Engineering the Future of Food

About the episode

800 million people currently go to sleep hungry, but 1 in 4 of us are predicted to be obese by 2035. Securing access to food for everyone and making it sustainable for our planet are two of our greatest challenges. Professor Johannes le Coutre, the leader of UNSW’s food program, and Katherine Samaras, Laboratory Head of the Garvan Institute and specialising in diabetes and obesity prevention, join STEMM journalist Neil Martin to talk about potential solutions for keeping us fed and the planet happy. They discuss why looking back to old agricultural techniques could hold some answers, and how diabetes drug Ozempic isn’t the fix for over-eating.

Johannes le Coutre

Professor Johannes le Coutre joined UNSW in 2019 and is responsible for the University’s food program, driving research and education.

In 1995 Johannes obtained his Ph.D. at the Max-Planck-Institute of Nutrition Physiology. Subsequently, he went to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UCLA. In 2000, he was asked to build a research program on taste physiology at Nestlé in Switzerland which has led to significant impact in the markets.

Over the years, he has initiated various global research programs integrating private and public sectors and he has been recognized with several R&D awards.

Since arriving in Sydney, le Coutre is driving a research program to investigate the utility of Cellular Agriculture for establishing viable production streams of alternate protein supply.

Johannes serves as a fellow to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and is the founding Field Chief Editor for FRONTIERS in Nutrition, the leading open access journal in the field.

Katherine Samaras

Professor Katherine Samaras is a specialist physician and translational clinical scientist in endocrinology and metabolism.

She is a senior staff specialist at St Vincent's Hospital, where she established metabolic services. On the St Vincent’s Campus, she is the founder and director of the Australian Centre of Metabolic Health.

She is a conjoint Professor of Medicine at the University of NSW Sydney and leads the Clinical Obesity, Nutrition and Adipose Biology Laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. She is a Chief Specialty Editor for the scientific journal Frontiers in Endocrinology, establishing the Obesity specialty section.

She has published over 160 scientific papers, with her major focus on how metabolism interacts with the immune system and the brain, particularly with disorders such as diabetes and obesity. She is the Chief Investigator of a large dementia prevention study, the MetMemory Study, which is investigating how metabolic, vascular and immune factors affect brain ageing. She is part of NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence consortium to support research and training of future researchers.

Katherine has contributed to national and international policy in diabetes and obesity prevention, particularly in vulnerable groups, such as people with severe mental illness and Down syndrome.

  • Voiceover | 0:06 

    Welcome to UNSW's Engineering the Future podcast, a series where we'll speak to academics and industry leaders who are embracing cutting edge ideas and pushing the boundaries of what is truly possible. In this episode, we'll unveil the developments in the food industry and discuss what impacts we can expect on society as a whole. Over the next two decades, we'll hear from leading experts in the field Professor Johannes le Coutre and Professor Katherine Samaras as they explain why they're concerned about the growing disparity between over-nutrition and food scarcity. They'll also give their verdict on the viability of protein alternatives, such as lab-grown meat, and the major role policymakers and governments can play to address the food security problem, as the world's population is expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050. So join us as we discover how world-changing action starts with fearless thinking in "Engineering the Future of Food."

    Neil Martin | 1:06

    Hello, and welcome to "Engineering the Future of Food". My name is Neil Martin, and I'm a journalist and STEMM communicator working in the Faculty of Engineering at UNSW. Joining me today to discuss what changes we can expect in food and sustainable agriculture over the next 30 years is Professor Johannes le Coutre, who leads the UNSW Food Program. Johannes is driving research into lab-grown meat and other cellular agriculture, with the aim of establishing viable production streams of alternative protein supply. He's passionate about strengthening food security and alleviating the agricultural burden on the environment and remains firmly connected with the food industry to develop R&D projects as a fellow of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Welcome Johannes.

    Johannes le Coutre | 1:59

    Good morning, Neil. Real pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

    Neil Martin | 2:03 

    Also with us is Professor Katherine Samaras. Laboratory Head of the Garvan Institute and Senior Staff Specialist at St Vincent's Hospital, who specialises in work on diabetes and obesity prevention. Katherine's research focuses on how healthy ageing is affected by diabetes and metabolism, particularly brain ageing and dementia. She has extensive collaborative links with the Centre for Healthy Brain and Ageing, and the Kirby Institute at UNSW as well as other international groups. Hi, Katherine.

