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Will the food of tomorrow be cellular – produced in vitro in the laboratory – or will it be made up of insects? Close up on the food of the future … which promises us surprises!

What will the food of the future look like?

CAN NOURISH 9.7 billion people in 2050 without depleting the resources of the planet? To reduce its overwhelming effects on the environment, the agri-food industry must accept the scheme. Eat less, eat better … maybe. And if radically altering the way we feed ourselves was the right solution? In the secrecy of their laboratories, supported by investors scenting the bargain, scientists are cooking our little dishes tomorrow. Mad scientists mad about chimeras or true visionaries?

Summer 2014. In a small brewery Irish laboratory, two researchers are busy producing cow’s milk … without a cow. Under the watchful eye of his colleague Perumal Gandhi, Ryan Pandya adds the usual components of milk (fats, minerals, sugars) to ingeniously designed proteins by combining yeast and bovine DNA sequences. In small glass boxes, at a carefully controlled temperature, they cultivated these proteins obtained in a few days. In the small glass bottle, the emulsified liquid has everything from cow’s milk. In only four months of research, the first results are at the rendezvous. The Muufri team is now looking to raise more funds to expand their lab and increase their numbers.Forbes .

New Harvest, a New York organization, served as an incubator for this fundraising campaign. At the end of the line, Gilonne d’Origny, Director of Development, has a solid argument and an unwavering conviction. “The scientific field in which we evolve can be defined as cellular agriculture,” she explains. It uses regenerative medicine to grow cells. ” To “push” skin to treat burn victims: cellular agriculture is inspired by this same technique, to “push” animal products. New Harvest’s mission is to fund research in the field. Its Executive Director, Isha Datar, a graduate in molecular biology from the University of Alberta, has been involved in the development of the first university laboratory for in vitro meat production in Canada. Their hobby horse: moving a food production line, making steaks without beef, milk without cow, eggs without chicken.

Intensive livestock farming is energy intensive and polluting

“The livestock sector is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases and one of the main causes of biodiversity loss, while in developed and emerging countries it is the main cause of pollution. water resources. Published in 2006 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Livestock’s Long Shadow Reportconcludes that raising animals for human consumption is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, in front of all modes of transport. Three years later, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang (respectively former World Bank environmental adviser and researcher) conducted another study on the subject for the Worldwatch Institute: it now raises this percentage to 51%. One-third of the world’s arable land is used for livestock fodder. The production of one gram of beef protein requires 112 liters of water. In 2014, the IPCC group of climate change experts estimated that reducing our average consumption of red meat to 10 g per day (74 g for Canadians, according to a 2004 study),

Why bother trying to finance expensive research, as New Harvest does, if the big problem lies in the production of animal protein? Why not try to convince the most carnivorous to replace their hamburger from time to time with a vegger? “Because organizations have been fighting for this for decades, and even if they do it very well, we continue to eat meat,” retorts Gilonne d’Origny.

Others as New Harvest understand it. Driven by environmental concerns, and supported by wealthy investors, these standard bearers of the agrofood revolution form a small army of scientists and technoptimists. For them, to continue to produce as we do is an aberration. Far from sticking to pity, they take the bull by the horns and see the opportunity to make a stone … three shots. Better feed humanity, stop the hellish train of climatic upheavals, and do business. “The key to change would be a significant reduction in livestock products. […] The risks of status quo, especially with regard to animal husbandry, exceed those related to change. The argument for change is no longer just a matter of public policy or ethics, but now a business issue. And we believe that [livestock substitutes] are the best business opportunity, among all industries, that can curb climate change, “Goodland and Anhang conclude in their report.

The taste of tomorrow’s food: a juicy market

“What is meat,” says Beyond Meat, “if not a combination of amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and water? What if we were able to get these components from plants, mix them and give them the texture and taste of the meat? What’s more, offering a product without cholesterol or saturated fats, containing more iron and protein than beef, more omega than fish and more calcium than milk. The objective of the young Californian company: to reduce by 25% the consumption of meat in the world by 2020. A skilful mixture of peas and soya (naturally rich in proteins), water, vegetable oil, elements nutritious and natural flavors, all passed to the mill and then extruded, sprinkled with a manufacturing secret worth millions, and you get “chicken”. In March 2013, billionaire Bill Gates noticed no difference between a piece made from herbs and a mouthful of real white. “What I experienced was more than a successful meat substitute. It had a taste for the food of tomorrow, “he writes. At the beginning of 2013, Beyond Meat had 360 points of sale, essentially grocery stores of organic or vegetarian products. Today, there are 7,500, including Target and other major US channels and soon on Walmart tablets. “What I experienced was more than a successful meat substitute. It had a taste for the food of tomorrow, “he writes. At the beginning of 2013, Beyond Meat had 360 points of sale, essentially grocery stores of organic or vegetarian products. Today, there are 7,500, including Target and other major US channels and soon on Walmart tablets. “What I experienced was more than a successful meat substitute. It had a taste for the food of tomorrow, “he writes. At the beginning of 2013, Beyond Meat had 360 points of sale, essentially grocery stores of organic or vegetarian products. Today, there are 7,500, including Target and other major US channels and soon on Walmart tablets.

