Innovation has shaped food production for many centuries. The plough, artificial fertiliser, seed improvement and intensive animal husbandry are all innovations that have increased the volume of production and have greatly improved yields. Technological innovations have altered the links in the food production chain. At the same time, changes in consumption patterns have introduced health problems like obesity. We are learning more and more about the effects of nutritional patterns on our health. For example, emotion and cultural factors play a major role in nutrition; will these factors inhibit the adoption of technological innovations in food production or will they delay changes in consumption patterns?
Tomorrow’s innovations will likely bring about major changes in food production. Data collection with drones and mini-satellites will support crop monitoring and control. Precision farming using robotics can increase productivity through customisable irrigation, fertilisation and use of pesticides. Combining precision farming and vertical farming in urban areas with a bio-based industry may play a pivotal role in the circular economy.
We will be able to track a whole range of biomarkers using nanobiosensors (the ‘lab on a chip’) or, even simpler, using compact sensors that use light to measure through the skin. Within seconds, these sensors can provide feedback on our lifestyle and nutritional needs. Mobile information facilities and Big Data combined with smart bands, packaging and cups will deliver personalised information to us on demand. We will be able to adapt our diet to our individual needs by using specific nutritional supplements, which may be the products of synthetic biology.
The combination of technologies like synthetic biology and 3D printing may enhance the variety of different food products with vegetarian proteins. This could hugely impact on the production of animal proteins. Could 3D printing be used to turn composite products into something that appeals to consumers, thus creating possibilities for meat substitutes that will win the hearts and minds of people? What’s more, the introduction of 3D printing in households may allow consumers to adapt healthy diet requirements to their individual needs and personal taste.