As the world’s population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs are looking for scalable scientific solutions to establish a resilient and sustainable food supply in the years to come.
John Ruff, Scientific and Technological Director at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has dedicated his career to the growing problem of global food insecurity and to assessing the role that scalable scientific solutions can play in solving this problem.
âWhile a negative light is often cast on food processing and genetically modified organisms or GMOs, for example, the food is not just good or bad,â he says. âFood processing and the use of technology help to increase food security, improve the nutritional content of foods, increase shelf life, increase agricultural production and ensure more viable crops around the world. “
Here are the top three scalable technologies for tackling food insecurity, according to Ruff.
According to the Food Waste Index report produced by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), food waste from households, retail businesses and the restaurant industry totals 931 million tonnes or an average of 74 kg per capita each year. More than half of this waste occurs at the household level, but 26% comes from restaurants and 13% from retail, meaning that there are production measures that can be put in place to significantly mitigate food losses. One of the most effective measures to reduce food waste is recycling, or the act of buying and processing ingredients that otherwise would not have been consumed.
âReducing food waste along the supply chain will dramatically improve our need to produce more food and mitigate the damaging effects of food waste,â said Ruff. âThere is a very real potential for reducing waste in developing countries at the farm level, using existing technologies to create value-added products, which can increase smallholder incomes and reduce poverty. And we’ve seen examples of the use of upcycling to create value-added food products in the United States, like the use of brewers’ grains, which were previously discarded, to make protein bars and flour.
Plant and cellular protein
In 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) forecast that global demand for meat would reach 455 million metric tonnes by 2050, up 76% from 2005. This is very problematic given that factory farming of animals inflicts negative externalities on public health, animal welfare and the environment, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable land use and loss of biodiversity; and unsustainable use of water.
Plant-based alternatives to meat proteins and cell-based meat growth in laboratories provide an opportunity to overcome these negative externalities. An estimate from consulting firm Kearney suggests that 35% of all meat consumed globally will be cultivated by 2040, while the alternative protein market is expected to exceed $ 9 billion by 2026.
âRecent scientific investments in plant and cellular proteins are essential to meet the growing global demand for protein and prevent the environmental impacts of greenhouse gases associated with increased meat production,â says Russ. âPlant-based alternatives are not new, but advances in palatability are stimulating testing and consumption; other research aims to improve nutritional quality. Although at an earlier stage of commercialization, cellular protein is beginning to enter the market and work is underway to optimize quality and reduce energy requirements.
While there is evidence needed to prove cellular proteins are taking off, Israel-based ‘lab grown’ meat start-up Future Meat Technologies (FMT) recently opened a pilot facility to produce 5,000 burgers per day. , and NestlÃ© is said to be in talks with the company to add its cultured meat to its product portfolio. Impossible foods
Digitization of the supply chain
The pandemic has raised awareness in food production more than ever, exposing inefficiencies that have plagued the industry for decades, leading to structural inequalities and exacerbating global food insecurity. The advent of the digitization of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data across the entire food supply network offers opportunities to transform the entire supply chain, with the potential to overcome logistics challenges , improve freshness, improve food safety and security, and improve the overall customer experience.
âUsing artificial intelligence to analyze and interpret Internet of Things (IoT) data and sensors improve the safety and nutritional consistency of food products and also reduce waste,â says Russ. âHigh-speed internet can capture data on production and transportation levels to enhance both the efficiency and resilience of the food supply chain. “
The time has come to transform the way we grow, produce, distribute and consume food and with the rapid growth of the world population, increasing consumer demand, rising food prices and with the negative impact that l As industrial agriculture has on the environment, true transformation is unlikely to be possible without technologies that can lead to improvements in scale, quality, resilience and accessibility to food.