First, it was the discovery of fire. And then came the invention of the wheel. In more recent times, relatively speaking, the Internet has redefined seemingly every facet of life. But the most recent game-changer simply has to be 3D printing, specifically in the context of food production.
In Abu Dhabi, three weeks or so ago, I had the privilege of witnessing two gents hold court at the inaugural Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture. The first, by name Mark Post, had created waves by developing the world’s first lab-grown burger, and there he was in Abu Dhabi explaining how he went about achieving it. The second, Andras Forgacs, had brazenly revealed the possibility of 3D printing every possible meat, tissue by tissue, layer by layer. In Abu Dhabi, he did not merely explain – he pulled out a piece of leather he had produced, for good measure. It was absolutely surreal – the stuff of science fiction!
Later, I caught up with Dr Post (interview on page 13) in a bid to confirm the implications that had feverishly flooded the mind. Just imagine, for quite a few years now, we at Climate Control Middle East have been discussing the critical role of cold chain in food safety, through the pages of the magazine and through the several Food Chain conferences we have conducted, as an extension of our editorial responsibilities. And here was someone who was confirming that soon there would no longer be any need for livestock farming, slaughtering and transporting over long distances and that distant pastures would make way for meat-growing labs in Riyadh, Doha and Dubai, where every conceivable variety could be grown from a single cell to layer after layer of tissue, with fats, proteins and all. Essentially, this approach of growing at the doorstep of the end-consumer would mean a drastic shortening of the cold supply chain, thus reducing the possibility of temperature abuse by several notches.
And further, at one stroke, the new paradigm would almost eliminate the need for large volumes of water, currently so essential for conventional livestock farming and processing. It would as much significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. It is a well-documented fact that the meat industry is water-intensive and, arguably, the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, a few questions relating to social and religious sentiments would need to be addressed, and there are the larger issues of scalability and affordability, but those are issues one could grapple with. The primary fact is that a vital breakthrough has been made with massive implications for food security and food safety, and the possibilities are alluring.
Science, wonderful science!