We all know about the Green New Deal, but what about a Grand New Meal powered by government-catalyzed food innovation?
With a more science-forward administration on its way in and a pandemic refusing to head out, it may be time to swing for the fences with some fresh thinking from the top when it comes to building a better future for our food system.
And while I’m no legislative or governmental policy expert, I figured I’d least start the ball rolling thinking of potential ways Joe Biden could become the Food and Ag Tech President.
Create a Future Food Innovation Hub and Investment Fund
While there’s no shortage of food tech innovation in the U.S., there’s been comparatively little done at the government level compared to Singapore, China and the European Union, all of which have governments making concerted efforts to foster future food innovation in their markets.
Part of the reason these governments have pushed so hard to catalyze innovation in spaces like alternative proteins, synthetic biology and other sources of food outside of industrial farming is they’ve made new sources of food a strategic part of a food sovereignty plan. While the U.S. certainly has traditionally — and wisely — prioritized creating self-sufficiency through its support of traditional farmers and agriculture, there hasn’t been a significant effort to focus on newer technologies outside of traditional ag.
They could change that with the type of organized investing in food and ag tech innovation we’ve seen from groups like Enterprise Singapore. Or the U.S. government could also follow the lead of the EU, which has created a broad food innovation initiative called EIT Food that invests, builds awareness and catalyzes action within the EU to foster food and ag tech.
Create a U.S. Government Office or Agency Focused on Food and Ag Innovation
If Biden really wanted to catalyze innovation to build the future of food, he’d work to create a formal office for food innovation within the U.S. government. That could mean a food innovation group within the FDA or an initiative like Critical Path, which started in the FDA and created the Critical Path Institute.
Chances for a standalone agency focused on food and ag innovation are pretty small, in part because existing agencies like the FDA and EPA already have a strong oversight mandate of much of the ag and food system. That said, if future food was enough of a strategic initiative, Biden could argue that a new food future is one that requires new approaches and try to create something akin to a Space Force type of approach.
Food Innovation Czar
A more realistic (and probably achievable) approach than a full-fledged governmental agency would be the creation of a Food and Ag Innovation Czar.
While “Czar” appointments in the U.S. government don’t usually mean they are heads of agencies, they often come with fairly broad administrative power. In fact, one of the first appointments of a Czar by the Republican party was a “Food Czar” that looked to put broad oversight power of food pricing during the Second World War.
What would a Food Innovation Czar do? They could focus on the current food system fragility, encourage the digitization of the food supply chain, and encourage legislation and funding for new food innovation initiatives. They would also help highlight innovative new approaches, organizations, and creators who are building food future and encourage private sector investment.
Build a Rock Star Advisory Council on Food Innovation
Presidents often will build advisory councils early in their administration, through which they’ll listen to visionaries like Elon Musk tell them about the future. Sure, some of this is partly a PR exercise, but I think a food and ag innovation advisory council with rock stars from the science, academic and business world would make a real difference both in creating awareness and influencing potential policy. He could start with folks like Jennifer Doudna (the co-inventor of CRISPR) or Pat Brown (CEO of Impossible and the inventor of the DNA microarray), and build from there.
Create Tax Incentives to Foster Innovation in Future Food Businesses
One of the strongest levers a government can pull for behavior change is through tax incentives. It’s also probably one of the easiest, since Republicans like tax cuts and I think there could be common ground for a tax package that incentivizes farmers and food processors to invest in more future forward businesses.
Some potential ideas are a tax cut for farmers that plant more tech-forward crops such as CRISPR-engineered strains or explore molecular farming as a way to create more sustainable foods. The US government could also provide tax incentives for farmers and food processors to invest in building infrastructure and businesses for upcycled food such as we’ve seen in Poland for rapeseed cake.
Install a Vertical Farm or Even a Bioreactor at the White House
So what could Joe Biden do set an example in the White House and bring attention to a new food technology? One idea would be to install a vertical farm, 3D food printer or even a food bioreactor in the White House. Another is to build a a space where all of these different technologies are being used, something like a tech-forward version of the White House vegetable garden.
Sure, things are early, the current president isn’t quite ready to move on, and chances are we’ll have a government that’s even more gridlocked than our current one come January 20. But the reality is that there are lot of tailwinds for change in the food system, and both consumers and food producers have started clamoring for food alternatives produced outside of our traditional industrial-pathways.
So, hopefully, with a new administration coming in, there’s a real opportunity to push for building foundations that could foster innovation in our food system going forward.