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precision fermentation a food revolution

precision fermentation a food revolution

All the protein we need to feed the world can be produced on an area of land smaller than London, or the micro-state of Andorra. A food revolution too good to be true? Not according to RePlanet, the group that builds on precision fermentation to pull it off.

If we replace animal farming with protein from microorganisms, more than 3/4s of the world’s farmland could be rewilded to meet our climate goals, says green group RePlanet.

The Reboot Food campaign claims that COP27 efforts to keep the Paris Agreement alive are ‘futile’ without such a move. Author and activist George Monbiot calls for world governments to urgently invest in precision fermentation – a key technology in microbial protein production.

 “The elephant in the room at COP27 is the cow. But thankfully this time, there really is a recipe for success. By rebooting our food systems with precision fermentation we can phase out animal agriculture while greatly increasing the amount of protein available for human consumption.” George Monbiot

What precision fermentation does

Precision fermentation (PF) creates biologically identical milk, cheese, egg whites, and other animal proteins using genetically engineered microorganisms fermented in tanks.

It is a refined form of brewing that uses microorganisms to make ingredients we currently get from animals or plants. While our ancient ancestors made bread, cheese, and beer by using the microorganisms that were randomly present in their environment, today’s precision fermentation can genetically reprogramme microorganisms
to make exact nutrients. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose a specific microorganism such as a yeast or bacteria.
  2. Genetically engineer the microorganism with the DNA sequences coding for the amino acids which form the protein you want to create – such as the proteins found in cow’s milk: casein and whey.
  3. Put the microorganisms in a fermentation tank with some simple nutrients and sugars.
  4. Ferment! (Just like beer.)
  5. Harvest food-grade ingredients that are biologically identical to those you’d get from an animal and mix them up into sellable familiar products (like dairy milk, cream or cheese…).

According to a new analysis in the Reboot Food report, protein from microorganisms uses up to 40,900 times less land than beef, meaning that such ‘ farm-free foods’ could produce the entire world’s protein requirements on just 420km2 of land – an area of land smaller than Greater London*.

91% less emissions

This would not only save 3/4s of global agricultural land for nature restoration and carbon drawdown but would also release up to 91% less greenhouse gases per calorie produced.

The Reboot Food manifesto lays out a series of 10 policies that world governments should adopt to make COP27 a success and calls for ‘land sparing’ and planetary scale rewilding to be the new objective in agricultural decision-making. The 10 policies include: investing 2.5% of GDP over 10 years into food innovation, ending all subsidies for animal agriculture and subsidizing plant-based foods instead, banning the advertising of carbon-intensive meat, limiting patents on new food technology, and legalizing gene editing.

Such moves are urgently necessary, says RePlanet, because agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all cars, airplanes, and ships on the planet, is the cause of 80% of deforestation this century, and is the single biggest cause of the 6th mass extinction of species. Most of this harm is caused by the high land usage of animal agriculture which occupies 28% of the planet’s ice-free land, more than all the world’s forests combined.

Precision fermentation is not a new technology

Precision fermentation is already used to produce 99% of the global insulin supply and 90% of the global rennet. Today PF milk proteins and PF egg whites have already reached the US grocery market.

Joel Scott-Halkes, Campaigns Director of Replanet speaking from COP27 says “COP27 has shamefully failed to address the emissions and land use of animal agriculture. Incrementalism in farming is no longer an option – we need revolutionary food production. In the face of catastrophic climate breakdown, precision fermentation and other highly land efficient forms of food production are the bold solutions we need”

Emma Smart, Coordinator of Replanet UK says “The precision fermentation revolution is as significant and consequential for our natural world and climate as the dawn of farming was 10,000 years ago. Only this time, today’s food revolution promises a new age for non-human life of regeneration not devastation.”

Mark Lynas, climate author and RePlanet Senior Strategist speaking from COP27 says: “The mainstream environmental movement’s agricultural policies are making things worse not better. Organic and ‘regenerative’ farming methods encourage agricultural sprawl and have become smokescreens for the livestock industry. It’s time for sensible environmentalists to unite behind food production techniques that use less land, not more.”

*For all calculations and a full set of peer-reviewed references for the figures here within please see Reboot Food Full Report here.

ladybird

natural pest control with ladybird Rhyzobius lophanthae

A story of natural pest control, in which a multinational supplier of fresh vegetables and fruit is embracing entomology for sustainability. In Chile, insects naturally control agricultural pests such as Mealybugs and White scale in a pioneering project.

Read more

food waste in Europe

food waste in Europe

The food waste in the EU is higher than its imports. The waste damages EU food security amid the cost-of-living crisis. That is the finding of a new report released by environmental NGO Feedback EU.

