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Food from inedible plant matter (FFIP)

Food Plus is a not-for-profit volunteer group seeking to promote research and development of technologies and techniques for the production of protein and other foodstuffs from inedible plant matter such as wood and cellulose. In particular, we are interested in the potential of unconventional techniques (eg the use of bacteria or fungi) rather than the familiar use of grazing animals to create meat or milk from grass and other vegetation. Some relevant publications are detailed in Reports and articles.

The potential lies in the relatively huge quantities of inedible plant matter in the world (wood -- including wood waste from sawmills -- forestry trimmings, straw and other agricultural waste, and more) compared with the relatively small quantities of edible plant matter (grains, nuts, etc). If even a small proportion of that inedible plant matter were to be converted into edible form (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins etc), this could transform world food supplies. There may be a case for using some of the new resource as animal feed.

Potential benefits

The potential benefits of being able to create food from inedible plant matter include:

  • The alleviation or elimination of hunger and malnutrition:
    • As it is in the world today.
    • As it may develop in the future, from the continuing growth of the human population, and from the damage to agriculture caused by extreme weather events associated with climate change.
It is true that there are factors other than quantity that cause problems of hunger and malnutrition. But quantity is likely to be an increasingly important issue with population growth and the effects of climate change. And there are many options for ensuring that new foods are nutritionally balanced.
  • Holding down the price of food throughout the world -- a particular benefit for poorer people.
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of food production.

  • Reducing the need for over-intensive agriculture, including the use of pesticides, and consequent harm to wildlife and biodiversity.
  • Reducing the demand for water for agriculture, a particular benefit where there is a shortage of water.

  • Reducing the temptation to destroy valuable ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest. There is potential, for example, to create alternatives to palm oil and thus perhaps reduce the pressure to replace rainforest with plantations.
  • Reducing the temptation for agri-business to push traditional farmers off their land.
  • Reducing the pressure on the world's fisheries.
  • From the perspective the densely-populated UK, "food plus" will reduce the risks arising from the fact that we currently produce only 60% of the food we consume and that, under present policies, the UK's population is expected to continue growing.

A proposal

Given the problems of food supply identified in the UK government's The Future of Food and Farming, and other publications, and the potential of food from biomass to ameliorate them, there appears to be a need to raise the profile of this area of research and to provide more funding.

We believe there is a case for establishing a new research centre or institute, dedicated to the conversion of inedible plant matter into edible form. As far as we have been able to discover, there is no research centre of this kind in the world today.

A possible title for the new centre is "The Institute for Food". Topics for research would include conversion techniques, nutritional balance, the use of new foodstuffs as animal feed, safety, allergies, public acceptance, palatability, and more.

Some possible objections to the proposal, with suggested answers, are outlined on our page about Possible objections