Fixing Food Production: Are We Too Late?

Aviv Wolff is the CEO and co-Founder of Remilk.

According to Albert Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The past couple of years have placed an intense spotlight on the instability of our global supply chain—so much so that the words “supply chain” are now part of our lexicon. Affected by pandemic surges and regional conflicts with far-reaching impacts, supply chains have proven to be unreliable, perilously fragile and in many cases unable to meet global demand.

A shortage of toilet paper is undoubtedly inconvenient. But when food starts disappearing from shelves, we’ve reached a critical turning point that suggests we need to rethink our food systems and how we nourish a growing population. An unbalanced food supply leaves millions hungry in parts of the world, while others have access to plenty—a select group that has so much that a third of food ends up as waste.

The pandemic and ongoing war in Europe are affecting the global food supply chains in ways we may not yet fully understand. Manufacturers will likely be contending with the impact for years to come. Access to fertilizers is drastically declining and animal feed costs have skyrocketed, hitting farmers with yet another massive challenge.

At the same time, we’re seeing a vicious cycle where food production is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet food production is also compromised by climate change, as evidenced by droughts, heat waves and floods that impact livestock and crops.

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When considering options, we’re already using 50% of all habitable land for agriculture, and the world’s food demand is growing dramatically. To keep up, we will need to increase food production by 60% by 2050. That means that all other problems aside, we’re closer than we can imagine to running out of space for food production, and room for humans to live on our planet.

Our food systems are so broken that to ensure our very existence on planet Earth, we must employ a new way of thinking. We must reinvent our food systems altogether now—using sustainable production methods that can be implemented locally and provide immediate access to nutritious food. This is not a “nice to have” idea. Lives depend on it.

Is there any good news in my rather bleak assessment? There is.

There’s already a food production method readily available that can help unlock a fully sustainable food supply system far into the future. It’s a method that can be implemented with a fraction of the reliance on the resources used today while providing access to nourishing food that is environmentally sound: precision fermentation.

Precision fermentation (PF) has been used commercially for decades to produce foods of the highest quality, such as cheese. In fact, fermentation-produced chymosin (rennet) was used to make more than 90% of cheese produced in the U.S. in 2012.

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PF is stable and resilient amid nearly all the threats that supply chains face today. At Remilk, we use this method to produce dairy proteins that are identical to their traditional counterparts, without using a single animal cell and with a fraction of the environmental impact. These proteins are used to make dairy products that are identical to traditional products in taste and texture but are free of components such as lactose and cholesterol.

Today, food technology and game-changing innovations such as PF are still viewed as alternatives. Given the demands on current global food systems, I believe we must embrace them as primary drivers of food production. We must press ahead immediately and create the infrastructures that will enable the production of healthier, reliable and sustainable foods at scale. We’re starting by planning the world’s largest production facility of its kind in Denmark, but hundreds more facilities like it are required if we are to ensure there is enough food to feed our world’s rapidly growing population.

How can innovative companies and manufacturers successfully drive the transformation of our food supply chain? Here are a few thoughts:

Taste is king. We can’t fool ourselves into believing that well-intentioned products will become mainstream or popular if consumers feel they have to sacrifice taste. It’s crucial to rigorously test products with consumers and be critical and honest about the taste.

• Science has been applied to food since before Mendel’s peas. As science has advanced and been increasingly used in food development, it seems we forgot to bring consumers along. I believe that the more transparent and confident we are in talking about how our products are made, and the more people understand the benefits of cleaner and safer production, the better positioned they will be to make their own educated decisions about their food.

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• Bold leaders will be rewarded. Major food companies and food chains are essential to shaping the future of food. We’re already seeing companies offering products made from innovative technologies both in the supermarket and in retail, but they are still the minority. I believe that bold steps integrating new technologies will not only reward our planet but also the food companies addressing their consumers’ concerns.

Food technology and approaches like PF need to be nurtured. Those of us using these approaches need to do a better job of helping people understand what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We need partners who support it and can provide access to it. My team and I have staked our whole business on the strong belief that this revolution is inevitable. But for it to reach its full potential, we must all work in collaboration to ensure that future generations can enjoy a stable, healthier supply of nutritious, delicious food.

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