Julian Cribb & Associates Discussion Paper
The Future of Food
Dramatic evolution in the global diet, cuisine and consumer preferences
will, over the coming decades, change the foods we eat more profoundly than at
any time in our history.
Driven by emerging scarcities of land, water, oil, nutrients,
fish and profound
change in the climate that gave rise to agriculture, what we eat
a century from now will bear little resemblance to what we eat today
Queensland Academy of Art s& Sciences, July 12, 2012
: food will change
eat in 2112 will be
ar little resemblance to
The nature of food is poised
to change, more profoundly than
any previous epoch of human
since farming first began
The kinds of food we eat, how we produce and consume them, their heal
th value and composition
will be as unfamiliar to us today, as the foods our own great grandparents
ate a century
before the age of cosmopolitan cuisine, fast food,
zen meals, pesticides,
oil, Jamie Oliver
and Master Chef.
These new foods will be the
demand and resource pressures building up in the global
food system, coupled with the advent of
new technologies as well as
, healthcare and sustainability
I will make a number of prophecies about the future of food
not all of them pleas
Many, however, foreshadow magnificent new opportunities in both food and agriculture, for those
astute and flexible enough to take advantage.
Like all prophecies, some will
but based upon current global trends and a lifelong
observance of food and agriculture
, I am confident
implicated in the deaths
half of all
Australia and the
world, the present
is unlikely to last
in terms of economic loss,
intolerant of people eating themselves to a costly degenerative demise as it is of them smoking,
drinking or dr
themselves to de
global warming of 5
now on the cards by
a great many familiar foods
decline or disappear from the diet
be replaced by
transport fuels become scarce and costly, there will be
and pride in
f cities and
giant energy companies
continue to take water and land
from farmers, and
supermarkets to punish them economically
by driving down commodity prices
, much of our
in factories rather than
Another very important prediction is that much of our food will be ‘recycled’. Today we have the
dubious distinction of being first generation in the whole of human history to waste nearly half our
a colossal squandering that is neither moral nor economic nor sustainable.
if technology continues to snowball at present rates, it will inevitably give rise to a host of
systems we can barely
a little ominous, the diet of the future will also be vastly more diverse,
than our present one.
t will surprise, even
food as a
And it will excite
those who regard food as an adventure.
: major drivers
With ten billion consumers, each
a better diet than today
At the same
of all the
things we need to produce food.
Summarised briefly (details in my book):
In countries like China, India and the US groundwater is
depleted. There is
growing competition fro
m the energy sector and
cities for farmers’ water. And climate
change is reducing rainfall over the great grain bowls, snowpack on high mountains
rivers and aquifers in dry lands. This combination means world food production will face
as early as
The world is losing 75
100 gigatonnes of topsoil
and about 1 per cent of its farm land
year. At this rate we will run out of soil within 50
Megacities will double in size to 9
m sq kms.
The global area of farm land has shrunk in 9 of the last 10 years.
Peak oil in 2006 (IEA 2010) point
inevitable scarcity and
rising prices for fuel and
petrochemicals as demand overtakes global production.
There are now 750 million veh
and their number is growing by
61 million every year
, while discoveries of new oil are failing
to keep pace
World phosphate and potash resources are finite and will be become prohibitively costly by
century as high
and energy costs rise
. World N supply will be
affected by the rising price of natural gas.
For quarter of a century the
re has been catastrophic
in agricultural research and
science worldwide, driven by complacency in wes
tern governments. The rate of delivery of
new technology and sustainable science to farmers has been
set back a generation or more.
The ocean fish catch peaked in 2004 and has been declining ever since,
offset by growth in
All this is happening at a time when the climate which gave birth to agriculture
climate will make the growing of food by
Slide 12: climate 2
Current scientific estimates suggest the world
around 10 per cent of its food production
for every degree of global warming.
This model, from the UK’s Hadley Centre, predicts up to 40% of
the Earth in drought by 2100.
