Sustainable and circular bioeconomy for food systems transformation

Bioeconomy has a major stake in the future of food safety and environmental stewardship


Alternative proteins, microbiome science and changing consumer patterns just some of the key drivers

Bioeconomy innovations are major global agrifood drivers. From new protein sources and production systems, microbiome science, and alternatives to agricultural plastics, to changing consumer patterns, and emerging biotechnologies, we need to assess their profound implications for food safety, environmental stewardship and other areas to seize future opportunities and manage potential risks.

No crystal ball

There is no crystal ball when it comes to predicting the future; some trends that are hot right now might easily fizzle out in a few years’ time. Even so, analysing patterns in a data- and science-based way should enable us to prepare better for potential future scenarios and put in place appropriate strategies and policies to address concerns ranging from food security and food safety to carbon and environmental impacts. Indeed, looking ahead may even help us influence and shape future agrifood trends so that we avoid unintended consequences later on. This is one of the main take-homes of a new FAO foresight report, Thinking about the future of food safety.

When it comes to the new, bioeconomy is never far away and nor is FAO

With the world’s population projected to hit 9.9 billion people by 2050, our greatest challenge in the coming decades will be to feed all global citizens without further depleting our natural resource base. One of the likely solutions to this will be through unleashing the power of alternative protein sources such as edible insects, jellyfish, seaweeds, plant-based alternatives, and cell-based meat, all growing sectors within the bioeconomy. There are major opportunities associated with these new food sources, including nutritional benefits, potential greenhouse gas emission reductions, and ecosystem restoration as we move away from intensive livestock production and overfishing. However, alternative proteins, the subject of a major FAO literature review due out this summer, also present challenges across a range of fronts including food safety, environment, ethics, cost, and consumer acceptance. Indeed, steering consumers towards making environmentally responsible choices is one of the planks of FAO’s new Bioeconomy for Sustainable Food and Agriculture strategic programme, which has a core focus on SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production.

Beyond alternative proteins, microbiome science is another exciting sector within the bioeconomy that has vast untapped potential for improving soil, plant, animal and human health (the so-called One Health approach). Only 1 percent of the microbiome has been researched so far, despite the fact that microbiome research and innovation is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. There are still too many knowledge gaps in this field, for instance related to how residues of agricultural plastics, veterinary drugs, pesticides and fertilizers affect the microbiome and overall ecosystem health. FAO’s commitment to furthering our understanding of the microbiome is set to be reflected in a forthcoming paper for policymakers on how crop production practices affect the soil microbiome and the impact this has on climate change, human health and environmental degradation. Moreover, FAO is also finalizing two other microbiome papers – focusing on science, technology and innovation; and nutrition – as outputs of the UN Food Systems Summit.

Meanwhile, FAO continues to lead global efforts to address concerns regarding agricultural plastics and their sustainability, a core component of the historic resolution at the recent Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, where 175 nations agreed to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024. 


Photo: ©FAO/Banoun Caracciolo



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