Dossiers - Sustainable food systems
Industry’s contribution to greater sustainability in the food system
Transforming food systems to promote sustainable and healthy nutrition is one of the key challenges for the future. The research industry plays a key role in overcoming these challenges as the new film of scienceindustries shows.
The world’s population is growing: in 2022, the 8 billion mark was surpassed for the first time, and by 2050 more than 10 billion people are expected to live on Earth. While the aim of food production is to meet the demands of the growing world population in all aspects, it is also depleting our natural resources and contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change, environmental pollution and the decline in biodiversity are further weakening our food system, which in turn leads to new risks. This is also shown in the scienceindustries film "Research and innovation: key to a healthy and sustainable diet".
Holistic and innovative
Against this backdrop, Switzerland too must increasingly address the need for framework conditions that will enable and promote a sustainable food system. The ecological, social and economic aspects must be in harmony.
Innovations and new technologies can make a significant contribution to saving limited resources, replacing fossil fuels with renewable resources and developing alternative sources of limited natural raw materials. With its know-how and knowledge, the research industry can make a significant contribution to creating a more sustainable food system and implementing the global sustainability agenda.
A lot of potential in agriculture
Acceptance of promising technologies and their regulation are therefore absolutely essential when it comes to shaping the future agricultural policy in Switzerland.
The implementation of smart farming technologies alone – i.e. comprehensive connectivity within and between farms – has enormous potential to increase resource efficiency. Drones and ground sensors enable the early detection of pests and diseases, enabling farmers to apply fertiliser and plant protection products in a more targeted manner. New breeding methods also offer a promising opportunity for inducing resistance (against pests or diseases) or tolerance (e.g. against moisture or drought) in popular plant varieties.
Alternative proteins for a more sustainable food system
New technologies lead to efficiency enhancements and fewer unwanted emissions. At the same time, they also enable new products, such as the increasingly popular alternative proteins.
More and more meat and milk alternatives are being made - and demanded by customers - from high-quality plants such as soya, peas and other pulses. Research in this field focuses primarily on improving the structure, aroma and taste of the newly developed foods in order to increase their acceptance by consumers.
Biotechnology: key to more sustainable production
As an alternative to food production by animals or crop plants, resource-conserving fermentation with micro-algae and fungi for the production of food is being researched and is already being implemented in practice. Precision fermentation with micro-organisms makes it possible to produce customised functional proteins such as gelatine or milk proteins.
The production of “cultured meat” goes one step further by multiplying animal cells in suitable culture media. Here, enormous progress has been made in recent years to enable environmentally conscious consumers to fully enjoy the taste of meat without having to rear or slaughter farm animals.
Better nutrition: health for humans and the planet
Consumers today are increasingly well informed about how their eating habits affect their health and what effects they have on the environment. Precision nutrition (or personalised nutrition) could become a decisive factor, for example in the prevention or treatment of diseases. Industry is doing intensive research in this area in order to develop products that meet the unique needs of each individual.
For example, food supplements are being researched that are tailored to the special needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women or support adults in treating pre-diabetes. Digital platforms are also being developed that make it possible to assess your own health risk or personal environmental goals and offer users tailor-made recommendations for their dietary plans.
Switzerland as a beacon of innovation
The extent to which new technologies and products gain acceptance, however, strongly depends on their cost-effectiveness, the legal framework and their acceptance in society.
Innovation-friendly framework conditions enable the development and introduction of new technologies and innovative solutions. This means that science has to remain at the centre of political decision-making and that essential framework conditions such as fast and unbureaucratic approval processes and patent protection remain guaranteed.
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Interview by NZZ: Matthias Leuenberger, President scienceindustries
Opinion article Finanz & Wirtschaft: Director Stephan Mumenthaler