In 2021, the EU imported almost 138 million tonnes of agricultural products, for a total cost of €150 billion. At the same time, the report estimates that the EU wastes 153.5 million tonnes of food each year. A figure that is nearly double previous calculations, due to better availability of data on wasted on farms.

All in all, food waste is estimated to cost EU businesses and households €143 billion a year, and to cause at least 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, in a critical moment for our food systems, facing the double crisis of agricultural losses due to last summer’s unprecedented droughts and skyrocketing food prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 20% of EU food production ends up in the bin.

Notably, the amount of wheat wasted in the EU is equivalent to approximately half of Ukraine’s wheat exports. Meanwhile, 33 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day in the EU.

In light of this scandal, an international movement called on the EU to set legally binding targets for member states to slash EU food waste.

EU laws to prevent food waste?

The EU addresses food waste within the Waste Framework Directive, which was last revised in 2018. The law requires member states to cut food waste at each stage of the food supply chain, monitor food waste levels and report back regarding progress made.

Notably, the directive reaffirms the promise, made by EU countries in 2015 within the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. However, without ambitious and binding targets for governments to attend, this objective is bound to fail.

Today, the Commission has the opportunity to propose ambitious legally binding food waste reduction targets for EU member states, within its proposal for a revision of EU waste laws expected for Spring 2023. Negotiations with the European Parliament and Council will then decide on the ultimate targets, which should ensure member states honor their international commitment to halve waste from farm to fork. If adopted, this would be the first legislation of its type in the world.

Halving food waste will also help the EU meet its commitments under the European Climate Law, the Global Methane Pledge, the Circular Economy Package, and the EU Green Deal.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emission in the world, after US and China.

Time to cover the field

Besides demanding legally binding targets, civil society organizations and businesses call on the European Commission, the European Parliament and member states’ governments not to forget the food loss and food waste that happen at the production and processing level.

The report by Feedback EU estimates that 89.8 million tonnes occur at primary production – three times as much as is wasted in EU households. Yet most of this waste is likely to fall outside of the scope of current EU food waste measurement and national reporting, which currently excludes food left unharvested or used on farms, locking it out of targeted reduction.

To address this gap, the joint statement calls on the Commission to expand the scope of food waste measurement and include “edible food left unharvested or used on farm at primary production”.

Besides, focusing on retail and consumer food waste only risks creating perverse incentives to be offloaded onto producers and processors, rather than reduced.

Read more at EEB

 

crops

crops and crop growth under climate change

Climate change may affect the production of crops like maize (corn) and wheat by 2030 if current trends continue, according to a new international study that included researchers from IIASA, NASA, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Maize crop yields are projected to decline by 24%, while wheat could potentially see growth of about 17%.

Read more

urban greenhouse challenge

urban greenhouse challenge

The Urban Greenhouse Challenge will kick off on 3 November. This is the third time Wageningen University & Research organizes their international student competition in search of ideas for local, urban food production that can feed cities in a sustainable way. This ‘Social Impact Edition’ challenges competitors to think beyond food to look at urban farming as a catalyst for social change.

This year’s Urban Greenhouse Challenge will look at all the ways in which an urban farming site can tackle problems like poverty, unemployment, and the lack of access to affordable and nutritious food. In short, this edition is all about social impact.

The competitor’s final entry will focus on the East Capitol Urban Farm in Washington, D.C., a food hub in one of the most diverse lower-income neighborhoods of the capital of the United States. This year’s challengers are asked to create a comprehensive plan that develops the site to not just produce food year-round, robustly, and resiliently, but also that fosters social equity through a new food economy.

Introducing local food systems

To kick off this Social Impact Edition of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge, on 3 November Dr Sabine O’Hara from the University of the District of Columbia will present a keynote focusing on igniting community empowerment through local food systems. This year’s challenge is actually, in a way, a continuation of O’Hara’s collaboration with Wageningen University & Research’s own Dr Marian Stuiver, head of the Green Cities program. They worked together on developing an outlook for circular and nature-based food hubs.

O’Hara’s presentation will be followed by a round table discussion with Tiffany Tsui of the Vertical Farm Institute and Dr Sigrid Wertheim-Heck, a researcher at the Wageningen University & Research. Discussion topics will include food as part of culture and heritage and urban farming as part of greening the city. These subjects are intended to inspire the students, who will develop food hub concepts that celebrate local history and integrate all the health benefits of a green living environment (for instance, cooling down extreme heat).