This means we will need to increase global food production by up to 50 per cent by 2100
maintain current levels of supply.
we need to double food p
roduction to meet rising demand from
10 billion consumers.
n total we will need to
output by 150%
to keep up.
ost commentators on global food security ignore this critical
It is therefore inevitable that, b
y the end of the century
, there will
complete rethink of
how we farm, what foods we produce and prefer, and
Besides the obvious
, this will also contain boundless new opportunities.
One of the first impacts of
this constellation of scarcities and pressures will be the emergence of new
food industries, opportunities and jobs
and the decline of many traditional ones.
But that has
always been so.
industries of the
coming half century are aquaculture, algae farming,
novel fruits and vegetables
, urban agriculture
Between them, these will yield a diet
to the planet,
more resilient to climate
more healthy and
delicious for the consumer, more diverse and rewarding for the producer
and less costly to government in terms of the health budget
When the ocean fish catch peaked in
that in future most of the world’s
ve to be farmed rather than wild
. Worldwide Aquaculture now produces about
40 million tonnes of fish and 15 millions tonnes of water plants (algae) a year
but this is
shadow of its true potential.
For example CSIRO’s Dr Nigel Preston
ys 1.5 million ha of land in northern Australia has been
assessed as suitable for farmed fish pro
duction. Fish farms today yield
10 tonnes of prawns or
barramundi to the hectare every year
so there is potential for an aquaculture sector
ons of tonnes of food
. This may be
ur present beef,
, pig and
rovided the feed sources exist to support it.
One reason that fish farming is set to boom is that fish
convert feed into meat around twice as efficiently as
much less oil and
carbon to do so
As grain prices soar, due to
fish will become more economically attractive.
Aquaculture can also be phenomenally diverse
o get ready for an explosion in choice
farmed seafoods: fish large and small,
, shellfish, echinoderms (like urchins and
a vast array of
plants and vegetables
and a host of aquatic things m
on land, at sea and in salt lakes
will produce food for people, feed for
animals, biofuels for transport, pharmaceuticals, plastics and fine chemicals
and themselves will be
on the vast stream of nutrients emitted by the world’s cities, as they begin to recycle food
nic waste and sewage.
The US Obama Government is already ploughing
into algal biofuels research to meet the
future needs of its defence
and transport sectors
. In Australia, James Cook University is pioneering
the clever idea of using the waste CO2 emitted by power
stations as a feed source.
Around the world, countries from Israel to Brazil to China are investing in
what could well become the world’s biggest cropping industry.
Algae can be farmed in tanks
or ponds on waste land
, and even in large floating
containers in the oceans
, without competing against agriculture or wilderness
When all is said and done, algae are just water plants, and can be turned into delicious and healthy
foods as rea
dily as wheat, rice or any other crop. There isn’t an algae bar
the supermarket yet
but watch this space.
: artificial meat
sneer at the idea of artificial meat, European and Japanese scientists are hard at
work developing i
niversity produce the world’s first synthetic sausage
, and the first synthetic
hamburger is due in 2012.
Cultured meat is produced by growing animal stem cells in a glass dish and feeding them on the right
nutrients to become muscle
cells. The ‘holy grail’ of this research is to endow
flavours, textures and
The main driver is that the fact that it takes
less soil, water, fertiliser an
d carbon to produce a kilo
a kilo of
has ethical advantage
s, which are
of growing importance among
concerned with animal welfare and rights issues
as the egg
at the supermarket already
will never catch on
you could say th
e same of today’s
pies, sausages or other highly
f it is tasty
will eat it
just as they
Rather than replacing natural meat, however, th
e advent of these new forms of
will merely cement it into an elite market niche.
: traditional meat
By the second part of the century global demand for meat of all forms
is forecast to
climb to 4
million tonnes or more.
Traditional meats will
be available, but
high grain and transport costs means they will
cost the consumer a
hundreds of dollars a kilo
This will ensure p
their meat with
This will position products like grainfed beef as the elite foodstuffs of the 21
expensive and highly prized, as
beef is in Japan today.
roviding they can find ways to break the giant supermarkets’
be able to
earn a more rewarding
n the world’s rangelands
will expand, using advanced techniques like precision
Besides the income from highly
prized organic meat, these enterprises will also derive
income from carbon sequestration, revegetation and water conservation.
and other animals includ
ing kangaroos, camels, sheep and goats
in other words play a
combating climate change and
currently used in
medical research to develop life
skin grafts and transplants.
