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In 2014, the threat of global starvation and famine is still very real. Between 2010 and 2012, for example, more than a quarter of a million people in Somalia died as a result of a famine caused by drought and exacerbated by conflict.
Climate change, rising food prices and political instability can combine to create an increasingly risky situation when it comes to ensuring everyone is fed. With the global population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050, producing food that is affordable, sustainable and nutritious will become ever more important to governments.
Could aquaculture – the farming of fish – be the answer? According to the World Bank, by 2030 62 percent of the fish we eat will be farmed. Fish, according to the Bank, could play a major role in providing the world's poorest with a sustainable source of protein.
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At Sainsbury's, one of the U.K.'s leading supermarkets, executives have made a commitment that by 2020, all the fish it sells 'will be independently certified as sustainable'.
"Half of the fish consumed globally now comes from wild capture, and half is from aquaculture," Ally Dingwall, Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager, Sainsbury's, told Episode 5 of CNBC's Industrial Revolutions. "The growth in the future for fish is going to come from aquaculture operations, and therefore it's really critical that those operations are well-managed," he added.
Making sure that aquaculture operations are sustainable and technologically advanced is key.
"Innovation is central to farming going forward," Dingwall told CNBC. "All of our farms, for example, have cameras in each pen so that we can monitor the feed input, and reduce wastage of feed, therefore delivering better efficiency and [a] more sustainable farming operation [with] less impact on the environment."
But what if we cut meat out of our diets all together? One area that could benefit from the search for a new source of protein is the environment.
In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that livestock emits 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. This, according to the FAO, represents 14.5 percent of all human-induced emissions. If we cut out meat from our diet, we'd need less livestock. With less livestock, CO2 emissions would fall.
At Beyond Meat, founder and CEO Ethan Brown is on a mission. His company wants to change the way we think about food forever, by getting us to eat "meat" not from livestock, but from plant protein.
"Meat, as we understand it today, is from cows, pigs, chicken and such," Brown told CNBC.com in a phone interview.
"But if you look at what meat is, in terms of its constituent parts, and you break it down into amino acids, fats, water...trace minerals and carbohydrates, those things are not exclusive to animal protein, they're not exclusive to animal muscle. The aim is to collect those from the plant kingdom and assemble them in exactly the way that muscle assembles them."
"You can do that, you can create meat from plants, and that's what we're about," Brown added. "It's not about a substitute, it's not about an alternative, it's about providing consumers with meat, and meat can be defined through its constituent parts."
Founded in 2009, Beyond Meat has attracted a range of high profile backers including Biz Stone and Evan Williams, the founders of Twitter, and Bill Gates.
At Beyond Meat's factory in Missouri, a system using heat, pressure and water turns powdered ingredients such as yellow peas, yeast and mustard seeds into 'meat'.
"At the end you have this fibrous structure that comes out that's basically meat," Brown said. "It takes six weeks to raise and slaughter a chicken. It takes two minutes to run our process. It's just dramatically more efficient."
Efficient it may be, but does Brown believe that people will transform their dietary habits and forgo a nice juicy steak for his products?
"We need to convince the consumer – and rightfully so – that this is a healthier version for them, and it's just as tasty, just as satiating, just as savoury. It's got low cholesterol, no saturated fat, no trans fats," he said. "By providing something that is better for people, that tastes great, they will start to make the change themselves," he added.
In 2012, Mark Bittman, a food critic for the New York Times, wrote, "When you take Brown's product, cut it up and combine it with, say, chopped tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise with some seasoning in it… you won't know the difference between that and chicken. I didn't, at least, and this is the kind of thing I do for a living."
Today, Beyond Meat products – including grilled 'chicken' strips and a 'beef' crumble – are being sold in stores across the United States, such as Whole Foods Market. Online, an 11 ounce pack of Beyond Meat's Beef Free Crumble retails for $6.29.
Brown's ambitions, however, are bigger than that.
"If you think about the earth's surface, 45 per cent of land surface in the world... is used to support livestock. Imagine if that weren't the case. Imagine the abundance of food you'd have. If you think about turning pastures into fields of protein, and applying that protein to processes like ours, you would be able to feed infinitely more people."
Food for thought.
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