By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
As the food system transforms, will commercial agriculture survive or will synthetic and regenerative agriculture surge ahead to feed the world?
According to Hannah Tucker, a director at Balance Point Advisory, climate change is endangering many foods and livestock we humans hold dear including wine grapes, coffee, chocolate, cows, pigs and sugar. She suggests the industrial practices that surround them puts pressure on their “fragile ecosystems” which led her to question what the modern economy will look like.
She predicts the industrial food system will collapse, the synthetic world and its control of nature will continue to recreate food while regenerative agriculture and its collaborative partnership with nature will grow as an agriculture powerhouse.
These thoughts, along with the future of protein, were part of the discussion at The Future of Food, an online summit by The Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph.
Tucker said the industrial revolution came in 1920 when there were two billion people on the planet living in low levels of development. Fast forward to today, where there are now eight billion people largely living in urban areas with unequaled levels of development. “With advances in computing and electronics, big data, analytics, genomics, robotics, blockchain and more, these capabilities allow us to take precise control at the level of cells and molecules,” said Tucker, who also hosts Disruption Dinners to discuss the changing food system. “When we reexamine the industrial food system in today’s context we see it is no longer aligned, yet we continue to rely on it to our detriment.”
Spelling a doomsday scenario, Tucker suggests industrial agriculture leaves 50 per cent of the population malnourished because the soil is stripped of nutrients. Meanwhile, ultra-processed food leads to obesity.
Industrial agriculture is one of many culprits leading to the heating of the planet said Tucker and once again, she painted a dark picture of what the world might look like in our lifetime. She said extreme drought in India are hotspots that coincide with dieback of the Amazon rainforest, melting of the permafrost and other climate disruptions which could quickly raise the global temperature leading to desertification of many parts of the world.
From her doomsday world/the collapse of nature scenario, Tucker said we could enter a synthetic world where nature is controlled. It’s already happening with Beyond Burger, where science has decoded the molecular properties of meat and replaced them with molecules from the plant kingdom in mysterious concoctions, before extruding them to get the right texture, then packaging them to look like real meat.
The synthetic world also includes vertical farming, or controlled environment agriculture, which uses less water, produces more yield and gets food to market in less time.
The third option, the regenerative scenario, includes innovative farmers working with a world rich in demand for ecosystem services, says Tucker. “In this scenario, we eat nutrient-rich food that is carbon negative and biodiversity positive,” she said.
“It’s an ancient philosophy that provides ecosystem services,” said Tucker. Cows would not just be raised for meat. Their grazing would promote C02 absorbing growth and their stomping action would increase carbon and water storage while they fertilize as they go. Kelp as a regenerative crop is a superfood that also provides material for nutraceuticals, cosmetics, biofuel and fertilizer while it contributes to deacidification, oxygenation and five-star habitats for species from phytoplankton to fish.
A comparison chart between Synthetic vs Regenerative agriculture shows that while regenerative ag could be run by small, local producers growing nourishing, whole foods that connect people with nature, synthetic agriculture will be big food companies creating addictive, processed foods that separates people from nature.
As she ended her presentation, Tucker made it clear that comparing the three future options of agriculture doesn’t mean “That everything in industrial is bad and everything in modern is good. Instead, it is a growing awareness of declining opportunities. We need to look at growing opportunities and shrinking risks.”
She predicts there will be three challenges ahead:
• Managing the just decline of industrial food
• Designing synthetic food for nourishment, not disease
• Capturing data and structuring financing to scale regenerative agriculture.
It’s also about choice. Tucker says she has tried every diet from vegan to paleo and has had her views challenged again and again. Now, she enjoys choosing organic foods, learning as much about them as she can, and supporting farmers who raise/grow them.
This discussion led directly into the Future of Protein ... next. ◊