Using new DNA sequencing technologies and open access bioinformatics tools to make food testing a grassroots endeavour
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
This project has been piloted in Switzerland as a collaboration between a local community lab/biohacking association, a local start-up and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. While the project is highly replicable this is the geography current partners are currently located in and in which we have most expertise and network.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Switzerland is a small landlocked country surrounded by Germany, Italy, France and Austria. As such, Switzerland has a French-speaking region, German-speaking region and Italian-speaking region. A fourth national language, Romanche, is spoken in some parts of Eastern Switzerland. As a confederate state, local authority is strong. While culinary traditions vary from one region to another, meat and dairy are key components of traditional cuisine, though increasing numbers are turning to alternative diets.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The population of Switzerland has more than doubled since 1900, with resulting challenges to food provision. An increasingly diverse population is leading to changes in diets and food patterns as well as different expectations from the food supply chain. As in many places, Swiss agriculture faces challenges from import. Increasing awareness of environmental factors as well as ethical and health concerns are leading to an increase in vegetarian diets (including veganism, pescatarianism etc) and a trend to organic and less less processed foods. Increasing numbers of people have food allergies. There is overall an increase of awareness and will on the consumer side to know exactly what is eaten.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The increased need to know what consumers are buying calls for more food transparency. To address this, we are developing a simple DNA sequencing protocol to be applied to composite foods to identify which plants or meat are present. This can be used at any stage of the food system. In particular, companies can check what they are receiving from suppliers and check for accidental contamination during processing, and consumers can test the final product before consuming it. Having a tool like this widely available will help prevent accidental contamination and be a strong disincentive against food fraud.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
There will be complete trust in the food system between its' different actors, from farmer to plate. Consumers will fully informed about the products available to them and will be able to make well-informed choices.