WITH food production and processing going through its biggest change since the industrial revolution, what can we expect our food to look like in the future? Some of these advances will be to the product we eat, some will be to the packing the product comes in and some will not be so obvious, but will be major changes to the way food is produced.
Here are some future casting predictions to watch out for:
New protein sources
Protein is the new black. We are likely to see an increasing diversity of animal protein snacks (not just jerky). Other protein sources are likely to come online: Insect protein; Protein rich plant products (e.g. quinoa); and, Protein grown from animal cell lab cultures, or in vitro meat (several new companies have been established in California); all of which are also potentially healthier and more environmentally friendly than traditional animal protein
Driving forces – growing global middle class demanding a higher protein diet.
Technological advances – laboratory tissue engineering techniques
Mind your microbiome
We will see more supplements, not just yoghurts, that aim to fine tune our resident bacteria, otherwise known as the microbiome. Potential health improvements include weight loss, mental health improvement and allergy reduction.
Driving forces – recent advances in understanding that our gut microbes are intrinsically liked to our health
Technological advances – capacity to analyse and manipulate our gut microbiome.
We have seen new food crops such as chia and quinoa come into our diets. The diversity of foods is also likely to increase in the future, and new overseas and Australian native foods, some of which are naturally very high in vitamins and antioxidants (e.g. Kakadu plum). We are also likely to see new ‘healthier’ varieties of existing foods bred for specific health functions. For example new lutein-rich wheat strains that can help prevent blindness.
Driving forces – improved dietary and health understanding
Technological advances – ability to edit plant gene to improve crops
We have only just scratched the surface of food printing. The Cube in McLaren Vale sports the first restaurant-grade food printer in SA, but we are likely to see this technology used more and more for a range of large-scale food preparation activities, including ready meals, airline meals, baby food and food for the elderly.
Driving forces – consumer demand for innovation and convenience.
Technological advances – 3D printing technology using a range of edible materials
Food is big business – to prevent food fraud and secure future food supply it will be increasingly important to know the origin of food.
Driving force – consumers are increasingly wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and eat ethically. Eating locally and sustainable is a growing trend.
Technological advances – digital blockchain, to track products along supply chains. DNA, chemical and biomarkers, which can be analysed to determine the species of animal or plant in a product (e.g. tuna not dolphin), the origin (Australia not China) and also food safety status (e.g. good to eat for another 10 days).
Packaging is essential for food safety and transport through the supply chain. However, we are likely to see a range of plastic-replacement packaging made from materials such as starch or carbon which can protect food but are easily biodegraded or recycled.
Driving force – plastics are the new hate symbol of the 21st century. A move away from plastic packaging is inevitable and urgently needed,
Technological advances – biochemical and chemical engineering.
Reduced food waste
Australia currently wastes about 40% of the food it produces. Whilst in-date food waste goes to food charities like Food Bank and Ozharvest there are other options. Food waste can be transformed into a range of useful products, not just landfill, including nutraceuticals, cosmetics and biofuel.
Driving force – public demand to reduce unethical and costly food waste
Technological advances – emerging fields of food science and biotechnology
Agriculture is changing – we are likely to see huge changes in the way farmers grow and harvest food. The intensification of food production will accelerate, including vertical farming with improved water and energy efficiency. Farming systems will increasingly use robots and drones to tend crops, remove weeds, treat plant diseases and harvest more efficiently.
Driving force – increasingly unpredictable weather due to climate change is driving the need for better ways to predict harvesting and maintain yield and profitability.
Technological advances – include big data analytics, robotics, drones, visual analysis, remote sensing and smart machinery with artificial intelligence.
To exterminate feral foxes and rabbits on farms – (just kidding…)
This article is part of the Scientist in Residence series published in the Advertiser