UNDRESS AMBASSADOR | TECHNOLOGY | THOMAS KING
Video by Greg Holland.
We recently sat down with Thomas King, a social entrepreneur, international speaker and founder of Food Frontier who has been recognised as one of Australias most accomplished young pioneers.
Food Frontier was founded to support industry and government in championing alternative proteins to create a more diversified, sustainable and future-proof food supply.
Keep reading to hear more about Thomas and how he represents our TECHNOLOGY value.
Tell us about Food Frontier&
Food Frontier is Australia and New Zealands think tank and industry accelerator for alternative proteins. Through research, events and advisory support, we create a more sustainable, nutritious and future-proof food supply.
How did you get into future food specialisation, and why is it so important to you?
After spending almost a decade focused on environmental, food and poverty alleviation initiatives (during which time I worked on projects across five continents), I realised industrial animal agriculture was underpinning every issue Id worked tirelessly to address.
Current levels of meat production and consumption, driven largely by the West, are fuelling some of the most serious environmental and public health challenges facing our world, as illustrated by UNFAO, IPCC, EAT-Lancet, Chatham House and many others. With an estimated 70% increase in food demand by mid-century in the face of dwindling natural resources and an increasingly volatile climate, embracing new ways of feeding our growing global population is essential.
With an estimated 70% increase in food demand by mid-century in the face of dwindling natural resources and an increasingly volatile climate, embracing new ways of feeding our growing global population is essential.
The question of how we meet the worlds growing demand for sausages, mince and fillets without relying on industrial livestock farming and fishing lingered on my mind. By replicating these foods from plants, or cultivating real animal meat from cells, I discovered four years ago about how scientists and chefs were beginning to reposition meat as a product defined by its sensory experience and nutrition, rather than its origin. Plant-based and cell-cultivated meat has far fewer consequences for our health and that of the planet.
The problem: very little was being done to drive forward this innovation in Australia, New Zealand and the broader Asia Pacific region. This led me to establish Food Frontier in April 2017 to support businesses and government in championing alternative proteins.
How is the food industry evolving in Australia? Are Australians accepting of the move towards new meat alternatives?
Australia has the potential to become an epicentre for alternative protein innovation in the Asia Pacific by leveraging its extensive infrastructure, intellectual capital and international reputation for quality food research, production and exports. Right now, its still early days. We have almost a dozen plant-based meat start-ups or manufacturers; two cultivated meat companies undertaking research; and some of the countrys biggest grocery and restaurant chains expanding their offerings.
With 32% of Australians now meat reducers or flexitarians, its no surprise that new plant-based products often sell-out shortly after they are launched. Demand is growing at a rapid pace.
Our new research with Colmar Brunton indicates one-in-three Australians have tried plant-based meat products - which presents huge room for category growth and highlights the importance of new options meeting consumer taste and nutritional expectations. With 32% of Australians now meat reducers or flexitarians, its no surprise that new plant-based products often sell-out shortly after they are launched. Demand is growing at a rapid pace.
Producer of 2040, Damon Gameau, was discussing climate change in a recent interview and said leaders don't lead on these topics, they are taught how to lead by passionate individuals taking a stand and saying we want it differently - do you agree? How have you found working with Governments?
Leadership without vision is not leadership. We all have the capacity to lead, should we choose to, which includes those in positions of political power. However, so many political leaders operate from inherited thinking rather than creating and realising a vision for how things could be. I admire political leaders who are guided by the latter, and we have been fortunate to engage with several of them. Certain state governments in particular seem to understand the need to diversify our food industry and reduce our heavy reliance on models of industrial livestock production, and who see the enormous economic potential of industries like plant-based meat. Food Frontiers publications have been particularly useful in guiding these discussions.
Leadership without vision is not leadership. We all have the capacity to lead, should we choose to, which includes those in positions of political power.
Your website lists nine opportunities to come from the future food movement - reduce chronic disease, improve food safety, curb antibiotic resistance, act on climate change, decrease water pollution, prevent marine damage, halt habitat loss, reduce food & water wastage and improve animal welfare - theres clearly a lot at stake! Would you say any of these are more important than the others? Why?
All of these interventions are critical if we are to secure a healthy society and habitable planet into coming decades. Climate change is the greatest existential threat facing humanity today, and the data is crystal-clear that if we dont reduce our production and consumption of livestock to a considerable degree, we wont meet the Paris climate target. One of the greatest threats to public health is antibiotic resistant bacteria. Considering most of the worlds medically relevant antibiotics are fed to farmed animals, to promote growth and fend off disease in unsanitary farming conditions, the effectiveness of antibiotics is being compromised as we come in contact with more and more resistant bacteria. Authorities such as the World Health Organisation have raised serious concerns about the implications of this, including the risk of thousands more people dying from common and previously preventable diseases.
Climate change is the greatest existential threat facing humanity today, and the data is crystal-clear that if we dont reduce our production and consumption of livestock to a considerable degree, we wont meet the Paris climate target.
I recently learnt that we would need to eat 8 oranges today to get the same vitamin A content as one orange had 60 years ago, because of the degradation of our soil. Do you think theres an opportunity for cell-based protein to provide us with more nutritional properties than most of our soil-grown fruit and vegetables currently do?
A whole suite of actions across our food system is needed to ensure it can nourish a global population into the coming decades. Improving soil health is one of the most critical. Growing legumes, which are nitrogen-fixing and subsequently improve soil health, is just one example (legumes are the base of most plant-based meat products). Technologies like cultivating meat from cells, which take agriculture out of the field (and into a meat brewery!), require almost no land and far fewer resources overall. Cultivating meat this way, instead of breeding, feeding, raising and slaughtering animals, can result in a product that is just as nutritious, if not more. The cell feed can be optimised to increase or improve the nutritional profile of the meat, for example, by increasing omega-3 fats and reducing saturated fat.
What advice do you have for anyone trying their hand at plant-based protein innovation?
Be clear on why youre doing it, ensuring youve identified a gap in the market, and bring in people with the right expertise to execute on your vision. The taste of your product should be the top priority otherwise, it will not succeed in the mainstream market.
How does Food Frontier help businesses succeed?
We support businesses from start-ups to established food manufacturers, by providing research and advice, convening forums and events, and by facilitating introductions to prospective investors, clients and partners.
Whats your favourite meat substitute (cell-based, plant-based or natures mimics)?
Im not sure I can choose a single product! I always enjoy eating an Impossible Burger when Im in the States. I recently tried the Moving Mountains burger from Europe (which will be rolling out nationally at Woolworths soon) and was thoroughly impressed. A combination of protein from legumes and grains, fat from coconuts, and other ingredients like mushroom, onion and beetroot, makes for a super meaty experience. There are also several Australian-made products hitting the market soon that I am very excited about.
How is technology enabling us to reduce our impact on the planet?
Technology is a powerful tool that can enable us to overcome some of the greatest social, environmental and economic challenges facing humanity. In the case of food, we shouldnt be afraid to embrace new technologies that allow us to dramatically improve the way we grow, process, transport, store, prepare and consume food, and how we manage food waste.
We have been harnessing the power of nature and the ingenuity of the human brain for thousands of years to bring about an abundance of foods and now we realise that some of them are causing serious harm to ourselves and our planet.
It is now time to innovate and embrace new ways of producing food that ensures a nutritious, sustainable and future-proof food supply for everyone into the future.