The first beef steak released from a test tube cost around $ 330,000. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, funded the research conducted by the Dutch Mark Post in August 2013. The professor is currently on the advisory board of New Harvest, and continues his research at Maastricht University. “Those who support us are technoptimists, that is, people who have enormous confidence in the ability of technology to save us from ourselves,” says Gilonne d’Origny. A long-time advocate for responsible consumption, a law graduate, and a producer at her leisure, she embraced the cause of New Harvest in the spring of 2015. She wants to be reassuring, trying to “demystify science”. “The Masai farmer, or the farmer in the Ontario countryside who has 10 cattle raised to feed a small population in the area, is fine and it must continue to exist. It is intensive farming that she has in sight. For now, it is working to fund 40 scholarships that can reach up to $ 50,000. “Because without data from research, without consumables, we will not convince. “

Food production in the laboratory

At Kite Hill, a California company that makes vegan cheeses, the same emphasis is placed on the importance of product quality. “We use herbal milk like that of a traditional cheese factory,” explains Jean Prevot, Vice President Manufacturing and Operations. It is made to acidify, to coagulate, to drain, like an animal milk. The idea is not so much to try to reproduce the tastes that cheese lovers are used to. “We offer a product with different properties. You have as much difference between a goat’s cheese and that of cow as between another almond milk and a cow’s cheese. The taste properties intrinsic to the product are different since the milk is different, but there are cheese notes. He will not give us names,

The advantages without the disadvantages: that is what ultimately comes the bold proposal of these ambitious young companies. “Cultivating our almond trees requires a fraction of the amount of water needed for animal husbandry. And when you plant trees, you contribute to the natural absorption of carbon, a way of counteracting pollution, “believes Jean Prevot. “Think of everything upstream of a glass of milk,” added Gilonne d’Origny. Deforestation, intensive maize cultivation, livestock breeding. But also health risks. Now we have the technology to produce high quality milk. Without the cow!

Alchemists of taste, texture magicians

In the subdued and cozy atmosphere of Montreal’s ChuChai, the aroma that escapes from the plates makes you salivate. Since 1997, the Saint-Denis Street restaurant serves vegetarian Thai cuisine. Yet duck, beef and other shrimp are on the menu. If all fail to confuse the meat lover, the “duck” is particularly misleading. The very religious leader Lily Sirikittikul makes vehemence of vegetarianism after a trial in her life, and elaborates a card free from any animal product. Seitan proteins (derived from wheat gluten) are processed to obtain a texture reminiscent of meat, sauces and seasonings do the rest. At the end of the 1990s, for the Quebec metropolis, the initiative is rather avant-garde. Inspired by many travels and a few years of residency in San Francisco, Lily Sirikittikul had sensed the latent interest of customers for an environmentally friendly “meat”. If ChuChai or Beyond Meat seem to have put their finger on an efficient process, others have some way to go. Finding the right thickness, texture and taste for steak in vitro is still a puzzle today. In this race for the food market of the future, specialists in flavor creation have understood their interest in positioning themselves well.

“The challenge for the industry is, on the one hand, to understand the taste of the new forms of protein (since everything has its own flavor) and, on the other hand, to create flavors that are marry well. But we have the technology and the necessary knowledge. Robert Sobel is a chemist specializing in flavor analysis and modification for Fona International, one of the leaders in the flavor industry. Complex science, the creation of flavors attempts to replicate the prowess of Mother Nature (“two to three thousand chemical flavors give the apple the taste we know,” says Sobel), and interferes in our brain to dissect the neural mechanisms that make us love, or not, a food.

