceted range of food production I visited many businesses that lay outside of my own field, taking the opportunity to visit South America to see soya and beef production. It was to be a transformative experience which made me challenge my personal views. Climate change, food waste and the ethical choices that we make in the consumption of food became the clear message of this trip. They had a huge role to play in the lifestyle choices I have made since completing my Nuffield Farming journey, and in the future choices that I have in our own business and our new bio-tech startup Cellular Agriculture Ltd.

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