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The future of food: What will it look like in 500 years?

Rosie Bosworth

It’s easy to imagine what the world might look like in ten or even fifty years time, but what will New Zealand’s biggest sectors look like in 500 years’ time? Thanks to our friends at Tech Futures Lab, we went out to some of New Zealand’s most inspiring business leaders and asked them to imagine a far, far away future. Here is what Dr. Rosie Bosworth, a future of food strategist, speaker and communications specialist imagines the the future of food will look like. 

In the year 2080, or possibly even earlier, humanity has undergone one of the deepest and most profound agricultural transformations and paradigm shifts in food production in human history. Come 2250, we are living in a society where the majority of food, from animal proteins to leafy greens, crops, is in grown indoors on the very fringes of or within the urban masses that require it.

A globally distributed food system is underpinned by sophisticated technologies including synthetic biology and precision fermentation (PF), resulting in cutting-edge biotech that produces all kind of complex organic molecules traditionally found in the animals and plants we used to consume including proteins, lipids, vitamins and biologics. Every food group imaginable is customisable to meet every nutritional, functional and medicinal need thinkable to humans. Just more efficiently, cheaply and sustainably and without having to harvest the fruit, animal or plants.   

No longer are animals and dairy cows grazing in New Zealand’s rolling green fields or housed offshore in feedlots and factory farms to feed the world’s appetite for protein, meat, eggs and dairy products. Like the horse and cart became to the motor car, the cow as a method of food production is now an outdated piece of technology that reached its environmental, production and health limits in the early 2000s, irrespective of creditable efficiency and sustainability gains achieved over the past century, including those by our innovative Kiwi farmers.

Today, all food once involving the slaughter of live animals has been replaced with healthy, sustainable versions produced via mass scale fermentation (also known as recombinant or synthetic biology) and cellular agriculture technology (growing animals cells outside of the cow itself). Grown in scalable fermentation towers close to our cities similar to beer breweries and 3D printing factories, in the very consumer markets demanding them. The same goes for other agricultural biproducts traditionally requiring the cow like leather and collagen.

No longer is climate change and the environment an issue for New Zealand and the world at large, because these technologies are capable of producing the world food in a way that is upwards of ten to twenty times more efficient in terms of land use, water use, greenhouse gasses and waste than livestock production systems of the early 2000s.

Not only this, the health and nutritional profiles of any protein or food is now able to be customised to any consumer requirement thanks to sophisticated advancements in underlying biological and information technologies. High in omega 3s, low in cholesterol, lactose free, A2 only, high in collagen, low in saturated fat. You name it, it’s available. In short, we have entered an era of high-tech fermentation and ‘food as software’ where new versions of the healthy food we eat are constantly being tweaked, updated, and released embracing the many new principles of modern computing and biology. Nearly all food is designed and produced recombinantly using vast catalogues of molecules and DNA databases enabling it to be adjusted and customised for its different sensory functions, like taste and texture and personal dietary or nutritional requirements.

What’s more, plant proteins – once a mega-trend and viable alternative to meat and dairy in the 2020s – have also been surpassed by alternatives produced using precision fermentation and cellular agriculture. Plant proteins for all their virtues simply couldn’t complete with precision fermentation techniques from a cost, production and environmental perspective, especially given the system’s need for large tracts of monocultured crops and production inefficiencies.

In an age of customisable, personalised food with a globally distributed food production system, New Zealand’s vast green pastures and rich rain fall suitable for outdoor food production no longer provide a competitive advantage or economic backbone for the country. But the country is thriving more than ever.

New Zealand has successfully transitioned itself away from using its incredible pool of talent and knowledge to grow and export animals and crops. In this new world, instead of exporting food itself in low-value commodity form, New Zealand has established itself as a global leader in biological sciences exporting highly sophisticated and hi-tech, high value food production technology and IP know-how to the world. With less dependence on food production, New Zealand’s focus on biological and STEM skills now gives us a competitive edge across all sectors, including film and entertainment, healthcare, retail, banking and financial, telecommunications and energy.

Huge tracts of land once used for diary and livestock have been repurposed and restored into native forests, bio-diversity parks, sustainable forestry programmes and rolling green hills, creating huge carbon sinks for the country. This leaves the country carbon neutral – even carbon positive. Rolling pastures have native and domesticated animals grazing simply to help regenerate the land.

It sounds a little bit like utopia. Maybe it is, and maybe it is too futuristic for many to fathom.  But either way you look at it, this is the type of life that is possible for New Zealand with new technologies now coming to pass. Tomorrow, our country on the very edge of the world could be leading the charge in the new biggest agricultural revolution of all time. Embracing and evolving with the changing times and cementing our economic future, instead of holding onto the days of yesteryears. Creating a new future of New Zealand where all our future generations can thrive and have purpose. It’s an Aotearoa they are proud to call home.

About the writer

Dr. Rosie Bosworth has a PhD in environmental innovation and sustainable technology development and is a future of foods strategist, speaker, and communications specialist. She is an advisor to the FoodSpace+Co food incubator, the New Protein Association and the Cellular Agriculuture Society in the US and a Venture partner at Aera Vc, which specialises in future foods.

About Tech Futures Lab

Are you looking to be more intentional about your life, career and impact on the world in the context of massive technological, organisational, social and environmental change? The Postgraduate Certificate in Human Potential for the Digital Economy, new from Tech Futures Lab, is designed to help you do exactly that. Registrations now open for our February 2020 intake. Find out more at its website or call +64 (9) 522 2858.​

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