Future of Food Forum extracts strong opinions from stakeholders

New Hope Network’s recent Future of Food Forum brought together stakeholders from the natural products and food tech industries to share their opinions and concerns regarding technology’s role in the food system.

The virtual event, moderated by journalist and author Larissa Zimberoff, was organized around four questions:

  • What about biotechnology do we need to understand better?
  • How can New Hope bring greater transparency to “future foods” for our community?
  • Are climate claims and the businesses that make them important to our planet’s future.
  • Do you know enough about how your food is made now? What do you want to know to help you feel more confident about our food future?

Throughout the forum, participants reacted, commented and shared information in the adjacent chat window. For convenience, New Hope Network marked the approximate time that each speaker was introduced, but their comments are not included in the chat. Curated highlights and links from the chat are generally listed in chronological order.

7:20 Speaker: Danielle Gould, Food+Tech Connect

Gould posted: To subscribe to the Food+Tech Connect newsletter and receive notice when the company launches the New Food Order podcast, visit the subscription page

Errol Schweizer’s columns can be found on his contributor page at Forbes.com.

Al Lewis of Natural Grocers posted a link to “SEC Filings: Risk Factor Disclosures for Synthetic Biology.”

13:32 Speaker: John Wood, Green Grocer

20:32 Speaker: Sheila Voss, Good Food Institute

Voss commented: “To the great comments above around biotechnology being just one piece of the puzzle: absolutely. No one silver bullet will fix the broken food system. Progress and innovation on all multiple fronts are needed. Ultimately, all progress can head in a common direction: making the more sustainable options the default options, the more affordable, easy-to-get and better-for-the-people-and-planet options.”

25:54 Jeffrey Smith’s 16-minute film about genetically engineered microbes, “Don’t let the gene out of the bottle,” can be found at www.ProtectNatureNow.com.

30:03 Speaker: Priyanka Khole, Svaa Haa Foods

Miyoko Schinner, Miyoko’s Creamery, commented:  “I am unclear why we are not spending as much money on educating consumers about how they can eat to reduce their global footprint as we are on developing cell based and other forms of biotechnology. Clearly, there would be no return for investors in simply disseminating information. Science has shown that simply reducing animal agriculture and changing the global diet to be based on whole organic plants would provide enough food for all and reduce total farmland. We don’t need to replicate meat precisely and continue the consolidation of power in the food system; we need diversity.”

34:40 Speaker: Shlomit DeLouya Solomon, ReMilk

Khole commented: “My thoughts are we don’t need to look into meat and protein, there is enough protein in our ancient crops like legumes, millets but we haven’t harnessed these as major food, have been fed a protein myth that we need this amount of protein—a well-rounded vegetarian diet can provide us with wholesome nutrition.”

Schinner commented: “We are further entrenching in the minds of consumers that animal proteins are necessary for health, which is false. Most of humankind derived protein mostly from plants for most of history in most parts of the world and we should be promoting that idea, not that we just need to replace break animal protein with that made in a lab. We don’t need to consume casein, for example.”

40:37 Speaker: Courtney Pineau, executive director, Climate Collaborative

44:15 Speaker: Shelley Saspin, director of market integrity for New Hope Network, responds to a comment from Cate Baril, marketing manager at Global Organics Ltd.

Voss commented: “Advancing alternative proteins is not mutually exclusive to promoting whole foods. … While applying scrutiny to all food technologies and innovations, embracing more ‘and’ approaches can help us make progress on multiple fronts at the same time.”

Smith, the author and filmmaker, commented: “Using waste from synbio fermentation carries enormous risks. Introducing live engineered microbes into the environment creates unpredictable outcomes that are potentially catastrophic. Engineered microbes travel, mutate, swap genes, and potentially damage or collapse ecosystems. See the film at www.ProtectNatureNow.com for an example of one near catastrophe. The whole synbio industry downplays these risks, even though they are potentially creating irreversible changes in the microbiome.”

Eric Pierce, New Hope Network, commented: “For those asking about the definition of natural or the fit of these technologies within a natural community, please know that we are exploring that with this session and broader feedback from our research efforts. One way to think about the definition of natural are the values that unite and energize this community. We are in the process of conducting Retailer/Buyer, Brand/Manufacturer, and Consumer perspectives on these values and how our community defines itself. Your perspective on this will help shape our stewardship of this community into the future.”

