FAO looks at benefits and risks linked with foods of tomorrow

07 March 2022 | Muriel Cozier

‘We are in an era where technological and scientific innovations are revolutionising the agrifood sector…’

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), has released a report which highlights the benefits and risks associated with emerging foods and technologies. The report: Thinking about the future of food safety – A foresight report maps out the new opportunities that are presenting themselves for feeding a growing global population, while considering potential safety implications.

The report covers eight broad categories of drivers and trends, these are: climate change, new food sources and production systems, the growing number of farms and vegetable gardens in our cities, changing consumer behaviour, the circular economy, microbiome science, technological and scientific innovation, and food fraud.

Among the areas that the report focuses on are under consumed sea foods. Edible varieties of jelly fish are eaten in some parts of the world and are a source of protein, but can be sources of pathogenic bacteria. Seaweed consumption is on the rise, in part because of its nutritional value and sustainability. But one potential source of concern is seaweed’s ability to accumulate high levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. Interest in edible insects also continues to grow. While they can be a good source of protein, fibre, fatty acids and micronutrients, they can harbour foodborne contaminants and provoke an allergic response in some people.

The report also highlights plant-based alternatives with a warning that more awareness about food safety concerns, such as allergens from foods not commonly used before, are needed. And on cell-based meats, potential concerns include the use of animal-based serum in the culture media, which could introduce microbiological and chemical contamination.

A range of new technologies such as smart packaging that extends shelf-life, blockchain which ensures food can be traced along the supply chain and even 3D printers producing sweets, are among the opportunities the report highlights.

‘We are in an era where technological and scientific innovations are revolutionising the agrifood sector, including the food safety arena. It is important for countries to keep pace with these advances, particularly in a critical areas like food safety, and for the FAO to provide proactive advice on the application of science and innovation,’ said FAO Chief Scientist Ismahane Elouafi.

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