    Katherine Samaras | 2:39

    Good morning. Neil, thank you for inviting me.

    Neil Martin | 2:41

    It's a pleasure. So obviously, food plays a huge role in all our lives. But unfortunately, approximately 800 million people worldwide currently go to sleep hungry, and around 33% of the global population are dealing with moderate or severe food insecurity. In stark contrast, the World Obesity Federation has predicted one quarter of the global population could be clinically obese by 2035. So there's obviously a huge disparity there across the globe, in terms of some having too many calories, or others nowhere near enough. And that's without mentioning the agricultural and environmental impact of feeding an ever-growing population, and the health problems associated both with over-nutrition and food scarcity. Katherine, with all that in mind, I'm interested to know what you think, are the biggest and hardest challenges currently facing the global population in terms of food? And what are you most worried about? If there's not enough action taken over the next three decades?

    Katherine Samaras | 3:54 

    Neil, what concerns me is that there are people who just cannot get enough food today. And in other countries, some people are drowning in over-nutrition. So this immense disparity concerns me hugely. Medical practitioners, allied health professionals, we're all, at an individual level, trying to address what are societal and national and global issues around the disparity of food distribution. And underlying this are the economic financial factors that actually drive that disparity. There is enough food to feed the world. But people in high Gross Domestic Product nations seem to have all the access, predominantly I mean, there is food insecurity in these richer nations. And then we have nations that are lower GDP, even though they are often resource-rich, that have no buying power within the international markets to access food. And to just highlight that last point...a lot of these countries are resource-rich, but they've seen depopularisation in that small-holder family farms now go to cash crops or have been completely depopulated. So people have moved to cities because farming is impoverishing. It's an impoverishing hard life. In the media every day in Australia, we hear about farmers going off the land because it's no longer tenable. They put in the hours, they have no bargaining power in markets, and they receive nothing, virtually nothing, for their efforts, enough to sustain their families. And what we're seeing in Australia and is talked about in the last few years, is something that has characterised international farms across the globe for perhaps 50 years, perhaps longer. So these are my major fears is that we are just we've gone nowhere for all these decades, and it's only getting worse. Yeah.

    Neil Martin | 6:10 

    Johannes, do you have the same fear? Or do you have other things that you think are are really big challenges?

    Johannes le Coutre | 6:16

    Well, in principle, I couldn't agree more with Katherine, to maybe just put it into different words, when we're seeing hunger and under-nutrition or food insecurity on the one hand side, and obesity and overweight on the other hand, in both cases, by definition, we are looking at malnutrition. I think we need to focus more on food security, food security by the WHO, is defined as having enough safe and nutritious food, enough safe and nutritious for everybody. And that is the central question when it comes to food going into 2030-, 40 and 50.

    Neil Martin | 7:07

    So I guess the comments that you've both made, as you said, there is enough food to go around. So it must be frustrating for you as experts that that isn't being shared around equitably, and that there are these massive disparities, how frustrated you get when you see these problems at both ends of the scale.

    Johannes le Coutre | 7:27

    I think it is important to really point out that both are not geographically sort of mappable anymore. We do have under-nutrition and hunger and obesity, often at the same time in the same geography, which is a problem. And the challenge for the future, again, will be to address this by providing healthy food for everybody. And to enable as well, the purchasing power, we can maybe talk later a little bit more about purchasing power. But to make sure that Sustainability Development Goal 1: No Poverty goes together with Sustainability Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger so that there's enough purchasing power in societies made available in an effort that everybody can provide him or herself with food.

    Neil Martin | 8:30

    And Katherine, what are your thoughts on that? And how frustrating is it for you when you when you see these-this massive disparity across the globe and in closer geographies, as Johannes says.

