When we think of the future, the environment we often imagine is one driven by the latest and greatest technological advancements, but when it comes to our food choices and how our food is produced, the use of technology seems to cross a line we are all a little bit uncomfortable with.
Of all the major production industries, the food industry may be seen as the one that has lagged behind in technological inclusions, but it seems to be the most developed way we have in order to achieve the goals we need to achieve, namely the production of safe, abundant, sustainable and nutritious food for all and, therefore, ensure food security across the globe (A topical goal for both individuals and organisations alike e.g. IFAMA 2017 had their annual conference theme set as: Becoming the solution to food security in 2050).
Before your food reaches your plate it goes through a ‘food journey’ and at each point technology may be used to improve its qualities, for you. One of the first steps in the production of our food is the farm. Agriculture over the last couple of years has seen many technological introductions and/or improvements.
These include areas such as:
‘Genetic engineering’ (GE) or ‘genetic modification’ (GM) is a very controversial topic with many still on the fence, because of the associated looming fears around possibly preventing an opportunity to produce food for millions while still considering the possibility of causing the very same millions harm because of the unknown future implications. This form of technology involves the alteration of the crops DNA sequence to essentially give rise to modified proteins producing an altered way of living, growing and operating1. This is mainly done to produce crops that are able to survive adverse conditions (such as drought and pesticide use) and reduce the risks associated with possible crop loss (e.g. lower food supply or increased food prices). GM crops currently available include soybeans, corn (field and sweet), canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar, beets, summer squash, papaya, potatoes and apples2.
2. High-tech/High-volume operation methods 3
This may be seen as an area of the most drastic results in terms of its advancements. In the 1930’s a farmer would be able to harvest, by hand, ± 100 bushels of corn at the end of a 9 hour day, however, with the modern combine harvest ± 900 bushels of corn can be harvested per hour (with the implementation of driver-less vehicles being researched this could still see an increase, by using these machines in the hours of human sleep).
- Precision agriculture – The use of GPS to identify where to plant a crop and where precisely to apply pesticide and fertilizers.
- Remote sensing
- The use of drones and/or global positioning (GP)
- Drip irrigation
- Computers, internet and specialized software (*Information technology)
3. Information technology and the assurance of safe food
Important to the modern consumer is the authenticity of a foods source and its safety in all aspects for consumption. It is, therefore, important for all stakeholders involved in the food value chain to be able to prove their compliance in catering to these consumer desires. Block chain seems to have provided such as solution. Although originally developed as a ‘virtual economic’ market (caution: definition of a non-expert), its application for allowing digital information to be distributed without being copied, finds this technology useful in the food value chain too. The information held on the block chain can be shared- and continually- reconciled on a database that allows for access anytime (on the internet) while ensuring reliability as no one person/entity has control of the information. It is therefore, transparent and incorruptible.4
Technology seems to be the future of development, for the world and for the world’s food. For those ready to pick up there forks and hoes and begin subsistence farming (that might be me included) this doesn’t have to be the case (though we might want to consider the use of certain seed types for improved tolerances), but for those without the time or the desire you can now hopefully take a little comfort in knowing how food and tech are becoming good friends, in order to supply you with the food you need.
*(For more novel technology applications within the food industry you can read up on: food nanotechnology, Sensorwake, UberEats (yes- it is technically), food processing (this includes pasteurisation, canning etc.) and food biotechnology (yoghurt production, beer and wine making etc.))
By: Kgomotso Dhlangamandhla, 17 July 2017
1 Sims, T. 2017. Let’s get back to basics on genetics. Accessed on 13 July 2017. (www.foodinsight.org/basics-genetics-food-technolgy-biotechnology-gmo-amino-acid-protein)
2 Sims, T. 2017. Food Journey: From farm to restaurant (Infographic). Accessed on 13 July 2017. (www.foodinsight.org/farm-to-restaurant-pesticides-gmos-agriculture)
3 International Food Information Council Foundation (IFICF). 2017. Background on agricultural practices and food technologies. Accessed 13 July 2017. (www.foodinsight.org/Background_on_Agricultural_Practices_and_food_technologies)
4 BlockGeeks. 2017. What is blockchain technology? A step-by-step guide for beginners. Accessed 17 July 2017. (https://blockgeeks.com/guides/what-is-blockchain-technology/)