48:12 Speaker: Errol Schweizer, entrepreneur and author

52:16 Speaker: Jaime Kubian, Tag One

56:45 Speaker: Grant Ferrier, founder of Nutrition Capital Network, Sempera Organics

Smith responded to Sapsin: “Shelley, I appreciate your position that transparency is critical. But I respectfully disagree with using that as criteria to bring in products using synbio (fermentation). I can confidently predict that the hundreds of thousands of people in our nonprofit community would agree. In fact, many would be angry if they heard this. I suspect that would be representative of millions of nature foods eaters. … I don’t think that New Hope’s position is sensitive to the core of this industry.”

Schweizer posted a link to the risk statements from Ginkgo Bioworks Holdings Inc.’s Form 10Q, filed regarding the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2021. He also posted a link to link to Oxfam’s carbon inequality report.

1:01:02  Moderator Larissa Zimberoff reads comments and questions from the chat.

Commenter posted a link to How GMOs Are Regulated in the United States

Commenter posted a link to National Academy of Sciences Urges Greater GMO Transparency.

Commenter posted a link to “That Dinner Tab Has Soared. Here Are All the Reasons,” a New York Times feature explaining the current costs of restaurant operations.

1:03:11 Speaker Jeff Bland, Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute

Schweizer asked the Good Food Institute representatives: “Do you agree that these questions on transparency are necessary and appropriate for the industry to better understand these technologies? And will you push for answers as well: What are the microorganisms being fed? How is the waste handled and how much is produced relative to usable product? What risk disclosures do you give to your investors that consumers and retailers should see?”

Voss responded: “On Sept. 8, GFI and FAIRR will jointly launch new, first-of-their-kind ESG frameworks for the alternative protein industry that enable greater transparency of the environmental, labor and food security impacts of companies and their products. The frameworks will encourage improvements in company practices and enable comparisons between companies producing alternative proteins and animal protein products. While such frameworks exist for many other industries, an alternative-protein-specific ESG reporting framework has not been published before now.”

1:07:54 Speaker Arno Hess, investor

Schinner commented: “Biotech consolidates economic power in the hands of a few in a similar way to current animal agriculture. We need to create diverse opportunities, which can be done by sticking with humble plants.”

Commenter posted links to “25 beautiful plants for your edible landscape” and “400 wild plants that you can forage for,” a video.

Voss commented: “All foods consumed today are made possible via science and biotechnology, including the whole fruits and vegetables in one’s kitchen, which we have today thanks to scientific advances ranging from plant breeding to soil ecology.”

1:13:15 Zimberoff’s story, “California just invested millions in lab-grown meat, becoming the first state to back the unproven industry,” can be found on her website.

Commenter posted: “Just pointing out solutions from all corners are needed if we are going to decarbonize the food system successfully. What’s at stake is significant, and we will not stop the advance of climate change if we fail to change the way we eat. Animal free technologies need nurturing if they are to credibly scale. This story helps frame the picture.”

1:14:29 Speaker: John Grubb, consultant

Schweizer commented: “There is a lot of food science that does not involve in vitro nucleic acid techniques, i.e., genetic modification. There’s a lot of confusion being sown here.”

Hans Eisenbeis, Non-GMO Project, commented: “There is either in vitro DNA manipulation or not. It’s pretty clearly a meaningful binary. Our view is that one is unnatural and unnecessary.”

Sapsin responded to Smith (original comment at 56:45): “Jeffrey, I agree that some in our community feel just as you describe and appreciate you sharing that perspective. I hope the research we’re doing will give us even better insight about what’s most important to our community—both those that are at its traditional core as well as our millennial brands and attendees—so we really can be sensitive to all these needs.

“In terms of being transparent, one significant challenge in implementing our standards—the challenge we’re talking about here—is that it’s difficult to know when foods include these technologies. Some of the leading alt-meat/dairy brands are most transparent, but others are not and we have little way to tell. We rely on certifiers like NGMP and organic certifiers to do that assessment. Requiring transparency is optimal, but it also may provide a false sense of security because not all brands know whether their products have ingredients produced with synbio and we can’t tell that from a label, even when we’re doing a review.”

Carlotta Mast of New Hope Network posted: “Thank you for all the thoughtful and well articulated comments and speakers. To see so many industry leaders join this conversation gives me hope that this community can influence a more equitable, climate-resilient, safe and transparent food system. Thank you for the excellent moderation, Larissa, and for the mindful planning, Jessica (Rubino) and Shelley (Sapsin). And yes, yes, yes to a Fungi Forum.”

Please help us keep this conversation going. If you’re interested in sharing your opinions on the future of food, email Jessica Rubino at [email protected]. All opinions are welcome.

 

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