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Diet for the Earth

Something is wrong with our food system – with major consequences. Can innovation help in a way that is good for people and the planet?

Diet for the Earth

Something is wrong with our food system – with major consequences. Can innovation help in a way that is good for people and the planet?

Eating together is a pleasure to be celebrated. No wonder #food is one of the most popular hashtags in social media.

But the reality of how food gets on to our plates is quite a different matter.
The majority of workers in the agriculture sector live in poverty.

A system unfit for purpose

800 million
people are overweight
821 million
people are still chronically undernourished
25 percent
of emissions are caused by our food system

Can innovations eradicate malnutrition? And can we make agriculture both more resilient and less damaging to the environment?

If a time traveler from the 1950s landed in a Western supermarket today, they wouldn’t believe their eyes. Asparagus, cherries and pears, available all year round; microwaveable burgers here, a whole aisle of breakfast cereals there. It looks impressive, but this abundance comes at a cost.

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Taking meat off the menu?

As Western-style diets become more popular in rapidly developing countries, demand for meat is growing. But the people who eat large amounts of meat today have to hold down their consumption in order to be able to produce enough for all. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, many people could benefit from the protein and iron gained through eating more meat.

In 1990, an individual in China ate on average just 0.64 kilograms of beef and veal a year.
By 2018, that figure had grown nearly six-fold to 3.8 kilograms.


For the environment it makes a big difference whether we get our proteins from beef or nuts.
These are the average values for 100 grams from several common protein sources.

Lamb & mutton20
Greenhouse gas emissions (kilograms of CO₂ equivalents)
Source: J. Poore & T. Nemecek (2018)

The healthiest diets are those that have the deepest roots in history and tradition.”

Sara Roversi

Founder of the Future Food Institute in Italy

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Non-dairy milk has become mainstream, food technicians are working hard on making the soy protein-based burger as close as possible to the experience of eating a beef burger.

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  • Buns from algae

    The bread bun is made with spirulina, a microalga that has more protein than a hot dog.

  • Super healthy ketchup

    The savory umami flavor replaces sugar and salt to make this healthy ketchup taste delicious.

  • Mushroom-based bacon

    It looks like bacon and tastes good too, but it’s actually made of mushroom slices.

  • Substitute for cheddar cheese

    Nuts and soy replace cheese, providing healthier fatty acids.

  • Burger made from plants

    Plant-based alternatives to beef burgers are getting closer and closer to the real thing.

  • Fortified vegetables

    CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology is used to produce vegetables with increased vitamin levels.

  • No-till tomatoes for better soil health

    These tomatoes were grown in a field that is not tilled, for better soil health.

Burger Graphic
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Meanwhile, efforts are underway to bring lab-grown meat to the market and one company is working on lab-grown chicken nuggets. Others are developing artificial fish fingers.

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Game-changer personalized nutrition

More specialized products and services are emerging, such as BASF’s Omega-3 Index testing kit.
The kit uses dried blood spot technology to accurately measure omega-3 fatty acids levels. These have been proven to have many health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For the wider population, the value of personalized nutrition could be that it opens up a new, more compelling route to a healthy, sustainable diet. “Personalized nutrition is all about measuring, intervening and supporting a behavior change,” says François Scheffler, Senior Vice President, BASF Global Human Nutrition, Singapore.

When you receive reliable feedback about the impact on your own health of what you are eating, you can do something about it.”

François Scheffler

Senior Vice President, BASF Global Human Nutrition, Singapore

At a glance

In a world, where 800 million are obese and 821 million still go hungry, the need of change in the food system is obvious.

BASF is one of the most important drivers to develop more sustainable food systems with less negative impact on our planet.

Of course, what we eat is only half the story. The other half is about how we produce food. Find out how agriculture is changing to meet current challenges.

Smart Farming

Find out more

The Science

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Issue #9

Creating Chemistry Magazine 2020

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About Creating Chemistry

Products and solutions based on chemistry enrich our lives every day. They help to conserve resources, to produce healthy food and to improve people’s quality of life.

But chemistry’s contribution is often not easy to see at first glance. With BASF’s magazine Creating Chemistry, we aim to show how chemistry helps to meet global challenges.

Download Magazine #9