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Thursday 17 January 2019
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Feeding The World: Find A New Source Or Reduce Food Waste?

As populations across the globe continue to grow (and are expected to reach 9 billion by 2050), a lot of attention has been drawn to how we will be able to feed them. One of the primary ideas that has gained planet-wide traction is the production of microgreens.

Defined as “edible seedlings” that range in size from 1 to 1.5 inches long, stem and leaves included, they can usually be harvested between seven and 14 days after germination. Evidence has suggested that microgreens may contain up to 40 times the amount of some nutrients and vitamins as the vegetables a mature plant would produce. Examples include a wide variety of herbs (such as basil, cilantro, etc.); vegetables like radish, broccoli, and mesclun; and even some flowers such as sunflowers.

The fact that microgreens can be produced very quickly (especially compared to crops that take entire seasons) and could offer significantly more nutritional value puts them at the top of the list for an alternate source of sustainable foods. Unfortunately, development surrounding a complete understanding of what microgreens can do for humanity is lacking — the furtherance of science, though it may be in the best interest of our society, requires laboratories, and laboratories require funding. A recent survey found that approximately one-fifth of them need to replace their fume hoods, with an astonishing one-third of those replacements due to old age.

Beyond the physical health of technology, science also requires dedicated individuals. A shocking 80% of workers don’t believe they’re getting enough encouragement and support at work which can make an already difficult job seem arduous and frustrating.

“They’re doing their jobs, but it’s important to recognize that people are doing extraordinarily beneficial science that helps support the nation and helps provide solutions to societal problems,” says Robert Webb, lab director of the Physical Sciences Division (PSD) of the Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado. “So there’s a responsibility by the employees to be accountable to society, but then we should be recognizing [them] for the advancements that they’re making.”

Microgreen research and development undoubtedly has a long way to go, so the U.S. is looking in the opposite direction: rather than adding a new supply to the market, more efforts should be made to reducing the vast amounts of food waste that America experiences.

Three federal departments — the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — came together in late October to discuss just this prospect. Food waste is estimated to be between 30% and 40% of the food supply; for perspective, that corresponds to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion of food.

“EPA is proud to partner with USDA and FDA to enhance food recovery efforts and educate the public on the need for improved food waste management,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Redirecting excess food to people, animals, or energy production has tremendous economic and social benefits, and that is why the Trump Administration is working closely with businesses and consumers to prevent food loss and maximize the inherent value of food.”




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