Food system innovation -- and how to get there

May 19, 2020

Food production has always shaped the lives of humans and the surface of the Earth. Be it plough or refrigerator, time and again innovations have transformed the ways we grow, process, and consume food over the last millennia. Today, with almost 40 per cent of all land on Earth used for food production, the food system massively impacts climate and environment - from nitrogen flows to water use, from biodiversity to greenhouse gas emissions. In a new study published in the journal Nature Food, an international team of researchers has now assessed and categorised key innovations with a potential to transform the food system, from artificial meat or seafood to biofortified crops or improved climate forecasts - and established what is most needed to make them succeed.

From the invention of the wheel to artificial fertilisers, innovations have always shaped the food system. And agriculture, in turn, has shaped our planet. Of late, however, not to the better, states Alexander Popp, one of the study's authors and head of the land-use group at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK): "Nitrogen has boosted yields and lifted millions out of hunger, but if too much of it drains into nature, whole ecosystems can collapse. So, in light of an expanding world population, huge and rising dietary and nutritional needs, and rapidly shrinking space to remain within safe planetary boundaries, we need to identify innovations that can transform the food system, making it sustainable while feeding more people - and what it takes to make them fly." In order to do that, the authors have conducted a technological review spanning three millennia. From past successes like the plough or the greenhouse to innovations that are not yet rolled out. The focus is the latter as the researchers aim to answer the question what society should put her cards on.

"We regard transformation as a process of systemic change. This means we not only analyse technologies, but also values, policies and governance. With such lenses we have assessed what innovations there are, globally, how to categorise them, and how ready they are", Mario Herrero from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia explains. The ten categories identified by the researchers include food processing, gene technology, digital and even cellular agriculture. The innovations as such, in turn, are very broad, ranging from substitutes for livestock or seafood to biofortified crops or improved climate forecasts. "Amongst the things currently sprouting in the global incubators are very advanced elements like insects for food or meat substitutes, but even high-impact basic research like fine-tuning photosynthesis", Herrero lays out. Researchers are currently looking to boost light harvesting in photosynthesis to improve biomass yield.

+++The right climate for behavioural change+++

"Developing a new technology is yet not enough to kick-off a disruptive change in the food system. Innovations also need the right policy conditions and social acceptance to unfold. Plant-based meat and milk substitutes are a great example. The recipes for seitan, soymilk or tofu were out there for long times. But only in recent years, with rising consumer awareness for environmental issues, health, and animal welfare, we have the right climate for behavioural change - and companies are seeing the business opportunities: They are ready to refine the technology, making the products tastier and cheaper. And the final boost could come when environmental pollution gets priced, revealing the true costs of a beef burger versus a pea patty. Plant-based meat can become one of the largest transformations in our food system, and it might take off now."

Johan Rockström, PIK director and co-author of the study, summarises: "The Paris Agreement's stay well below two-degree target together with UNs 2030 goals of eradicating hunger, gives us the clear direction of where we are going. This research now shows us not only how to get there, but also provides confidence that it is indeed possible to succeed. We can feed humanity within planetary boundaries: what we need is to prepare the ground by implementing the right policies for sustainable innovators and actors that can scale change in the entire food industry, such as carbon and nitrogen pricing and science based targets for sustainable food. Thus we can kick-start a true transformation towards a safe and just food future for all on Earth."
-end-
Article: Herrero, M., Thornton, P., Mason-D'Croz, D., Palmer, J., Benton, T., Bodirsky, B. L., Bogard, J., Hall, A., Lee, B., Nyborg, K., Pradhan, P., Bonnett, G., Bryan, B., Campbell, B., Christensen, S., Clark, M., Cook, M., de Boer, I., Downs, C., Dizyer, K., Folberth, C., Godde, C., Gerber, J., Grundy, M., Havlik, P., Jarvis, A., King, J., Loboguerrero, A., Lopes, M., McIntyre, C., Nylor, R., Navarro, J., Obersteiner, M., Parodi, A., Peoples, M., Pikarr, A., Popp, A., Rockström, J., Robertson, M., Smith, P., Stehfest, E., Swain, S., Valin, H., van Wijk, M., van Zanten, H., Vervoort, J., West, P. (2020): Innovation can accelerate the transition towards a sustainable food system. Nature Food. [DOI: 10.1038/s43016-020-0074-1]

Link to article once online: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0074-1

Previous related research by PIK:

Ilje Pikaar, Silvio Matassa, Benjamin L. Bodirsky, Isabelle Weindl, Florian Humpenöder, Korneel Rabaey, Nico Boon, Michele Bruschi, Zhiguo Yuan, Hannah van Zanten, Mario Herrero, Willy Verstraete, Alexander Popp (2018): Decoupling Livestock from Land Use through Industrial Feed Production Pathways. Environmental Science and Technology [DOI:10.1021/acs.est.8b00216], find our press release here: https://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/spacefood-for-cows-industrial-microbes-could-feed-cattle-pigs-and-chicken-with-less-damage-to-the-environment?set_language=en

Pikaar, Ilje, Silvio Matassa, Korneel Rabaey, Benjamin Leon Bodirsky, Alexander Popp, Mario Herrero, and Willy Verstraete. 2017. 'Microbes and the Next Nitrogen Revolution'. Environmental Science & Technology 51 (13): 7297-7303. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b00916.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.