Create an appetite for food independence

In discussing Singapore's effort to achieve energy independence, there is another area of dependence worth highlighting - food, with the majority of what we eat imported from overseas (After water success story, next challenge is energy: Chun Sing; Oct 31).

Fortunately, innovations are helping us become more independent by allowing us to grow more food on less land. For example, start-ups here, such as Archisen, use data analytics, automation, and the Internet of Things to grow vegetables.

Land-saving technology is also being applied to animal agriculture, producing food, principally meat, eggs and dairy, from animals. Alternatives to animal agriculture have long existed, including food made from legumes, such as lentils, and alternatives to dairy milk made from soya beans.

What is new are the many high-tech alternatives to animal-based foods. These innovations fall into two broad categories. The first is plant-based foods, such as Veego, a meat-like product by Singapore's own Life3 Biotech.

The other category is called clean meat, which uses technology to grow real meat and other animal-based foods from animal cells.

The term clean meat was chosen for such products because the raising of animals to produce food for humans is associated with zoonotic diseases, such as bird flu. Furthermore, animal-based foods are frequent sources of disease, such as salmonella.

An example of how alternatives to animal-based foods can save land and otherwise protect the environment can be seen in a study this year. University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems compared the impact of burgers produced by Beyond Meat, a high-tech, plant-based meat company, with the impact of traditionally produced burgers.

The plant-based burgers were responsible for 90 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions and required 46 per cent less energy, 99.5 per cent less water, and 93 per cent less land.

High-tech foods like this, can move Singapore towards greater food independence, while also boosting human health, fighting climate change, and showing kindness to animals. However, innovative products need consumer demand to survive. This is where we come in, by opening ourselves to new culinary experiences.

Dr George Jacobs

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2018, with the headline Create an appetite for food independence. Subscribe