There are different ideas of what the future of food will look like, but everyone agrees on what it should provide: a food system that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day.
Ways to make food processes and production more sustainable are imperative to feed the world’s growing population. Advances in agriculture once allowed us to cater for growing civilisations but under current strains of population and prosperity growth, the world will not be able to sustain itself. The population is expected to reach well over 9 billion by 2050. (UN, 2015) The way we’re producing food has to change to not only cater to growing numbers and demand but to counter the increasingly negative impact the food industry has on the environment.
Previously I was going to look broadly at technology and our future food. However, since the first blog post I’ve streamlined my focus to look specifically at sustainable technologies in the future of food. My digital artefact will be presented as a sort of mini-series exploring some of the major innovations in food technology that will impact our future food security and sustainability. I’m still undecided on which platform to use, either WordPress, Prezi or I’ll create a website.
The three main technologies I’m exploring that contribute to a sustainable future of food are:
- Agriculture – automation and urban/vertical farming
- Lab made meats – meats that do not require livestock production
- 3D Printing of food that is sustainable and nutritious
Innovation in agriculture
Farming has been in decline for a long time. In the 30 years leading up to 2011 the number of farmers in Australia declined by 40% (over 1000,000). While the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that this is for a multitude of reasons including drought it is also because fewer young people take over family farms, leaving rural areas to explore city opportunities instead. About 3/4 of growers cannot sustain current operations, and there is an ageing workforce with a low replenishment rate. Additionally, agriculture accounts for 30% of greenhouse gases and 70% of all water withdrawals. (World Economic Forum, 2010)
Robotos and farming
Just as the introduction of heavy machinery once helped farmers meet demand, new technologies might help us meet demand in the future and robots may be able to fill the current man power shortage. Robots are being created across the world to work in farming, particularly the maintenance of crops. For example, some robots have been created that adopt a targeted approach to destroying weeds. That is, rather than spraying pesticide over an expanse of crops, robots can take the time to identify individual weeds. This is thought to be able to minimise the overall use of agricultural poisons by up to 40 per cent. (QUT, 2016)
Another innovation in sustainable farming is something known as vertical or urban farming. Urbanisation is continuing at an accelerated pace, so it makes sense to move food production closer to city centres.
With arable amounts of land becoming more limited and agriculture’s contribution to green house emissions, urbanising agriculture is revolutionary. LED lights have been created that are enough to sustain plants indoors. The world’s largest indoor farm in Japan produces 10,000 lettuce heads a day. The process is space, water and energy efficient.
Producing meat without the animal
A major issue facing food consumption is the rising concern about the production of green house gases produced by animals raised for consumption. In fact, there is evidence that livestock has had a continuing impact on climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations livestock production is ‘directly attributable’ for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the emissions generated by the entire transportation sector. (FAO, 2006)
Despite evidence that the productions of livestock for meat is damaging our planet there seems to be a steady increase in the consumption of meat. As a solution companies are attempting to create meat without the inclusion of animals. This ranges from plant-based meats to real meat grown in a lab.
Companies such as Beyond Meat have created plant-based meats by using computers to identify the individual compounds in meats that are also found in plant materials and extract them to create fake meat that mimics the texture and taste of meat to an extent.
Start-ups have created what is known as cultured or clean meat. That is, meat without the animals that has been produced using animal cells in a lab.
- Doesn’t harm animals – only uses cells from the animal to replicate muscle tissue of meats.
- Is more sustainable – produces 95% less greenhouse gases than that of an animal.
- Is safer – doesn’t have bacteria so there is no risk of things like such as salmonella, e coli.
- Take only weeks to grow, opposed to animals which can take anywhere from a few months up to over a year for larger animals.
3D Printed Food
3D printers have been used in a lot of different fields but they’ve only more recently been used in the production of food. Commercial kitchens and bakeries are already using 3D printers to save time and effort.
However, at the moment most of the food that is being commercially produced by 3D printers focuses more on the futuristic trend side of food. There has only more recently been research done into the sustainability and and nutrition that 3D printing has to offer to food.
3D printers have been used to transform alternative and more sustainable proteins that usually wouldn’t be palatable like algae, insects and grass into food people would want to eat. (Sun et al., 2015)
NASA is at the forefront when it comes to sustainable and nutritious 3D printed food. They funded a study into printing high-nutrient and long-lasting food that can be used for longer trips into space, making for more efficient space travel.
In my digital artefact I will further explore the above topics and the emerging technologies that benefit a sustainable future of food.
FAO, 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow – environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. [online] Available at: <http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm>.
Funnell, A., 2015. Robots and the future of agriculture. [online] Radio National. Available at: <http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/a-swarm-of-agbots/6968940> [Accessed 25 Apr. 2017].
Hyner, C., 2015. A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on It [online] Georgetown Environmental Law Review. Available at: <https://gelr.org/2015/10/23/a-leading-cause-of-everything-one-industry-that-is-destroying-our-planet-and-our-ability-to-thrive-on-it-georgetown-environmental-law-review/> [Accessed 25 Apr. 2017].
Sun, J., Zhou, W., Huang, D., Fuh, J. and Hong, G., 2015. An Overview of 3D Printing Technologies for Food Fabrication. Food and Bioprocess Technology, 8(8), pp.1605-1615.
UN, 2015. World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 | UN DESA | United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. [online] United Nations. Available at: <http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html> [Accessed 2 May 2017].
World Economic Forum (WEF), 2010. Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture: A Roadmap for Stakeholders. World Economic Forum, Geneva.
QUT, 2016. Agbot the robotic weed slayer. [online] Queensland University of Technology. Available at: <https://www.qut.edu.au/news/news?news-id=110921> [Accessed 2 May 2017].