Spotlight: Israel's national food tech center to work on future of food

Source: Xinhua| 2018-09-03 02:18:31|Editor: Liangyu
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by Nick Kolyohin

JERUSALEM, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) -- Israel's national food tech center, to be opened by 2019, will gather all the best minds to work on the future of food, aiming at "helping the obese western world and the starving third world."

The center, located in the northernmost Upper Galilee region on the border with Lebanon, will bring together industry, research, and academia.

"This is the first time we are establishing in Israel a special region only for food tech industry," Michal Fink, deputy director general for Strategy, Policy, and Planning at Israeli Ministry of Economy, told Xinhua.

"Our mission is to make it a flourishing technology center to deliver the world a better, healthier and affordable food technology that will both help the obese western world and the starving third world," said Fink.

Fink pointed out that the Israeli food technology startups and companies are growing fast by 13 percent annually. "In 2017, there were 224 food tech companies in Israel, compared with only 56 a decade ago."

As a "startup nation," Israel wants to make all the regions of the country part of the high-tech industry, while most of the industry is concentrated around Tel Aviv city.

Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of Jerusalem Venture Capital, established the Israel Initiative 2020, which is aimed at bringing the high-tech centers to remote parts of Israel.

After a successful establishment of cybersecurity tech center at the southern city of Be'er Sheva and media tech center at Jerusalem, Margalit is focusing on the north of Israel for his next mission.

The food technology startups and companies which will choose to operate in the region around a northern city of Kiryat Shmona will be generously granted.

"We are bringing the most significant incentives ever that any Israeli company in this category got, subsidizing 40 percent of the salaries, giving the companies free land to build their facilities and much more," Margalit told Xinhua in an interview.

Margalit, also a former Israeli politician, worked hard over years to make the north of Israel its food tech capital.

"The food industry is undergoing a significant change, and the food tech will be one of the biggest high-tech categories over the next three years. Israel is leading in food biotechnology," said Margalit.

He is seeking for big international companies to take part in the Israeli food tech, "the large companies in Europe, Asia, and the United States need primary research and significant breakthroughs to reduce sugar, starch, and gluten."

The new food tech center is envisioned to be a leading world research and development site. If the multinational's R&D centers join the northern Israeli food tech center, it can have a significant positive influence.

Ofir Benjamin from the Food Science Department of Tel Hai College, located in northern Israel, is leading the mission of establishing the National Food Research and Innovation Institute by 2020.

"The institute will be a central part of the northern food tech hub, and startups will be invited to use our equipment for their cutting-edge technologies," Benjamin told Xinhua.

The institute will initiate its research projects, and the first ones will be "to make the protein affordable and accessible to the whole world population," said Benjamin.

"We already succeeded to make a pudding dessert out of bees high-quality protein with an extraordinary nutritional value of minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium," Benjamin told Xinhua.

"There are places around the world where people don't have sufficient protein intake. Our goal is to make the protein affordable and accessible to everyone instead of costly meat, eggs, and milk," Benjamin added.

Moreover, instead of producing food by rearing and slaughtering animals like sheep, cows, chickens, pigs, fish, turkeys and more, the Israeli companies is struggling to find a more humane and cost-effective way.

The future food may come from high-tech plant products with less use of water, lands and energy for each kilo of food, or from small creatures like insects.

"Insects' growing process has a less adverse influence on the environment compared with poultry or livestock, and they have outstanding nutritional value with high protein level," Benjamin said.

"We are working on edible insects from which we make powder or flour, so it becomes raw material for the food industry," said Benjamin.

Although using insects could be perceived by some as a sustainable solution for an industry that doesn't want to harm livestock and fish, not everybody is happy with it.

"This technology has the potential to create massive amounts of suffering, far more than what exists today in the livestock and fish industries," Ronen Bar, the founder of Sentient, said in an interview with Xinhua.

"If insects are sentient, this could be a catastrophe, because the numbers are huge. You can make many steaks from one cow, but could need a thousand insects to make only one bug burger," said Bar.

"Eating plants will always be the environmental choice because you eat the protein directly, as opposed to feeding animals with protein and then eating them," Bar told Xinhua.

The Israeli food tech hub has many different companies in all kind of food sectors, part of them trying to make the food safer, healthier, affordable and others try to make better packages or more technological agriculture process.