The future of food

HOW does the future of food look like in Malaysia?

Some picture small capsules able to fulfil all our dietary needs, others imagine a bountiful buffet of fresh fruits and vegetables. But the reality might be a meld of both.

The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) is currently working on genetically engineered food to enhance colours, delay ripening, and making them pest-resistant.

On top of that, Mardi also has a division dedicated to creating their own “designer food” that contains all the necessary nutrients we needs.

Deputy director-general of Mardi Datuk Dr Azizan Rashid said that an example of “designer food” is mushroom burger patty developed by Mardi.

“It has all the essential amino acids inside, all the protein, and we put in the correct binders, and we tailor-made that for a certain target group,” said Dr Azizan.

He said that Mardi designed the patty from scratch to create alternative food that consumers would likely accept.

“I have tried the samples and it tastes just like a normal burger patty,” he said.

It’s amazing how we have the innovation and technology to create substitute foods to nourish our bodies with all the nutrients we need.

But I personally can’t imagine how a “designer” patty will taste like and I’m not sure if the food trend will kick-off.

In terms of genetically modifying fruits and other produce, Dr Azizan said that Mardi tries to find a balance between yield and resistance to diseases.

He explains that when yields are increased, resistance to pests and diseases are usually compromised.

Dr Azizan gave the example of Mardi genetically modifying papaya to resist the ringspot virus, a virus that eventually kills off the whole plant.

“Last time we were a major producer of Eksotica papayas. The yield was there, the quality was there, but the disease resistance wasn’t there.

“But wild papaya, for example, is very resistant but the quality is not there and the yield is not there.

“So we're trying to use genetic engineering by inserting some of these genes that is resistant to ringspot virus disease to the papaya. It's a long shot, and we will work on it,” he said.

Dr Azizan said that they managed to create a papaya called the Purple Lady (it’s not purple in colour though!) that is for the export market.

“The taste is not there yet and the resistance is moderate,” he said.

Ultimately, when it comes to genetically modified food there are mixed feelings. There are some that have concerns on the effects on our health and the environment.

Through my research, there have yet to be reports genetically modified food causing ill effects for humans. But some groups claim that there may be long-term impacts that we are not yet seeing. 

I too am unsure about how I feel about genetically modified food. On one hand, the thought of altering the genetic makeup of something is scary and unnatural, but then thinking of crops being wiped off by disease is also an equally terrifying notion.

Also, Malaysia does not label which foods are genetically modified. So we may have been eating rice and fruits that have been modified genetically without knowing.

But ultimately, I do think that this technology is necessary to protect the nation’s food supply against diseases that can wipe out our food supply.

What are your thoughts on genetically modified food? Share your opinions in the comment section below.

>  The views expressed are entirely the writer's own
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