In July 2015, during the congress of the ‘ Institute of Food Technologistsheld in Chicago, USA, many discussions revolved around insect consumption. If it tastes good, and the West manages to get rid of the psychological blockage culturally anchored to the idea of ​​cricket cricket, a promising market would open to the alchemists of taste. “It’s something our brains do everyday without realizing it,” says Tracy Cesario, director of communications at Fona International. If I offer you a neighborhood of lemon to eat as it is, you will think that I derailed. This will immediately evoke your acidity and bitterness, nothing enticing. But if I say “lemon”, what will come to mind first of all it’s a cake, a sherbet, a lemonade … So, to make the transition between a “raw” ingredient and an aromatic composition derived from this ingredient, that’s part of the solution. And that’s the brain doing it, not just technology. “

Before the plate, the challenges of food production

Should we be wary of products promising to save the world and our health? “The watchword is to stay as close as possible to unprocessed food,” says Paule Bernier. Without being miracle products, they can meet the needs, the concerns of some people. Is growing soybeans [ Editor’s note]: used as an emulsifier in vegan mayonnaise,] is better than leaving some hens loose to lay eggs? I do not know, I did not do this analysis. For the president of the Professional Order of Dietitians of Quebec, we are more in line with a trend that began two or three decades ago at the dawn of a revolution. “There are fewer and fewer arable soils available, and more and more people are looking for replacement proteins. “Without being able to say what will be our plate tomorrow, Paule Bernier believes that the principle of sustainable food (sufficient production to ensure food safety while having a reduced environmental impact) should prevail.

Convince skeptics, enact laws governing the marketing of future products, resist industrial lobbies … The party looks long. New Harvest’s proposal to move the production line to arrive at an identical product is likely to cringe. “The big companies will say that they have everything they need to produce meat as they have always done,” says Gilonne d’Origny. But those that do not evolve end up like Kodak. Before Muufri milk is found in the grocery store, before Beyond Meat or another player crosses the US border, it’s also the regulation that will have to be debated. Will it be necessary to elbow with the traditional industries that will try to preserve their market shares? How to respond to sanitary standards imposed by the authorities? But above all, well before thinking of enacting laws, it is primarily consumers that these technoptimists will have to convince. “Attracting the consumer to new eating habits is not easy, even if we observe a global trend of this type of change,” says Jean Prevot.

Future foods: made in vitro?

Frankenfood. You may have this word on your lips reading this article. “The way we produce our animal proteins today takes us far away from nature,” says Gilonne d’Origny. But go visit farms that are intensive livestock, and tell me if it’s natural. We must not delude ourselves about what we eat today. Human nature is afraid of change, philosopher Gilonne d’Origny. Look at history: all major industrial revolutions have been brought about by changing production methods. When electricity arrived, we stopped hunting whales for their oil. Yet, some have seen it as a threat. “

The subject remains sensitive enough for Hampton Creek, a leader in the vegan mayonnaise market, to decline our interview request. Politically, the communications manager explained that they did not want to rub shoulders in an article of companies whose research could “scare the mothers who buy our products.” In September 2015, the British newspaper The Guardianrevealed that a state-backed US egg producer lobby considered the California company a threat to eliminate.

None of the companies surveyed here claim to have “the” response to the environmental footprint of food production. But all feel that they are actively involved. The question now is perhaps not so much whether you will one day eat meat made in vitro . But when.

The food of the future: made with insects?

“Some have a lemon taste. The ones found in Ghana, Africa, are sweet and creamy, probably some of the most delicious I have ever tasted. My favorites are reminiscent of a mixture of cashews and roasted potatoes. Do you think cupcakes , pancakes or donuts? No, insects! Gabriel Mott is part of the faculty team at McGill University, which founded Aspire Food Group. In 2013, the now Texas-based company received the Hult Award from Bill Clinton for its project to develop insect consumption, particularly among malnourished populations. With a check for a million dollars: beautiful launching pad.

“We eat about 500 g of insects per year without knowing it,” laughs entomologist Étienne Normandin. Most products contain a tiny amount of insects, which is acceptable by food standards. “And think of honey, which first goes into a crop, goes to the stomach and is regurgitated by the bee,” says the young coordinator of insect collections at the Plant Biology Research Institute of the Montreal university. It’s all about education and culture. Co-founder of the Insect Farm in Frelighsburg, Estrie, he is not deceiving himself about the “demystification” work to be done. If sports protein bars are already a reality, convincing all-comers to incorporate flour worms in their pancake batter is another set of games.

Nearly 80% of the world’s population traditionally consume insects, and FAO considers that it is the protein that could best respond to environmental and malnutrition challenges.

“It’s all about allowing consumers to not think of cricket when they eat it,” says Fona International’s Tracy Cesario. We do not think of a touching calf when we plant our fork in a steak. It will be necessary for consumers to put a distance between what they have in the plate and the mental representation they have. Expect to see insect-based cookbooks in Quebec in the next two years! warns Étienne Normandin.

Dr. Kanika Singla

Ph.D., IARI Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley

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