Track & Connect: The Intersection Between Food Supply Chains and Technology
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The industrialization of agriculture radically set people apart from their food sources. We do not see how animals are treated when looking at meat, nor the underground water being drained from ecosystems when opening a bottle of soda. The same systems that expanded the amount of food available created a vast and complex value chain, nearly invisible to the consumer; society is being nurtured by the "biodiversity" of a supermarket shelf. Yet, we are currently living in an era where information is widely available and people have more access to knowledge to understand what they eat and where food comes from. In many cases, critical thinking has been progressing towards food literacy, questioning the potential health and ethical risks of our current system and advancing the debate surrounding the repercussions of innovations in the future.
Everywhere, people are inquiring about what exactly goes into the food packages they buy and the social and environmental impact produced by packaging. As the climate crisis raises concerns over the ability for heads of households to regularly acquire enough food to feed their families, rising food prices increase the number of questions about equal access to fresh produce across the globe. Besides, food scandals, such as Operation Weak Flesh, have contributed to the fear and uncertainty of consumers. Across the world, many food-related protests are popping up. From Argentina to Sudan, social movements are questioning how the food supply chain works and demanding action from producers, political leaders, and health authorities. Food has become more political than ever.
In this scenario, we explore the potential that emerging technologies have in integrating innovation with food sovereignty at all levels of society and accelerating this turnover towards a more sustainable food supply chain. Still, for every change, a significant transition must occur. These initiatives impose new ethical and regulatory challenges that need to be addressed. In order to better explain these shifts, we have consolidated three major spheres that could transform the current and future food industry through accountability, autonomy, and responsibility.
Accountability goes hand in hand with greater transparency. As food turns into politics, businesses are being obliged to justify their decisions to rebuild community trust. People are demanding more explanations about how their food is produced and initiatives to audit Labor Data standards might turn into crucial tools for accountability.
On the other hand, other types of accountability are not necessarily related to full traceability. Hyperspectral Sensor Imaging (HSI), for example, can aid consumers in analyzing the chemical composition of their food, by checking fruit ripeness, identifying allergens, CO2 composition, and pollution concentration. All in all, these advancements may lead to a future where quality, safety, and authenticity will be the building blocks of a more harmonious relationship between consumers and what they consume.
If consumers can not trust the food industry, production sovereignty might become the only way in which people can entirely trust what they eat. Crowd Farming solutions are already paving the way in the process of cutting out intermediaries, bringing people closer to their food sources. Additionally, this bond could be further strengthened through technologies that can boost In-home agriculture models, which have the potential to overcome productivity challenges within small spaces and generate more independent cultivation. Governments could also have the opportunity to redesign policies for future cities based on food needs and preferences. The future of food might be where citizens are self-sufficient and independent from any industrial processes.
An increased sense of belonging to the community helps encourage engagement and the willingness to take action to support the relationship between residents and the local environment. With the help of technologies such as Nano Coating and Edible Packaging, we could move towards more widespread use of renewable bio-based coatings and thereby lead the transition into a circular economy. At the same time, we aren't quite certain of the effects these novel gene-edited and recycled substances might have on people's health in the long run. Nevertheless, these innovations have the potential to reduce waste while augmenting the life cycle of food products. This, consequently, could lead to the empowerment of the “zero-waste” movement that aims to end packaging waste by doing away with packaging altogether. The future of the packaging industry could well be the elimination of its main product.
By reintegrating people into the food production chain through emerging technologies, governments will be given the opportunity to design better policies to meet the growing needs of citizens. The prospect of food security is about the technocratic capacity to produce more food while relying on a more harmonious relationship amidst all players. Alternative food systems and civic food networks aim to reconnect producers and consumers in a transnational context based on a democratic food system. The future of food governance will be built upon our ability to construct a new social legitimacy for all — and by all — through agreements that govern food and agriculture beyond national borders. In this interconnected world context, people will shift from mere consumers to global food-citizens.