The food of the future: the role of standards in sustainable, nutritious diets

Feeding 10 billion people a nutritious and sustainable diet is a mammoth task, but one we will be facing in the next 25 years. We all agree that the current pressure on our land, oceans and animals can’t continue, which means finding a sustainable way to feed the world’s growing population is one of the most pressing challenges of our time.


What’s on tomorrow’s menu?

With intensive farming that pollutes our rivers, overfishing that decimates our oceans’ fish stocks, and a demand for cropland that results in the destruction of rainforests; it’s clear that a more sustainable diet is one that will relieve some of the pressure on the natural world.

Harnessing technology and exploring alternative foods will be central to more sustainable eating habits.


No sharing platters

We’re all unique, so why shouldn’t our diets be unique too? Following the rise in popularity of smart technology that monitors your heart rate and sleep patterns, the logical next step is using tech that can monitor your blood sugar, or even your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and can tailor your diet to your personal genome, biome, or gut health.


Food engineering

Selective breeding and generic engineering can optimize foods by fortifying them with vitamins and minerals, but these technologies can also be used to enhance flavour, for example in imitation meat products. Current work in nanotechnology is exploring how food affects the palate, and how that can be changed.


Alternative proteins

Microalgae: This is a renewable source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids with a high tolerance to changes in light, pH levels, salinity, and water temperature. It could be used in renewable energies, pharmaceuticals and as food.

Insects: Locusts, crickets and maggots are all high in protein and macronutrients, need less space than livestock, and produce lower levels of greenhouse gases. In many parts of the world insects are already eaten or used for livestock feed.

Lab-grown “meats”: Currently in review by several national food regulators, produce grown from live animal cells and sustained on plant nutrients can reduce the impact of livestock grazing while producing a cruelty-free, sustainable protein.


From farm to fork

However, sustainable food production doesn’t just mean what we’re eating – it also includes:

  • How far food travels to get to your plate
  • The amount of waste it produces
  • Whether it uses renewable energy sources
  • Paying the farmers and workers a living wage
  • The quality of life for livestock
  • The quality of the end product


Skyscraper greenhouses

One impact of the pandemic is that many office buildings are no longer full of people. A modern office block with floor-to-ceiling glass windows could be repurposed as a ready-made greenhouse, with a controlled environment.


A collaborative approach

All these thorny problems around alternative food sources need to be discussed; by the people who will be eating it, by policymakers, by government, regulators, the agrifood industry, research and academia and others. Currently, it is an empty landscape, but people are coming up with new ideas all the time. For that to grow and gain investment, go to market, and scale up, you need standards.


Maintaining standards

To keep up with innovations in agrifood, existing regulations and policies need to be updated. While standards relating to the cleanliness of labs may already apply to cultivated meats, a whole new standard specifically for lab-grown food products will make it possible to:

  • Ensure the product is sustainable from end to end
  • Drive innovation by raising standards higher
  • Protect consumers, suppliers, producers, and manufacturers
  • Guarantee the quality of products
  • Work more efficiently and productively
  • Regulate new products

Sustainability in food means feeding people well, and healthily, in a viable way. We cannot do that without standards. Without them, the quality of our food and subsequently the health of the general population would be greatly diminished. Standards ensure we have confidence in the food we’re eating and confidence in the agrifood chain that is producing our food.

Higher standards, for example in procurement, can have a big impact on bugs and wildlife. For example, we can direct better food purchasing by public bodies, sourcing from agro-ecological farm systems that are better for wildlife. It’s a small percentage of the food we eat, in schools, hospitals and care homes, but it can significantly drive support to those sustainable farming systems.

Particularly for novel foods, industries and innovations, standards enable us to grow the ideas, disseminate the knowledge and agree with others on the way things should be done in future. That’s how you get buy-in and people learning about new things. Standards help businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators grow and achieve objectives like Net Zero, while at the same time reassuring the public about what they’re eating, and about the sustainable action being taken.

Standards continuously drive quality forward. BSI’s continuous improvement and evolving level of standards ensure that as you achieve a standard, you are challenged to take it further and be part of the next wave – as an industry it’s always pulling us forward to a better place.


Planning for the future

The key to success is to view the system as circular, rather than made up of separate parts. It’s possible to create an agrifood system that is both productive and profitable, with actions such as:

  • Bringing food production closer to manufacturing and distribution
  • Encouraging collaboration between small innovators in emerging technologies like AI
  • Looking at the whole-life cost and impact of food production

Agrifood standards have in the past been implemented within certain segments of the agrifood system, but now we must look at it as one continuous system and set those standards accordingly. It needs to encompass every level: improving the quality of life for battery chickens in turn improves the quality of the product, which means we eat better food, and the farm can make more money and waste less. Too many chickens in the barns means poorer animal health and decreased production, so farmers lose profits as chickens go to broilers or for stock.

People are now really interested in what smaller, innovative companies are doing. Whether it’s industrial biotechnology or data, bioscience, robotics, AI… it’s a brave new world. And all those areas seem to meld together. Collaboration and data are going to be key to improve food security – smaller producers will work with crop robotics and data technicians to track what you’re buying, where it’s from - this interoperability will be significant.


Moving forward with standards

BSI is an international standards body that brings together knowledge from every sector to improve how we do things - driving productivity, innovation and efficiency.

The food and agriculture sectors are at the heart of the drive for greater sustainability, with emerging topics such as robotics, insect proteins, natural fortification of crops and the circular economy – all of which require open, frank discussions around standards to reach their full potential.


To find out more about this topic, and how we can help you, contact us at

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