How will people eat in 5, 10, 50 years?
All people and enterprises involved in food agree that our future food will be composed of macro and micronutrients. The differences start when we speak about their nature, origin and the way they are processed.
Two doctrines are opposed: the one believes that it is just about putting the right molecules together, like pieces in an engine. They can even be dissolved in water: dinner in a bottle. The other school believes that food and food metabolism are life systems which can flourish only in accordance with the cycles and rhythms of nature. As said sir Frederick G. Hopkins, Nobel prize medicine 1927, No animal can live upon a mixture of pure protein, fat and carbohydrates. Even when inorganic material is carefully supplied, the animal still cannot flourish. The animal body is adjusted to live either upon plant tissues or other animals and these contain countless substances other than proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Physiological evolution, I believe, has made some of these well nigh as essential as are the basic constituents of the diet. (1906).
Can huge industrial fermentors take over, partly or entirely, the task and function from agriculture and feed us? Will agriculture be totally industrialized? This would entail involvement with:
1. Novel techniques: like GMO and nanotechnology;
2. Food design: based on optimized composition of macro and micronutrients with lots of additives;
3. Patents: on seeds, strains of microorganisms, animals & finally end-products;
4. Monopolies & oligopolies (Monsanto, Pioneer &Co).
Dinner in a bottle with all nutrients dissolved in water is already available in the USA. Synthetic aromas confer whatever taste is wanted from chili burger to smoked salmon. In the Netherlands vitamin drinks are available in several varieties as long drinks. Price €2,95, value of content €0,0295.
If the answer is negative, it is highly probable that the next 5-50 years cereals (bread, noodles, breakfast cereals, flours), fruits, vegetables & tubers, animal and vegetable proteins (meat, fish, dairy, soy, etc.), water will continue to feed the world. The question is only: in what shape and in which proportions.
Inevitable: less animal food, particularly meat - versus more vegetable food. The reasons are: shrinking agricultural space: less than 2,5 ha per capita left; spoilage of caloric input versus output for animal food; spoilage of available protein in kg per hectare for animal food; negative carbon, water & environmental footprints; human health considerations; animal welfare considerations; rise of (ovo-lacto-) vegetarianism & of vegetarianism a la carte.
The food inversion from vegetal versus animal food in our countries is recent. It began 150 years ago and is just starting in Japan and in emerging economies like China and Mexico. Fortunately even in the Fast Food Nation the veggie burger is on the rise.
The economy turns increasingly around the fringes, the superfluous and absurd. Often based on hype and bubble or bust, the products yield huge margins, as longs as it lasts. Miracle foods, especially for sportspeople, health freaks & miracle cosmetics and are amongst the most attractive speculative fields. None of this is sustainable dinner in a bottle will prove a hype.
Conventional agriculture is not only environmentally and socially damaging but is economically not viable when cost is internalized and can survive only by massive subsidies and support. The energy balance (fertilizers, pesticides, mechanic power versus caloric food output) is divesting. Organic agriculture, traditional intensive systems and permaculture will prevail as sustainable since they yield per hectare more calories and nutrients.
A crisis of over-consumption turns into an opportunity. Environmental crisis (water, earth, air, climatic change, deforestation, unnatural extinction of species, medication-resistant pandemics), energy crisis, (more persons in China, India & Africa, require more energy with rapidly diminishing fossil resources), rapidly growing shortage of raw materials, demographic problems (heavy growth of populations in poor countries), cultural chock (multicultural society needed but problematic), the financial and economic blind alley make that sustainable development is a matter of survival as well as an economic opportunity. People and businesses now live in false security.
Notion launched in 1987 by Gro Harlem Brundtland (then prime-minister of Norway, ex-president WHO, currently special envoy for climate change to UN secretary general Ban-Ki-moon) in her report to the United Nations "Our Common Future".
The notion of sustainable development has degenerated, like CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), to a "container notion" in which everyone puts, as one likes, a la carte, one's own content. 3 components are however, simultaneously, indispensable:
1.Social responsibility towards all stakeholders
2.Ecological responsibility towards biosphere
3.Economic viability = adequate pricing, lasting relations
The way out the permanent crisis is sustainability. Though manmade ecological disaster occurred already in antiquity, the road of sustainability was kept during millions of years. 100-150 years sufficed to destroy it as a consequence of misuse of technology multiplied by the effect of demographic explosion caused by the Industrial Revolution. We have only a few decades to restore it (till 2025-2050?).
Consumers and the market
There is a strong sense of entitlement among consumers today, driven by Baby Boomers (1945-1955) and X-ers (1955-1971). The Boomers have "earned it". X-ers are "born with it. Although they are full of contradiction in their choices, they are increasingly self regulated and combine trust & skepticism, belief in the natural & admiration for science/technology.
Why consumers pick organics in the USA:
1. Food Safety: Concern about pesticides, hormones & other residues in foods. Organic offers "Peace of Mind."
2. Health: Desire to have higher quality of life over longer period. Frustration with healthcare system.
3. Taste: Belief that organic tastes fresher, better, more flavorful.
4. Environmental: Concern about pesticides and other toxins in the environment.
Typology of organic consumers in Germany in the crisis:
1. High crisis sensitive consumers, 21% of families - feelings of constant worries and of convenience combined with cheap = economy of time+money(fastfooder).
2. Financially stressed consumers, 33% of families - feel need for security and truth, try to maintain normality but price/quality ratio becomes more important, private labels instead of A brands, increased look for added value, for instance organic + fair trade.
3. Crisis-resistant consumers, 46% of families - feel responsibility for the future, want to support "the good", remain loyal to "their" brands, continued focus on heath and sustainability, gourmets.
Logos & labelling
Energy, carbon and other emissions related to the life cycle of products will become important societal issues, as will food miles. Reference to them on labeling is just a matter of time, whatever difficult it may be to cope with the complexity of the issues.
The same goes for other environmental as well as social aspects. Also consumers want to be informed about food composition and the nutritional and caloric values of food products. Labels have limited space, often need to be multilingual, so that reference to the web will come to the rescue. Information involved is: extracting raw materials/manu¬facture of raw materials, transportation throughout the lifecycle, any packaging used throughout the lifecycle, the manufacturing process, storage, the products use, and the products disposal.
Different aspects of food like nutritional values (fats, sugars, fibers, caloric value), additives, possible allergenic risks, packaging, degree of sustainability (conventional, integrated, organic), social issues (like fair trade), could be indicated through a traffic light system.
Conceptual marketing can make the difference. Conceptual marketing is associated with well-being, health truth, authenticity, hope, confidence, loyalty instead of sex, money, power, status. The effects are slower but lasting longer.
Food and agriculture in the Caucasian countries
Food represents 45-60% of the household budget (USA 10%, Netherlands & Germany 12-13%. In 1952 in Germany it still was 32%) and for many people is still a matter of survival. Agricultural systems are generally in a shambles and do not provide self reliance. Repletion of the mistakes of the industrialized countries is seducive. Introducing organic systems will not always be easy but will be the shortest road to sustainability.
Organic growth U.S.A. 1997-2005 384,83% Organic growth Germany. 1997-2005 390,24%
Organic growth 2001-2005 2007-2008 Q1-2009 market share
U.S.A. 87,92% 18% =3%
Germany 52,00% 10% 3%
United Kingdom 54,00% 1,7%
Netherlands 36,00% 12,4% +5%? 2,1%
Switzerland 11,2% + 10%
By Carol Haest. Heast Consultancy for the Organic Industry, Belgium.
Source: ELKANA. #1 (4), January, 2009