Foods of the future?

Christine Brown-Paul

Christine Brown-Paul

Functional foods have been defined as those that go beyond merely providing nutrients—they actively help prevent diseases for those at high risk, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease. According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the science of functional foods is the convergence of two major events in our lives— diet and health. The association between food and disease is widely recognised as the bedrock of preventive nutrition and reflects the oriental philosophy that: ‘Medicine and food have a common origin’.

In this issue we look at how functional foods have the potential to improve people’s health and prevent disease. The emergence of a swathe of so-called ‘superfruits’ in recent years heralds the most significant development in this natural benefits trend—fruit and fruit ingredients as key components of healthier foods and beverages. By way of example, in our story on functional foods, we look at how the humble Queen Garnet plum in Queensland has shot to international fame thanks to its well-researched, obesity-fighting properties.

According the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), the premise of the functional foods revolution is based on observations of the health benefits of consuming more fruit, vegetables and ‘whole’ foods. The RIRDC argues that Australia’s rural industries can play a more proactive and innovative role in delivering ‘health’ benefits, including added-value produce.

In the 21st century and beyond, biotechnology is set to play an increasing role to produce what is known as functional foods. Despite resistance to the idea in many quarters, genetically modified foods may also carry other useful components such as genes to vaccinate consumers against important diseases.

By 2050, the world population is expected to grow to 9.6 billion and, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), if we are to avoid mass malnutrition, food production will need to rise by 70 per cent. As most of the land available for food production is already under cultivation, a true revolution in farming methodology is urgently needed.

Hydroponic and greenhouse technology, aquaculture and aquaponics, organic and urban farming technologies are intensive plant production systems that are all well placed to meet the challenges ahead. Greenhouse crop production is now a growing reality throughout the world with an estimated 405,000ha of greenhouses spread across the continents. Studies show that fruits and vegetables grown indoors tend to have far greater yields per area than comparable produce grown outside, with problems caused by weeds, pests and inclement weather virtually non-existent in greenhouse environments. Add technologies like hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics to the equation, and yields increase even more. With arable land becoming sparser, and global populations continuing to rise, the only direction to grow our farms is up. In this issue, we continue to trace the rise of city farming with a focus on AeroFarms – a New York-based agro business, which is taking indoor vertical farming to an industrial level.

Enjoy this issue!

Christine Brown-Paul

PH&G Oct 2016 / Issue 172