Possible objections

Here are some of the reasons that people have given for not developing the potential of FFIP, with counter-arguments.

The problem is not shortage of food but unfairness in the distribution of food

  • This may be true today but probably not in the future as the world's population heads towards 10 billion, and with the impact on agriculture of extreme weather events caused by climate change. Given that the necessary research will take time, we need to plan ahead.
  • Plentiful supplies of food can reduce unfairness, in the same way that plentiful supplies of air to breath means that everyone has more than enough. There is a limit to how much food rich people can eat, so more food in the world is likely to mean more for poor people.
  • Plentiful supplies of food will push down the prices of food, which is a benefit for poor people.

Technological solutions rarely work for the poor

  • FFIP is still only embryonic so there is no evidence that it would not benefit poor people.
  • Conclusions that may be valid for, say, genetic engineering, are unlikely to be true of FFIP. 

New food may be used to feed livestock, not people

  • Many poor people depend heavily on grazing animals, because cows, sheep and goats can convert inedible plant matter into meat and milk. Additional supplies of food for those animals, is likely to be a benefit to their owners.
  • Since meat and milk are already popular, feeding new kinds of food to livestock may be a good way to use it.
  • New foods are not necessarily bland and boring. Soya protein is already widely used in popular and tasty products.

Synthetic food will taste awful

  • The most likely problem is one of blandness. But bland protein or carbohydrate can be used to add bulk or texture to otherwise flavoursome foods.
  • One of the aims of the proposed Institute for Food would be conducting research on how food can be made to be appetising, with good flavour, texture and appearance.

  • Agricultural land that is released via FFIP may be used to grow herbs, spices, salad crops and other things to help make food interesting.

It is important to provide poor people with food that they are familiar with

  • More food means less incentive for agri-business to push poor people off their land, thus helping to protect traditional lifestyles and sources of food.
  • Although many people are naturally conservative in their tastes, new foods can become accepted, as happened with the potato in Europe.
  • Where there is a tradition of eating meat, FFIP can be used for feeding livestock (as above).

This is a project for scientists, not realists

  • Good science embraces all aspects of a problem, not just narrow technological aspects.
  • As Thomas Huxley said, the tragedy of science is "the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact". The discipline of good science makes it more difficult to indulge wishful thinking than it is, for example, in politics -- as evidenced by the extraordinary dominance of climate change denial amongst Republican politicians in the USA.
  • Hi-tech is not just for rich countries. Mobile phones have proved to be very useful and popular in many poorer countries, and it looks as if the same will be true of photovoltaic (PV) panels.

This a project for big business, not poor people

  • Converting inedible plant matter into food is something that can be done by businesses of all sizes, not just big business.
  • This means employment and new sources of income for people.
  • As already mentioned, FFIP can help to protect traditional lifestyles and sources of food.

New food will undermine farming in poorer countries

  • While it is true that the dumping of subsidised agricultural products from the USA and the EU have undermined farming in poorer countries, the analogy should not be pushed too far. FFIP is likely to be rather different from traditional agricultural products and not competing directly with them.
  • If, for example, FFIP is used as supplementary feed for livestock, it could be an advantage for traditional farmers.