The development of the food industry will be essential in the coming years to feed the ever-growing population on Earth. Food production, sustainability, and distribution issues are at the core of various international agendas. The urbanization trend is also driving research on methods to feed high-density communities. Although it is the largest industry in the world, the food sector has yet to see development in many areas.
These include transparency, quality control, and knowledge distribution. The food sector is also one of the few large sectors to not have transformed through the influx of new technology. Internet technology can play a role in solving these problems, helping the food sector develop in a sustainable way and produce healthy and delicious food for all.
While innovative uses of the Internet have been applied in some areas of the sector, for example sensors to monitor crop growing conditions, they are mostly isolated cases. The industry doesn’t just need to encourage new applications of the internet to the sector, it needs to find a way to move beyond these isolated applications, to spur a broader internet-driven information infrastructure for the whole sector.
An open infrastructure with well-defined interfaces could make it possible to track produce, bringing much needed transparency to the sector. It could also give rise to new opportunities of measuring and taking care of individual crops and animals through sensors, data management, and deployment instructions. It would facilitate the application of Big Data technology and best-practices analysis, helping to rapidly identify harmful produce or practices. A proper digital infrastructure could even enable the tracking and control of individual grains, which can have varying nutritional values.
It could also be the case that the production of food, even meats, could happen locally in small kitchens by using 3D printers and protein-based cartridges. These changes would have an impact on distribution chains and blur the line between recipes and CAD drawings, allowing for perfect reproduction.
A nicely implemented digital infrastructure would also enable man to fully take advantage of the “quantified self”, tracking data such as food consumption, exercise, and performance. This knowledge combined with knowledge of the food one consumes could help develop tailor made diets.
In order to make this future a reality, besides gaining a deeper understanding and furthering active policy discussion, a few key questions will have to be addressed in the following years. It will be crucial to define what technical infrastructure, processes, and applications are required to achieve the benefit of improved production, sustainability, increased transparency, and so on.