RETHINKING THE WAY WE EAT AT THE MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS (4YFN)
The MWC is the most important technology fair in Europe and one of the best known in the world. It is also a forum for debate and discussion about the problems we face and the solutions we are proposing. This year, we had the great honour of attending as speakers at the twin event 4YFN (4 Years From Now), organised by GSMA in parallel to Mobile at the same venue, which brings together the most innovative Start-Ups on the current scene.
Rethinking the way we eat
Specifically, we participated in a panel about future food, entitled “Rethinking the way we eat”, where we tried to answer the most pressing questions about food security and explain how the insect industry can help mitigate the protein deficiency that the FAO announces for the near future. Below you can read a transcript of our intervention, moderated by Daniel Hires.
Daniel Hires: What is the problem with our food today and what are you doing to change things?
Fran García, dircom of Tebrio: There are many things wrong with our agri-food system. And I am not referring to what we eat, because everyone is free to choose their own diet, but to how we produce food. The United Nations has been telling us for years that we will soon have a serious food problem and that our agri-food model will not be able to meet our global needs. By 2050 we will have a protein deficiency of between 20% and 50%. And we are not going to fill that gap if we continue to do what we are doing today.
There is no more arable land, we are using it all up and destroying forests and jungles to get more. That is a short-term strategy and it is going to take its toll on the environment if we continue down that path. So, from our point of view, we need to broaden our horizons and look for alternatives to certain crops that are not viable on a large scale.
We need more sources of supply and, above all, we need them to be sustainable in the long term. And we need efficiency, that is crucial. By the latter I mean that it is not acceptable that a third of the world’s food production ends up wasted when one in ten people suffer from undernourishment. That is happening. These are FAO figures. And it is abhorrent.
At Tebrio, we try to optimise resources to get the most out of them. To do this, we propose introducing insects at the root of the agri-food chain. We can eat them directly ourselves or use them to feed animals that already consume them naturally in the wild. And if we do this, we will free up millions of hectares of crops that are currently only used to feed livestock and reclaim them for human consumption, or to generate biodiversity.
The same is true of the marine environment. We are depleting the oceans, so the most viable option to continue eating fish is to promote aquaculture. The problem is that aquaculture, as it is currently designed, is not sustainable either. For any of us to eat a one-kilo fillet of aquaculture fish, you have to feed that fish with up to four kilos of fishmeal, which comes from marine catches. It does not make sense. But we can supplement their diet with insects and save millions of tonnes of fish catch per year. What I mean by all this is that whether you eat insects or not, we can use them to optimise the resources we have because they are valuable and should not be wasted.
DH: In a systemic way, how can your project be scaled up, and who should be involved in it?
FGIn our case we are already scaling up the project. Not only Tebrio, but the insect industry in general. There is a lack of food and there will be a greater lack of food in the near future. And investors have already understood this. They have realised that we have a vast supply source in front of us that we are barely using. Society is becoming more and more receptive, probably because it has become familiar with the problem. And now we need politicians to get on board with this initiative by pushing for regulatory changes, because we are talking about a new industry that does not fit neatly into the regulations. They need to be adapted.
Insects can help us to solve several crucial challenges: on the one hand, food safety; on the other hand, optimisation of resources; and finally, circularity. We use by-products from other agri-food industries as raw materials, discards such as cereal by-products, and through a bioconversion tool, which is the Tenebrio molitor insect, we transform them into top quality protein, fat with an oleic profile halfway between olive oil and sunflower oil, biofertiliser and chitosan to manufacture, for example, 100% biodegradable plastics.
We raise our insects vertically, so we need very little space. And we consume very little water compared to other agri-food farms to produce much more protein. It’s about optimising resources. We leave no waste and we have a very small carbon footprint, which could even be negative, because we pollute very little, but our customers also pollute less by using our products. We are not naïve enough to think that we are going to stop climate change on our own, but we can mitigate it and help people adapt better.
DH: My daughter is four years old, what do you think she will eat when she turns 18?
FG: My daughter is also four years old. And what I hope is that when she turns 18 she will continue eating as well as she does now. I hope that her diet is still balanced; that she eats protein, fat, carbohydrates, natural sugars. And that all of it is adjusted to her needs.
I don’t know what she’ll be eating when she’s 18, but I’m sure there will be new ingredients available to her, whether it’s insect flour, cultured meat, fermentation products… I’m convinced that all of these things will eventually be integrated into our diets because they are safe and nutritious. That doesn’t mean that she will stop eating meat, fish or fruit, which may even be of better quality. They are all compatible foods. Just because a new ingredient makes its way onto our dishes doesn’t mean we have to exclude the others. That would be ridiculous.
DH: For investors who might be listening to us, what message do you think could convince them?
FG: What we are offering are alternatives, nothing more and nothing less. I think investors have already understood this. And I think society is also becoming aware. Changes, by their very nature, always arouse rejection. They are not easy. They involve effort and generate doubts. But development has always been linked to these changes; and sometimes they have been very drastic ones. We should not be afraid of progress, we should face it. Obviously, by calculating and weighing up the steps to be taken beforehand, with a road map and with all possible guarantees. But standing still to see what happens is not an option; we already know what is going to happen, it is already happening.
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