July 17, 2018 | By Scott Allan

Next Generation 2018 - Food Security and the Role Biotechnology Can Play

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2018 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 27 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2018, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

During my time in Washington, DC, adverse weather similar to the formidable “Beast from the East” that hit Europe was in full effect in the States, with two days of heavy rain, a day of snow and then a day of glorious sunshine—although still bitter cold. Though this is no more than a mere personal annoyance, unpredicted weather has adverse effects on agriculture and the reliability of crop yields. Climate change is predicted to make unpredicted weather events such as this more common, which could lead to issues such as acute water scarcity, soil degradation, and outbreaks of pests and disease. Coupled with the growing population, these concerns are placing an ever-increasing strain on global food security.

As an engineer researching cellular agriculture, specifically cultured meat (also known as clean meat, in vitro meat, or lab meat), I believe that biotechnology has a vital role to play in ensuring global food security, and that agriculture has the potential to produce food without the constraints of climate volatility, land availability, or soil fertility that conventional animal agriculture is faced with. Diversifying a farm’s agricultural products has immense benefits such as increased farm revenue; diversifying our food production methods to include biotechnological methods can also have great benefits and lead to greater food security in the future. Though there is no single solution to the problems facing future generations, cultured meat has the potential to help deliver on SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 13 (climate action), and the COP 21 Paris Agreement through the projected reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and land and water use.

Though this is an emerging field, cellular agriculture is not a new concept, but rather a rebranding of already existing technology, and a call for more of it. The production of agricultural products from cell cultures rather than whole animals is already in use. To help one imagine the facilities required for this new agricultural technology, picture a brewery or cheese production factory—but with the final product as meat! Everyday examples include insulin previously collected from the pancreases of pigs or cattle, and rennet used in cheese making which is originally sourced from the fourth stomach of calves. Both insulin and rennet are now produced using engineered yeast or bacteria. The wide variety of products being developed today include lactose-free cow milk proteins, egg proteins, vanilla, spider silk, and many more. My research as a chemical engineer at the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies and a New Harvest Research Fellow is focused on designing the bioreactors (controlled environments like a fermenter in a brewery) that will be necessary to scale-up cultured meat production.

The focus of the Global Food Security Symposium this year was Youth for Growth. The rapidly growing youth population represents the future of agriculture, and the Symposium recognized that we the need to entice future generations into the field. The question frequently asked was, “how can we make farming sexy?” One way of doing this is through technology. The youth of today are natural adopters of new innovations and technologies. Technology is shaping advancements in agriculture with discussions at the Symposium and in the Youth for Growth report mentioning radical ideas such as vertical farming, hydroponics, RFID-based animal health trackers and future global food systems in the form of food computers. All of these emerging technologies along with advancements in biotechnology may seem foreign and abstract, but if embraced and integrated with traditional farming methods can be used to make agriculture more youth inclusive and enticing.

A massive thank you to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs for the fantastic opportunity to partake in the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium. The Symposium provided a platform for learning from global leaders, storytellers and innovators from across the world who are shaping the future of agriculture and food production!


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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