    Katherine Samaras | 8:41

    I completely agree with Johannes and I find it immensely frustrating. Access to healthy food is a problem we have in the microcosm of Sydney. One only has to look at what fast-food chains greet us at the highway exits of commuter suburbs where housing is cheaper. People have long, long, long commutes, they don't exactly find fresh food available when they exit the freeway. It's all high-energy, convenience food. We only have to look at rural communities in supermarkets, for example, will not carry very many fresh vegetables. They will not carry those more highly nutritious foods. And there is of course the expense that is higher because of transport costs. So I think in this sort of situation, what I find frustrating is that there is insufficient buy-in from the people who distribute food, the supermarket chains, which we know can do so much better. This is just a microcosm of Australia and our challenges and people and there's less income disparity in Australia as there might be for example, in some of these lower GDP nations that suffer a lot more hunger. It's important for us listening to this podcast, living in our comfortable cocoon of Australia to recognise that there is significant hunger within Australia, and that maybe perhaps not on famine level, but certainly significant chronic hunger. And there is absolutely food insecurity within Sydney today. And we only have charitable bodies that make efforts in this area to distribute the food that otherwise would have been wasted.

    Neil Martin | 10:34

    So I guess my next question is maybe an obvious one, what do you think needs to be done to close that gap? And like you said, Katherine, even within Sydney, let alone within global populations?

    Johannes le Coutre | 10:48

    A lot can be done at many levels, it starts at the big scale with education, it starts with training people to cook well, it starts with also the food industry to limit themselves, but also at the individual consumer level, it will be possible or it should be possible to improve insight and knowledge about healthy food and proper nutrition. That is not too difficult. And also, it's actually not too expensive, necessarily. eating better, does not really mean eating more expensive. So you just have to often avoid the baddies and go for the goodies.

    Neil Martin | 11:35

    And Katherine, do you have any thoughts yourself about what would need to be done to close that gap?

    Katherine Samaras | 11:40

    I think we need resilient partnerships. And these partnerships involve not only the consumer, because a lot of the time we expect individuals to make the changes in a hostile environment. But also that we have partnership with the food industry. And this is where I think competitive altruism could certainly have a role. What do I mean by competitive altruism, it's where different companies involved in food manufacture and food distribution, want to be the best. We have consumers. With the increasing costs of living that we hear about every day, there is perhaps a shrinking market. And if they want those consumers, they want the market, they need to produce something better. We know that some companies are doing that, let's call them leaders in their field, they are improving the quality of their food. And I don't mean by cynical measures, such as switching from cane sugar to fructose, and then calling those products sugar free. Oh, my goodness, there are so many yoghurts and soft drinks and other increasingly processed foods that use that strategy. consumers beware, look at carbohydrates, don't look at sugars, then you'll find out how much non-sugar cane sugar there is in food. But this competitive altruism is something that I think may leverage the food industry to do a slightly better job. I do think food engineering definitely has a role. But we need perhaps more policy guidance around what number of supermarkets need to be in certain areas do we need to have some form of government support to make sure that the right amount of fresh food and protein goes out to rural and remote communities.

    Neil Martin | 12:43

    And I guess all of these problems are only going to increase with the global population growing and growing. And I think you know, estimates of 10 billion people on the planet very, very soon. And I guess that also puts pressure on the environment, if you're talking about growing food, having enough meat, all of that stuff has an environmental impact, which I think is important for us to discuss. What do you think researchers and policymakers should be focused on addressing with regards to protecting the environment as we're trying to feed more and more amounts every year?

    Johannes le Coutre | 14:16

    So maybe I can get in here. And I just want to sort of echo and second what Katherine what you were just saying, what I might throw in here is really an observation that we had made when I was involved with the food industry. You can put a lot of energy, money, funding and time into trying to, to let's say, reduce sodium and to develop technologies. And again, spend time and money. Whereas if you just put in a sodium reduction policy, you get this done overnight, which is just an incredibly more efficient way of getting things done for a healthy population. Now, Neil, to your question on the environment, we actually also had been involved at UNSW, with an inquiry by the parliament, by the Federal Parliament in Australia, into food security and climate, among other things. And if you-if you want to sort of hear what I'm thinking is clearly that the main culprit are greenhouse gas emissions and the linked global warming. So the greenhouse gas emissions linked with a global warming that is consequential, definitely is the biggest problem we are facing. And even if we get to net zero, and these are the scary predictions, even if we get to net zero, we will not immediately stop this trend.

