How can we avoid large-scale corporate control of these technologies?

 |  6 May 2024

Emerging technologies present a distributed, open source, low-cost food system. However, choices made by policymakers, investors, businesses and consumers determine whether our societies can harness their full potential.

Emerging technologies have the potential to create a distributed, open-source, low-cost food system in which entrepreneurs anywhere will be able to design and produce foods with relatively low barriers to entry. However, a disruption that realizes all the potential benefits is not a foregone conclusion.

The key agents of change in this disruption are policymakers, investors, businesses and consumers. The choices these groups make influence each other and affect the speed of adoption of modern food technologies and the disruption of industrial agriculture. The choices made will determine whether society can seize the full potential of the benefits of this disruption and avoid negative outcomes.

Some key suggestions to avoid these negative outcomes include:

  • Allow companies to patent production methods but not life, genes or molecules-IP regimes should be process focused rather than output focused. This will encourage innovators to develop open-source platforms and molecular, cellular and biological system databases.

  • Avoid following the pharmaceutical model when implementing intellectual property regimes because, unlike drug development, the cost of product development via modern food production is already relatively low and falling fast.

  • Support the creation of open-source, transparent, collaborative networks-preferably international–to accelerate the pace of development.

  • Enable well-regulated markets but do not participate in or distort the food or agriculture business. For instance, today the United States government stockpiles 1.4 billion pounds of cheese that it pushes in the form of school lunches and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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The disruption of food and agriculture is inevitable–modern products will be cheaper and superior in every conceivable way–but policymakers, investors, businesses and civil society as a whole have the power to slow down or speed up their adoption.

To unlock the full potential of this and every other technological disruption, we need to embrace a different approach, one that better reflects the complex, dynamic and rapidly changing world we live in. Policymakers must, therefore, start planning for the modern food disruption now in order to capture the extraordinary economic, social and environmental benefits it has to offer, and to ensure the disruption is decentralized and accessible to all.

Learn more about the disruption of food & agriculture.

Published on: 12/07/23

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