When the earliest forms of agriculture were sprouting up nearly 10,000 years ago, we had little knowledge that someday we might be faced with food sustainability challenges. Our current methods for producing nutritious foods are not able to keep up with the pace of our population growth. According to some estimates, there will be more than 9 billion humans on this planet within the next 50 years, and we need to double our food production by 2030.
Amid an increasing population, the industry is challenged with ensuring that there will be enough food to meet demand — which is where technology comes in to play. Technology is serving an integral role for sustainability in food manufacturing by giving consumers the transparency they want in the supply chain and providing manufacturers with information to make better decisions.
Using Technology for Sustainability
There have already been important strides made in the fight to leverage technology for sustainability in the industry. For instance, new preservation techniques like high-pressure processing cut down on the number of chemicals needed to keep food safe on the shelf. In addition, new fish farming systems have allowed companies to increase the yield of each generation while causing less damage to the surrounding oceans by cleaning up the water on a continual basis. Still, more researchers are looking into the possibility of 3-D printed foods and lab-grown foods such as Finless Foods' product line.
These researchers, manufacturing companies, and the Environmental Protection Agency are using a multi-tiered process to address the stated problems. Namely, they are hoping to reduce the amount of food waste that is being produced, reclaim a portion of that food to be donated to local shelters, and repurpose a portion of the waste to feed cattle and other livestock.
There are also ongoing efforts to find more energy-efficient means of producing foods in the first place. One example is enzyme-led processes that help produce natural reactions in foods without the need for extreme heating or cooling. Finding low-energy alternatives at each step of the process is going to be one of the biggest areas for improvement going forward. Those processes that do require high levels of energy can now be performed with the help of sustainable power sources such as solar, which is falling in price rapidly.
Sustainability is more than just a buzzword in the food manufacturing sector. It could impact the viability of our society during this lifetime. The good news is that companies have taken note and are investing heavily in sustainable options that could shift us away from high-intensity farming and chemical waste within a few years. Already some of these products are undergoing real-world testing with success.