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Automating food production in the future

“TrendWatcher” raises eyebrows at Dutch Food Valley Awards

November 28, 2012
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Automating food production in the future

This year’s Food Valley Expo took place in Arnhem, the Netherlands in late October, featuring lecturer and strategist Adjiedj Bakas as the keynote speaker. Bakas, who talked about his new book, The Future of Food, enlightened, entertained and generated more than a modicum of controversy.

Bakas spoke about future food demand—estimated to increase by 50 percent globally as the world population edges to nine billion by 2050. “There are a lot of new technologies coming up to rise to the challenge,” he notes. “That said, food crises in the 1980s and 1950s—where 60 million Chinese died—caused a major response from the food industry, which is now able to feed more people than ever before. Of the seven billion people today, only 800 million are under the minimum of what they should be eating. And the number actually starving to death is really not happening that much anymore.”

According to Bakas, young people in rich and poor countries alike don’t want to be farmers. The future will also usher in kitchens attached to their own mini greenhouses, which homeowners can use to feed themselves while connecting more closely with how food is produced.

When it comes to food and health, more people will continue to die from “prosperity-related diseases” based on diets our bodies were never designed for, Bakas states. Considering the mind has far outpaced the body in evolutionary terms, when choosing food products at the store, Bakas says he constantly asks himself, “Did my ancient ancestors eat this?”

While researching his book, Bakas came across a company that adds magnolia pigments to chicken feed. “One hundred million people in the world have a gene that makes them blind after age 70,” he says. “When you feed these seeds to chickens, the magnolia ingredient gets into the yolk, which enables people to ingest it, and they don’t go blind.” In other research, tomato researchers in Holland are creating varieties that help prevent obesity. “You eat this tomato and follow it with as much chocolate as you want, and you won’t put on weight,” Bakas states.

Meat is in for some big changes, too. “In the future, we’re going to have regular meat, and artificial meat created from mushrooms, bacteria and insects. In Colombia and elsewhere, they have been eating insects, and they’re wonderful,” says Bakas. “You can have chicken nuggets that consist of 5 percent chicken and 95 percent crushed insects. If you add a little curry, it tastes great.”

As far as regular meat is concerned, Bakas says he’s in favor of building skyscrapers specially designed for raising pigs, chickens and other animals. “After all, there’s only 1 percent difference in the DNA between a pig and a human. If we can be happy in the sky, why not pigs and chickens too? So we should have industrial agriculture, and concentrate in areas where there is a lot of energy and water.”

Printing food

A machine developed at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research TNO at Wageningen contains 100 small 5 x 7cm “building platforms” rotating on a belt that can “print” products such as wrist watches, mobile phones, glasses and hearing aids. The Economist suggests this technology heralded the third Industrial Revolution. TNO has tested it on food products as well. (See related story, What’s Printing for Dinner, Food Engineering, March 2011.)

“I’ve seen the first printer for cheese,” says Bakas. “Another unit produces meat, but right now it costs €150,000 Euros for a hamburger, which is slightly overpriced, but then again the Euro will be dead in a few years when we will have another currency, perhaps the Super Mark.”

Food Valley Expo is an annual innovation showcase organized for representatives of all three “Golden Triangle” sectors of the agrifood industry in Holland—bio-tech companies, contract research institutions and universities.

The Expo’s top award for 2012 went to Solynta B.V. of Wageningen for its new hybrid method of potato breeding using seeds instead of tubers. The other two winners were Cropwatch’s Scoutbox, a tool for highly efficient pest management in greenhouses, and Hoogesteger’s use of pulsed electric field technology for extending the shelf life of fresh juice (see story above in this issue of Tech Flash).

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Recent Articles by Jaan Koel, Contributing Editor

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