    Neil Martin | 15:47

    But I guess as well as all of that, we have deforestation, we have overfishing, degradation of agricultural land from over farming, all of these environmental issues are going to get worse and worse. I would think as a non-expert, do you agree, Katherine? And do you have any thoughts on how those problems can be addressed?

    Katherine Samaras | 16:12

    I completely agree. And if we are sceptical at all about the projections, I think we should look to history. And if we look at the Indus Valley in the western--western South Asia, if we look at the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of civilization, what do those lands look like today, they are highly degraded, they have--were over-enthusiastically developed and degraded by agriculture. The challenge of finding a fish in the Mediterranean is a very significant one. And the problem there is, again, overconsumption, overconsumption and overconsumption. We just can't consume this much. We will destroy the food bowl, just as the people that lived in the Indus Valley did. We only have to look at some of the land in Australia where cattle has run free, and how compacted and unproductive that land is now. There are sustainable ways of farming animals. There are sustainable ways of agriculture, that is well known, but it needs to be implemented. And again, you know, do we expect the farmers, the poor farmers that are struggling? All sorts of things, poor prices at markets, climate change, having an impact through droughts and floods? They are really struggling? Do we make it harder for them? Or can we help? There certainly are ways that land can be sustainably farmed to produce the food that we need. And that's known, it does mean that we produce less however. So do we value food enough? In higher domestic products, nations where people have so much buying power, they can fulfil all their food fantasies, and their appetites can run rampant, where others don't have that privilege. Again, it's the disparity.

    Johannes, would you be confident that those problems that I mentioned: deforestation, overfishing, agricultural land being degraded? How confident are you that that those problems can be addressed? And also what what do you think needs to be done to get there?

    Johannes le Coutre | 18:36

    Well, you need to look again at the big picture and at the small picture. A hungry person, or a hungry tribe, in the Amazon forest, if they don't have food, and if they will get food and if they can fill their stomachs from cutting trees, they will cut trees and people who are hungry need to be embedded in a social context such that they can be nourished or nourish themselves without harming the environment. And that is the challenge. Again, if you if you are hungry, you do anything and everything to survive. And so we need to look at the bigger social contract in our societies to solve these problems as humanity as humans, yes.

    Neil Martin | 19:33

    And do you agree that that needs to come from governments because individuals or even the farming industry itself or the-the meat industry is not in the best position to do it?

    Johannes le Coutre | 19:47

    I believe in everybody somehow making intelligent and smart contributions, and I know that is a bit of a sort of dreamy vision maybe, but I also believe in the basic principles of, let's call it, capitalism. So I think if a company or if a corporate player has a good innovative idea, they should go ahead. And again, it should not hurt the social contract. And policies are important, regulatory environments are important. And all of these together have their role to play. We are looking here at the situation where all of us, industry, individual consumers, policymakers, and regulators have to work jointly together in order to get this solved.

    Neil Martin | 20:38

    You mentioned innovation in your answer there. And when people talk about innovation in food, they often talk about lab-grown meat, I think is the one of the first one that comes to mind. Johannes, I know that's an area that you've done a lot of research in. But there are others in terms of people eating other alternative foods, such as insects, or algae. How much of that do you think is going to develop in the next 30 years? And do you think those things will actually have a big impact to solve some of those problems that we've mentioned?

    Johannes le Coutre | 21:20

    That is an interesting and very close question--close to, as you say, to our work. We are looking into into cellular agriculture, into trying to develop forms of cell-based meat. Lately, I am becoming a little bit less enthusiastic about this field, because there is what I would call overselling, a lot of strange stories, if you will, or a lot of wrong expectations to what this technology can deliver. For sure, what we do know, 2 billion people already have insects in their diet. So that is definitely something that's happening. There are other technologies. And I will get back to the cellular agriculture. Let me just put this into a bigger context. Algae, algae are certainly interesting. Plant-based protein and plant-based materials are absolutely worthwhile pursuing. And this should be done much, much more. What is not necessarily a good idea, in my view, is the constant effort to mimic meat with plant material. Why would you want to do that? Why would you want to take the goodness of a plant in order to mimic in a not-perfect way, something which you will never achieve, which is then the goodness of meat. So these efforts are not good. But to use more plant-based materials and get protein from plants is definitely a good idea. Before I get to cellular agriculture, there is an approach which is linked with soil science, there is a lot of soil science happening these days, which is becoming an extremely interesting field. And under the term 'regenerative agriculture', we are now beginning to see that what farmers did for a long time to have animals and plants together on a piece of land, actually, is a very good strategy to make the best out of the land. And here, a lot of work is being done to grow and innovate and intensify the overall idea of regenerative agriculture.

    Neil Martin | 23:46 

    Katherine, do you have any other thoughts in terms of all of those innovations as a kind of a general comment about how much of a role they will play?

    Katherine Samaras | 23:58

    Oh, how arrogant modern man is. If we just look at some of those old practices that Johannes was talking about...People, for example, growing legumes on land for nitrogen-fixing and how that improves the soil, and creates fertile soil for the next crop, which might be a nitrogen-heavy plant, for example. One might have animals roaming through farmlands and donating that very rich material, again, restoring and regenerating the soil. These are old farming practices. And it's the idea that it--because it didn't happen in a lab, that it didn't have a randomised control trial, doesn't mean it doesn't have validity and an important place in today's food systems. So I completely agree with with what Johannes has just talked about. We have to remember that there has to be access to sufficient protein in a lot of the lower GDP nations where, you know, food shortages and hunger is very high, and there is massive protein access. We have to keep going back to distribution pathways and the logistics of those. And partnerships. This is all about partnerships. We have to bring everybody along.

    Johannes le Coutre | 25:22

    I just wanted to maybe lose a few words on cell-based meat, which is an interesting idea. In fact, what not everybody knows this goes back to Winston Churchill, who, almost 100 years ago, sort of had this vision that we will be stopping the absurdity of growing animals to sort of supply ourselves with meat or with meat-like materials. And 10 years ago, in 2013, a Dutch professor went in front of the TV cameras and presented a lab-grown beef patty, and everybody became super excited that this will now be the new the new world of growing meat in vitro.

    Neil Martin | 26:12

    And I understand that cost $300,000. Is that correct?

    Johannes le Coutre | 26:15 

    At the time, that was about $300,000, you're absolutely right Neil. The price, like with any innovation, or with every innovation, went down considerably. So this technology is advancing well but, there is a big but, what we're seeing right now is an extremely sort of funny scenario. We're seeing that several countries have approved, have given regulatory approval for these meats for these materials, at a large scale, to be produced and to be sold. At the same time, there are geographies, countries, and states. And some of them are the same that gave the regulatory approval, where we are seeing now from a governmental side. So not the regulatory bodies, but the politicians putting out vetoes or putting out bans against cell-based meat. It started with Italy. We are seeing now 12 European countries waving the flag against cell-based meat. We're seeing in Arizona and in Florida, a ban against cell-based meat. And mind you, the United States, overall, gave regulatory thumbs-up and approval for two companies producing these materials. All of those cell based companies that are producing or claiming to produce these materials are not able to do it at scale, they can produce little roller flasks of one or two litres. But, the promise of being able to produce this at scale at tonnes, at kilogrammes, is absolutely not fulfilled or achieved. And we are seeing this storm in a teacup with governments, companies, regulatory bodies, which is, in a way, made from nothing because nobody yet is able to produce these materials at scale.

    Neil Martin | 28:14 

    The stat that I read recently was that 350 million tonnes of meat are consumed per year globally. Yes. So that is a lot of produce that you would need to grow in a lab. And you're saying that at the moment, you just don't think that that is really feasible to get anywhere close to that number?

    Johannes le Coutre | 28:14

    Yes. So we better, as Katherine rightfully said, focus back on where we came from on the traditional, well-proven ways, maybe one day--and innovation and technologies. Rome was not built in a day, maybe these technologies will have their role to play.

    Neil Martin | 28:56 

    Katherine, I also read something that's maybe a little bit more natural as an option, and Johannes mentioned it previously, was the potential use of algae as a food source. Do you know anything about that? Or do you think that sounds like a good idea?

    Katherine Samaras | 29:09

    I think all of these things are great ideas. The insects, the algae, the seaweed, there is great potential. Again, these things are small, and we have to keep going back to 'we eat too much'. We want too much on our plate. But, you know, when you look at cultures that do consume insects as part of their traditional diet, they're not eating a 400 gram slab of witchetty grub like some people order in restaurants. They're having perhaps one or two witchetty grubs. And we forget how much protein, how little protein, we actually need. So the idea that you have to have an entire plate filled with grasshoppers is actually not the way forward if we are going to include insects into our diet, and I have no problem with insects being used in food. I think it's, you know, something that may not appeal to many people. But I think, you know, when you look at the average Australian diet and the introduction of octopus and squid in the 1950s, and 60s and 70s, with increasing immigration from Europe. When you look at some of the traditional foods that are consumed, that are protein-based in China, for example, where you know, snakes and other animals are consumed, that don't really appeal to Australians. If we look at South America, where people consume guinea pigs as a protein source, these you know, lovely furry, fluffy creatures may not necessarily appeal to people, but they are a form of nutrition that people will consume. So I think we have to let go of this idea that everything has to be a tenderloin of lamb and filet mignon and other high luxury-end foods for it to be sufficient.

    Neil Martin | 31:05

    I think we have a champion for insects in the studio, here. Johannes, I believe you ate an insect on Australian television. Is that correct?

    Johannes le Coutre | 31:15

    I did that, I did that. Yes. With Denise Drysdale and her team at Channel 10's Morning Show. We had insects on live, national TV. And just on that, I might repeat myself here, but if you like shrimps, you do eat and you do consume, or prawns for that matter, something which for biologists is known as arthropods. And eating insects is exactly the same thing. Biologically speaking you're also eating arthropods, and there's absolutely no difference. So I agree with you, Katherine, totally, that we need to sort of abandon the idea of having always a nice, beautifully packed piece of filet mignon.

    Neil Martin | 32:04 

    Katherine, do you perceive that people will overcome that yuck factor simply because they kind of have to, if that's the food of the future, and the alternatives are becoming less and less that needs must as it might be.

    Katherine Samaras | 32:19

    Look, again, it's rediscovering the old, there's always been nose to tail consumption of animals, nothing should ever be thrown away out of respect for the life that is taken when an animal is sacrificed. So there's nothing wrong with having pig's ears. There's nothing wrong with having lung, intestine. All of these things have a purpose. It's in grandma's recipe books. So we don't have to go looking far. And we probably have consumed these things as children, or our parents and grandparents certainly did. We just need to reignite that flame.

    Neil Martin | 33:01

    I wanted to pick up on a point you made earlier, Katherine, where you spoke about...people think that you need a lot more food, I guess just on a basic level, but all of those nutrients, it's not necessarily a huge amount, or it's less than people might think. That might lead me to a comment or a question. When people think about the food of the future, very futuristic, they might think of of everything in a pill. Now, when you say that we don't need that much. We already have vitamin pills. Why can't we just have one pill Johannes that gives us everything.

    Johannes le Coutre | 33:39 

    So there's a nice movie with Mila Jovovich and Bruce Willis, The Fifth Element, where he throws in a pill into some machine and out comes a big turkey. There is a basic role that food has to play in our daily lives, and that's what I'm also teaching to students. Or it's not just one role, it's actually three roles. Food provides us with energy. Very clearly, we need that energy. Food provides us also with building blocks, especially when we grow up, but also throughout life, we do require those building blocks. And last, food has a role to play, if you will, like a hormone or like a signal transduction element that maybe as a vitamin, just think of scurvy and vitamin C to give you just one example, where you need trace elements or vitamins in order to fulfil a certain function. So you might be able to provide the micronutrients and the vitamins in a pill and we see this and people do this with supplements but you also need to make sure that the building blocks are taken care of and the energy, yes.

    Katherine Samaras | 34:59

    This is a space odyssey fantasy. And it, it fits into the vanitas of humanity to think that, you know, you can just so easily do this. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to our communities. That responsibility to ourselves is to eat right, to make sure that we eat right, not to eat to excess. That's our responsibility to our community and the planet. But this idea that you can just take it and it's finished, and it's done. I don't think there is a way. Very, very smart people have been trying for decades, 50 60, 70 years, you just can't do it this way.

    Neil Martin | 35:40 

    We'll leave that one in science fiction, then it sounds like. (Yes). You mentioned before about things not going to waste, Katherine, and I think I read a stat that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said that around 30% of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. So I guess if we can get that 30% down significantly, then we are addressing quite a big problem there. Johannes, how do you think that can be wastage?

    Johannes le Coutre | 36:14

    It needs to be addressed, there is no doubt about it, we are indeed wasting 30% of our food, maybe to be a bit more specific: This is something that's happening all over the value chain and all over the food system. So already in the agricultural pursuit of food material is wasted, certainly in the food processing, in the industrial ways of making food available for procurement material is wasted. But also we have to look in the mirror at home, everybody is wasting food I make this blanket statement. And we need to address this at all levels. On a sidenote here in Australia, and I take the liberty to to name her. We do have a local hero, Ronni Kahn, the founder and head of OzHarvest made and makes and continues to make a fantastic effort to stop food waste at all levels. Certainly this is not enough. But she is an icon and example enough for-for other organisations to try to, to jump onto that train. And yeah, we need to work more on all levels.

    Neil Martin | 37:37

    What other things do you think needs to be done, Katherine, to get that number down, which is really quite significant.

    Katherine Samaras | 37:43

    Look, we so far in this country have just relied on the efforts of extraordinary individuals, like Ronni Kahn. You know, there are restauranteurs who will give their leftover food to charities and so forth. But we are really lacking the kind of leadership we need, apart from these extraordinary individuals, to have a societal level reduction in food wastage. You know, I was over the weekend, I mean, this is so current, I was looking at a young farmer with his huge harvest of pumpkins that were too small for one of the major supermarket chains so they sent them back. What was he going to do, plough them into the ground? What are his distribution networks? What are the alternatives, we need economic pathways for food that is imperfect, for food that is too small. And by goodness, there's a lot of effort that goes into producing this tiny little thing. And we have to recognise that but we have to stop the kind of food wastage where, because the market is not there, because of consumer expectations of a perfect looking pumpkin or a perfect looking avocado, we stop ploughing these foods into the ground. Now, the end of that pumpkin story was that a market had taken it and they were going to distribute and sell the food. But we need more of those networks to be established. There are perhaps, again, we're requiring perhaps some assiduous and innovative business person to run with the opportunities that are in this but there are commercial opportunities. Do we need to break the way we think about purchasing food that it isn't necessarily in a chain supermarket, that it is at the farm door? As we've been ploughing orchards around Sydney into the ground so we can put a three bedroom home with no shade on the land? Should we be preserving the food--what have been traditional food bowls around cities and have planning laws that allows that. So the notion of going to a farm door isn't an impossibility, it is increasingly so.

    Neil Martin | 39:56 

    With all of these food issues that we're talking about, there are obviously associated health problems that the global population is facing, both in terms of hunger and obesity. And I want you to kind of talk a little bit about those-those health problems, Katherine, I think that's kind of your speciality. What do you think are the best ways to address the health problems? And what would you like to see done in the next 30 years in that area?

    Katherine Samaras | 40:24 

    The explosion of obesity concerns me hugely. It's at epidemic, pandemic proportions now. And it's predicted, I think the World Obesity Federation is predicting that something like more than one in three people will be obese in the next 15 years across the planet. This is a very significant issue. We do not have the health resources or the medications to treat the number of obese people that we have today, let alone if those projections materialise. Then people say, oh, well just everybody should be on a type of drug called the glucagon-like peptide-one, receptor agonists. We know about these from television shows recently, well over the last two years in Australia, medications such as semaglutide, tirzepatide. These are not only expensive and unsubsidised medications, but we only have very, very short, long-term safety data on these medications. They've been approved for, perhaps, one of those that I mentioned, semaglutide, it's been approved for just five years, there is no long-term safety data. There's certainly no long-term safety data in adolescents and children, but there are trials using them in that group. So I think we have to have better ways of preventing obesity and treating obesity. Bariatric surgery has long-term safety data. But is everybody going to have bariatric surgery, there's a real risk of dying from some of the procedures that are undertaken. Is there safety data in younger adolescents? And certainly there isn't in children, but adolescents, there's some good data, but it's not long-term data. We need to address training, there are not enough obesity clinics, there are not enough general practitioners or specialists that are knowledgeable to treat obesity using evidence-based approaches. And that's very important. Lots of people think they can treat obesity because it's as simple as just eating less and exercising more. I think it's naive, it needs to be a multi-pronged approach to treating obesity and preventing that person from ever regaining the weight.