This same technology
a major alternate source of healthy food in future
, as cities seek
ways to improve their food security
Cells from plants, fungi
and other organisms
can be cultured
and turned into edible, soundly nutrit
ous and even delectable
are specially tailored to
the dietary needs of the
and which protect
your or me
against heart disease, diabetes
on genetic analysis of
Those tempted to deride such ‘factory foods’ m
if eating them means an extra 10 or
20 years of healthy life
By 2060 the world’s cities will cover an area of the planet as large as China (9.6 million sq kms)
consume half the available fresh water and
enough food and nutrients to feed 5 billion
If they do not meet at least part of their own foo
will be in extreme
from transport or climate
e need to sustain a local food supply for a giant city
, combined with the need to recycle nutrients
and water, will drive the development of
new bioculture food industry.
The need to feed the megacities will also
in urban agriculture.
This will range from the very high tech
, spheres and pyramids
ables, fruits, fish and small livestock
largely hydroponic methods
industrial production of fresh foods on
roofs and walls, to a renaissance in backyard, balcony,
private allotment and public food garden production by individuals and grou
This trend is already eviden
around the world, especially in the US and Europe
where it is forcing
cities to revoke short
sighted ordinances that prohibit urban farm
Hospitals are already culturing fresh vegetables on their roofs to feed to pati
ents in recovery.
patrons salad greens gathered just fifteen minutes ago.
Supermarkets are exploring ways to tempt consumers with truly ‘fresh’ produce, harvested from the
roof today, rather than cold
ransported at vast cost in energy and carbon
Cities like Chicago are reinventing themselves around fresh food
and food tourism
Cities like Detroit
are turning old factories into farms.
Fish and vegetable (‘aquaponic’) farms are sprouting in
and McBride, Canada
Boston is planning huge farm developments on city roofs.
Columbia University ecologist Dickson Despommier envisions towering translucent ‘vertical farms’,
architectural wonders to green and adorn the skyline of the future city
The world’s first ‘vertical
forest’ is being built in Milan as we speak. Other vertical farms
will include intensive livestock
production to make good use of vegetable waste.
trend grows, it has the p
to become something much, much larger. To avoid waste in
a century when all resources will be scarce the Australian concept of permaculture (‘permanent
, entailing the recycling of water, nutrients and energy
using natural principles
to entire cities.
Urban permaculture will be
a first principle of sustainable urban design
for buildings, homes,
and the societies that inhabit them
These ‘green cities
, alive with vegetation, fresh food, birds and insects, will gradually replace the
soulless concrete and glass conurbations of today.
the whole of humanity
a couple of hundred
heavily on just
grains and five animals
Yet Tasmanian agricultural scientist Bruce French is compiling a database that already
umans, in other words, have
in terms of its
forgotten much that our ancestors knew about healthy and interesting diets
espite the illusion of diversity in the pack
out diet is far
that that enjoyed by previous civilisations
and is becoming narrower still due to
and the elimination of local food industries
edible plants which don’t feature in the modern diet are
consumed by indigenous
but this knowledge is often confined to a single tribe or local
soon be lost
Many of these plants are vegetables
and vegetables can be produced using far less soil, water,
energy, carbon and fertiliser than either grains or m
They are cheaper
plus you get several crops a year
This means vegetables
much larger part
of the future global diet
the future global feedstock for livestock raising
apped diversity of edible plants offers diets that are not only more interesting, healthy and
sustainable, but also the prospects of new industries and jobs,
in cities and on farms
create employment for th
e billion or so
who will be
out of traditional
agriculture in coming decades by
giant supermarkets and food firms.
Slide 21: Aust plants
Australia alone, for example, has 6100 edible native plants
of which we regularly farm and eat j
five or six.
I envision a day when Australian foods and flavour will play as large a role in a healthy world diet as
do foods originating in the Americas.
