Efforts to promote the use of food technology to produce foodstuffs artificially have been launched with the aim of ensuring a stable food supply and preventing global warming. Through technological innovation, it is hoped that products that are tasty and safe to eat will be realised.
Examples of foodstuffs produced by food tech are plant-based meat substitutes made from such agricultural products as soybeans, and cultured meat made from beef cells using advanced technology.
Alternative meat is widely used by eateries ranging from fast-food outlets to high-end restaurants in the US and Europe, which have taken a lead in the food-tech sector. It is also sold in some hamburger chains in Japan.
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has set up a study group with food companies, universities, research institutes and other entities and compiled a report that stressed the importance of such efforts for Japan, which is highly dependent on food imports from foreign countries.
The ministry plans to launch a public-private council soon to consider measures to create rules to ensure food quality and protect intellectual property rights. It is desirable for the ministry to closely examine issues to be tackled and take steps while listening to public opinions.
The primary objective for promoting the use of food technology is to prepare for possible food crises in the future.
The UN estimates that the world’s population will increase by more than 20 per cent to 9.7 billion in 2050. Growth in developing countries could result in shortages of food, especially meat, a protein source. Technological development is expected to make it easier to mass-produce alternative meat and cultured meat compared to that from livestock.
The use of food technology also could help solve environmental problems. Methane gas emissions from the burps of cows are said to contribute to global warming.
If alternative meat is produced mainly from soybeans, it can reduce the impact on the environment. Such meat is low in calories and cholesterol, meeting the growing global trend of health consciousness.
An important point is to take appropriate measures to dispel consumer concerns about the safety of such food products.
In Japan, there is a high level of public demand for food safety. Standards for quality and labeling should be clarified, and a certification system for business operators, among other rules, should be established.
Producers are urged to continue their efforts to improve the quality of artificial food products in terms of taste and texture, among other things. It is also essential to curb the relatively high prices of such products.
Developing the industry will also be crucial. Major meat companies have entered the alternative meat market. The University of Tokyo and Nissin Foods Holdings Co are conducting research to aim for the commercialisation of steaks made from cultured meat. Other areas, such as fish farming on land and genome-edited foods, are also likely to be studied further.
However, Japan’s annual investment in areas related to food technology is only about $94 million, compared to $8.9 billion in the US and $3.3 billion in China. Government support to encourage more private-sector investment is likely to be important.
Cup noodles were invented in Japan and traditional Japanese cuisine has spread around the world. Incorporating characteristics of other countries’ cuisine, the nation’s diverse food culture is also popular among foreign visitors to Japan. It is hoped that continuous efforts will be made in the food-tech sector to create a new culinary sphere.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK