GM artificial food may be 'staple diet'

MATT STEWART
Last updated 07:00 19/08/2014
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From test-tube meat to 3-D printed pizza, the future of food is a brave new world where science is racing to keep up with a resource that grows ever more expensive and scarce.

As part of Wellington on a Plate, Victoria University tourism management honours students are imagining various scenarios around the future of food festivals and, ultimately, the way we will consume and make food as the planet struggles to feed 10 billion mouths by 2050.

"By 2050 the burger competition at Wellington on a Plate could consist of restaurants who are growing their own hamburgers," student supervisor and futurist Ian Yeoman said.

One of the likely scenarios recalls the dystopian 1970s movie Soylent Green, in which genetically modified artificial food will become the staple of common people while elites will have dibs on "real" food and travel the world in search of naturally grown nutrition as part of the emerging "experience economy".

In a seminar last night, the students presented four future scenarios, including one entitled "Dr Spock's Food Festival", outlining science's increasingly role in the food chain.

"Issues such as climate change, pollution, over-population, dying seas and depleted resources could mean that food is scarce and expensive in the future," Yeoman said. "As a result, real food could become an exclusive experience for rich tourists, focusing on authenticity and rare foods from the past."

Steak grown from stem cells in labs could feed consumers who would adapt as naturally grown food become too expensive.

"In-vitro meat products, which involves culturing muscle tissue in a liquid medium, have already been grown successfully, and these could be produced on a large scale."

Genetically modified applications also seem likely to come to the fore, such as metabolically engineered fish that mature more quickly, or fruit and nut trees with quicker yields.

Vertical farming, a hydroponic technique using huge urban high-rises or "farmscrapers", is also set to tackle the issue of land shortages. "Vertical farming would provide a controlled, protective environment for crops, independent of weather and most extreme weather events, thereby significantly increasing agricultural productivity," Yeoman said.

Scientists may soon be able to replicate food using its molecular structure. "Although this may sound like science fiction, Nasa recently contracted Systems and Materials Research Corporation to build a 3-D printer to produce nutritious and flavourful mission supplies for astronauts. One of the first foods is expected to be pizza."

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