    Neil Martin | 42:55 

    Johannes we talked there about obesity and the big trendy thing at the moment seems to be drugs like Ozempic, which some of our audience may have heard of. How do you think those drugs might play a role in the future with regards to food consumption?

    Johannes le Coutre | 43:12 

    So just for clarity, and Katherine had--you had mentioned them already. So, we're talking here about semaglutide, and maybe more specifically, so-called GLP-one receptor agonists. These are more stable versions of the naturally occurring GLP-one molecule and what these drugs do, at the end of the day, they increase your insulin levels, they reduce your glucagon levels, and they delay slightly your gastric emptying. Now, whatever that means, the bottom line and that's the interesting thing about these compounds, the bottom line is you do eat less, and that is why you lose weight. You do eat less and that is a very sober observation. So there is no secret alchemy happening in the background of our bodies. People taking those drugs, just eat less. And that then again, can be translated in society into maybe having reduced exposure in supermarkets. And as you say, go to farmers, or these types of things, having less of a temptation to eat all the time, less snacking. Once you start on any of those GLP-one receptor agonists, you have to stay on them, otherwise your weight comes back. And that's an important point. It's not like a unique thing you pop and then your weight is gone for good. No, you will have to stay on these drugs, unless you manage to induce that behavioural change of eating less autonomously by yourself.

    Neil Martin | 45:00 

    There are obviously so many facets to this subject to, there are so many potential solutions, big problems that we still need to address. I might finish off by asking you both. If you were a 16 or 17 year old today, thinking of going into a career related to food, what would you be most excited about?

    Katherine Samaras | 45:21

    I would be really excited about the fact that I'm going to have work for my entire career. That this is a growth industry, that I can put my copious energies to something that may well impact the health and the environment. I would be excited that this would involve science, sociological factors, factors that address humanity, and the health of the planet. So I would be incredibly enthusiastic.

    Neil Martin | 45:50 

    and Johannes?

    Johannes le Coutre | 45:52 

    We are beginning to realise that food and nutrition science and engineering are going through a enormous renaissance or re-NAY-sance, as you say here, which means that field has been dormant for quite a while in the second half of the 20th century. It is about individual health, public health, it is about planetary health, so that that includes climate and environment. But there is more that we are beginning to see proper food and nutrition contributes significantly to metrics and benefits such as beauty, skin health, delaying the onset of cognitive decline, so you stay smarter, longer. And then again, physical strength, fitness. All of that is something which makes it for a young student to enter this field, very exciting, and also very secure, professional environment. Why? Because you can go really from academic research, academic employment, to corporate research, corporate employment, to engineering, to the big public organisations, United Nations, to becoming somebody who just talks about it like-like what we're doing here right now.

    Neil Martin | 47:11 

    Well look, I want to thank you both, because I think we've nourished the audience with some really good information on this episode. It's been a fascinating discussion. Professor Katherine Samaras, many thanks for making the time to join us.

    Katherine Samaras | 47:25 

    It's a pleasure. Thank you, Neil.

    Neil Martin | 47:27 

    And thanks also to Professor Johannes le Coutre. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.

    Johannes le Coutre | 47:32 

    My pleasure, Neil, thank you very much.

    Neil Martin | 47:33 

    Unfortunately, that's all we've got time for. Thank you for listening. I've been Neil Martin, and I hope you'll join me again soon for the next episode in our Engineering the Future series.

    Voiceover | 47:48 

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