Hope rides on our ingenuity

It is well known in the food industry that over the past several years there has been a marked shift in consumer demand for plant-based foods, not only a preference for simply fruit and vegetables, but also a demand for plant-based meats.

It’s a trend that has developed on the back of two major global concerns. The first is a growing awareness of the importance of maintaining one’s good health, and although this awareness has been prevalent among a small sector of the population for some time, it has been spurred on by the Covid pandemic when the idea of staying healthy became front and centre of many more people’s minds. Staying healthy means not only living a more active lifestyle, but also consuming healthy food. The industry is responding to this consumer demand by developing a wide variety of new plant-based food products and ingredients that they can claim will boost one’s health, for example, by strengthening a person’s immune system. And this is borne out by some consumer market reports, which project, for example, that the plant-based meat alternatives global market is set to increase from US$1.6 billion in 2019 $3.5 billion by 2026. The second global concer is the rising awareness of the threat of climate change and what can be done to mitigate it. On the back of this is the role the food industry plays in exacerbating climate change and what can be done to adapt industrialised food production to make it more environmentally sustainable. In this regard, in this issue, we report on at a first-of-its-kind study that looks at the environmental footprint of global food production. It has uncovered some eye-opening findings. What I find particularly interesting at this time is the exponential growth in scientific research into ways of obtaining new sources of protein and other elements important to a heathy diet, as well as new forms of sustainable food production. With this vast mass of research there are sure to be some disruptive technologies that will be developed (and are currently being developed) that hopefully will enable us to leapfrog into new ways of developing new types of healthy food and ingenious ways of sustainably producing it – to feed an ever-growing global population. For example, there is increasing exploration of the potential role of nutrient extracts from fungi, such as mycoprotein which is a protein-rich product obtained from the mycelium produced by the growth of the fungus Fusarium venenatum during fermentation. There is also an increasing amount of funding being poured into new ways to produce alternative meat, such as cell-based meat, or cultured meat, which is produced by culturing animal cells in vitro. See the article in this issue about how scientists in Singapore have shown how using magnetism can spur the growth of cell-based meat and potentially get rid of the need to use animal serum, usually awkwardly sourced foetal bovine serum, to feed the growing meat cells.

We’re faced with many challenges in the food industry, but we can be hopeful that through our ingenuity and scientific research we will be able to overcome many of them and develop healthier and more sustainable food production to feed all of us.