But it won’t happen if we continue to neglect them ourselves.
: high tech foods
s will also emerge from the biotechnology laboratories of the world
grains and vegetables, faster
growing animals and fish
, better climate
These will only be adopted into the world diet, however,
rate and extent
his, so far, has proved a stumbling block
, with opposition to GM foods rising in both the US and
Europe as well as in developing countries like India.
The issue will probably
be decided by
produce thinner, healthier
ather than just
One of the weirdest high tech food
is the ‘food printer’ which, like your desktop printer or
hine, contains a supply of raw
nutrients which it lays down as layers to form the food
product you have specified.
The Public Health Association of Australia describes our present system as “a commercial success...
but a catastrophic food system failure”. They refer to
the large and growing number of people sick
and dying as a result of the modern Australian diet of salt, fat, sugar and chemicals
and the food
industry that has created it.
Linked to this is the diminish
nutritional content of
food, especially f
resh fruit and
vegetables, as a result of poor agricultural systems stripping the soil of essential micronutrients
which we need in our diet to prevent these lifestyle diseases.
The twin demands for a far healthier, more diverse diet and for a more susta
inable food production
system will be major drivers of change both in how we farm and how we produce food.
It is open to Australians, with our skills and adaptability, to become world leaders in this trend.
: other foods
Now briefly, a few foods you may not much care for, but which will play a greater role in future
bout 1400 species of insects are
on the menu worldwide. Insects take up little room, can be
fed on food waste, are low in fat and high in calc
ium and iron
are not part of the
but then there will not be many traditional
westerners around by 2100. How quickly they catch on
will depend on consumer preferences and
fashions, the willingness of cooks and food companies
to promote them as food
, and of farmers to
Again, they might be a useful part of a livestock feeding enterprise, converting waste to
Plagues of jellyfish and algae in the world’s oceans are a direct result of humanity liberating
amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the biosphere, and of overfishing of the species that
normally prey on them. Having polluted the seas, bays, lakes and estuaries, the attraction of
harvesting these products of the simplified ecosystems we have
created becomes obvious
foods made from both are very likely to emerge in coming decades.
Worldwide, the entire farming system that has supported us for the last 5000 years is being
gradually reinvented to cope wit
h looming shortages of land, water, oil, fertiliser
climates. This process will continue throughout the century.
By 2100 it is probable
that about half the world’s food will come from modern eco
organic and high
tech), and about ha
lf from novel industrial and urban systems outlined above.
The farmed food will be a lot more expensive, reflecting the scarcity of the resources needed to
produce it and the very high skills required of farmers to do so sustainably. Robotics will provide
next phase of the precision agriculture revolution.
Where it is economic, food will probably be produced in the world’s deserts, using solar energy to
heat and cool huge greenhouses and extract fresh water from the sea or saline groundwater. Such
ems could well be the salvation of regions such as the Middle East, Western China, Central Asia
and North Africa where agricultural resources are already strained to breaking point by surging
but it could be a great opportunity for Austra
lia to pioneer them
Climate change will penalise food production in the tropics, subtropics and lowlying coastal areas,
will begin to open vast new lands for grain and grazing in the high north, with Canada
and Siberia poised to emerge as food
superpowers of the 22
Greenland and even the fringes of Antarctica may become hothouses of
ban agriculture will enable the restoration of tropical forests in
the creation of have
ns to protect the world’s most endangered
: at present the
to global biodiversity is human eating habits.
In time to come, farmers may well earn respectable incomes from keeping animals like tigers,
gorillas, rhinos and Australian ma
rsupials alive on farms that a
. Future food
These emerging trend
in food will surprise and
to feats of creativity and imagination
Like our homes
music and art,
our food is not frozen in time and, while our diet respects
tradition, it is constantly in pursuit of n
Food is one of the most creative things which humans do.
en by necessity and impelled by our urge to discover and try new things, the next
bound to be
the most adventurous and interesting in the 10,000 year story of
*Julian Cribb is an Australian science and agriculture write and author of
The Coming Famine: the
global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it (UCP 2010).