Students from all over the world

The registration for the Challenge is open until 14 November. Students who want to participate have to form an interdisciplinary team that together will create a complete development plan, which will not just take knowledge of agri- and horticulture, but also architecture and business. Together they will start out on a journey that will take the best of them to a digital site viewing, expert consultations and eventually a Grand Finale in which the best ten development plans will potentially serve as prototypes for a real, affordable, and sustainable urban farm.

Would you like to watch the opening event of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge? Learn more and register here.

starch from co2

starch from co2

Creating starch from co2 is not a new process. Plants do it all the time. But Chinese researches now discovered a way to do it much more efficiently in a lab. That would potentially save up to 90% of farm land, water, fertiliser and pesticides, they claim.

Chinese scientists recently reported a new technology for artificial starch synthesis from carbon dioxide (CO2). The results were published in Science on September 24.

The new route makes it possible to shift the mode of starch production from traditional agricultural planting to industrial manufacturing, and opens up a new technical route for synthesizing complex molecules from CO2, reports Eurekalert.

Starch is the major component of grain as well as an important industrial raw material. At present, it is mainly produced by crops such as maize by fixing CO2 through photosynthesis. This process involves about 60 biochemical reactions as well as complex physiological regulation. The theoretical energy conversion efficiency of this process is only about 2%.

A sustainable production of starch and use of CO2 are urgently needed to solve the food crisis and climate change. Designing new ways to replace plant photosynthesis for converting CO2 to starch can contribute to achieve that.

To address this issue, scientists at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (TIB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) designed a chemoenzymatic system as well as an artificial starch anabolic route consisting of only 11 core reactions to convert CO2 into starch.

The abstract of the research says: “Starches, a storage form of carbohydrates, are a major source of calories in the human diet and a primary feedstock for bioindustry. We report a chemical-biochemical hybrid pathway for starch synthesis from carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen in a cell-free system. The artificial starch anabolic pathway (ASAP), consisting of 11 core reactions, was drafted by computational pathway design, established through modular assembly and substitution, and optimized by protein engineering of three bottleneck-associated enzymes. In a chemoenzymatic system with spatial and temporal segregation, ASAP, driven by hydrogen, converts CO2 to starch at a rate of 22 nanomoles of CO2 per minute per milligram of total catalyst, an ~8.5-fold higher rate than starch synthesis in maize. This approach opens the way toward future chemo-biohybrid starch synthesis from CO2.”

Starch from co2 can be 8.5 times more efficient

The artificial route can produce starch from CO2 with an efficiency 8.5-fold higher than starch biosynthesis in maize, suggesting a big step towards going beyond nature. It provides a new scientific basis for creating biological systems with unprecedented functions.

The research is a first step towards industrial manufacturing of starch from CO2. From the moment the total cost of the process will become comparable with agricultural planting, this technology is expected to save more than 90% of cultivated land and freshwater resources.

In addition, it would help to prevent the negative environmental impact of pesticides and fertilizers, improve human food security and facilitate a carbon-neutral bioeconomy.

 

fair tomato

fair tomato

Our awareness of problems with human rights arise mainly from the textile chains. But working conditions in other chains, such as the tomato chain, are also under pressure. The Dutch Central Bureau for Food Trade (CBL) and the Dutch trade union FNV are planning to conduct research into the production chain of the canned tomato trade. The research focuses on Italy, a major supplier of tomatoes. The aim is to identify by the end of July the specific risks of human rights violations in the tomato chain and which improvements are needed. Recommendations have been drawn up on how the Dutch participants in the chain can initiate positive change.

Various studies and risk analyses show that the tomato chain is a so-called high-risk chain. Jos Hendriks, director FNV Food Industry: “We are investigating the supply chain of canned tomatoes to determine the risks we face when it comes to violations of human rights, trade union rights and the environment and to identify who is involved. But the most important part comes after the research: how do we ensure that the guidelines of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and United Nations with regard to people and the environment are applied in the cultivation, harvesting, transport and processing of the tomatoes?”

Guarding human rights

The CBL agrees with the importance of tackling the risks. Jennifer Muller, Sustainability Manager at CBL: “Dutch supermarkets find it essential that human rights are safeguarded throughout the chains. It is therefore important to investigate possible social abuses in the Italian tomato chain and to gain insight into the operational perspective of the parties involved. Collaboration is crucial for thorough research. We are therefore happy to join forces with the FNV to bring about positive change.”

Research into the share of Dutch producers and buyers

An important part of the research is mapping the share of Dutch producers and buyers in the Italian tomato chain. In this way, it is possible to better see in which component steps can be taken to improve the position of employees. This includes investigating the role played by supermarkets, manufacturers and organizations that issue quality certificates.