Responsible innovation

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Responsible innovation

Food production has been subject to changes in recent decades with the advent of new technologies such as robots, nanotechnology, rapid breeding and big data. Many innovations contribute to healthier food, reducing climate impact and ensuring a sufficient food supply for the future. According to Krijn Poppe, an economist at Wageningen Economic Research, implicit and explicit decisions go hand in hand with the development of new technologies. While robots can help people, they can also replace them.

Who determines which innovations to pursue?

As recent history has demonstrated, not all new technologies find a smooth transition into our lives. In the nineteenth century, margarine was initially met with widespread disapproval and the tractor also met with some resistance. Other contested inventions included canning and jarring food. However, all of these contributed to the improved shelf life and availability of food. Food production needs technology in order to meet social challenges, both now and in the future.

As a result, the knowledge that lies at the base of these developments must continue to be developed. Scientists have managed to develop faster plant breeding methods, which has accelerated the marketing of new varieties with improved properties. Robots are becoming increasingly advanced, while nanotechnologists are gaining a better understanding of even the smallest matter. And the use of big data – linking data and filtering new information – increases our knowledge of specific activities, locations and people. These developments allow farmers to practise precision agriculture, they allow us to trace products throughout the entire production chain and they make it possible for us to create a steak from vegetable proteins.

'Decisions have to be made when developing new techniques, and it's important that society supports these decisions,' says Krijn Poppe, an economist at Wageningen Economic Research.

Wageningen University & Research develops knowledge that lays the foundation for innovations in the field of food and the environment. Attention is also paid to the social aspects of innovations. Within this context, Wageningen works in close collaboration with the AgriFoodTech Platform, which aims to initiate and facilitate social involvement in and social dialogue about technological developments and applications in the horticulture and agriculture sectors and the affiliated processing industries. The platform contributes to strengthening the position of the Netherlands by developing social and technological innovations.

The AgriFoodTech Platform is organising a conference on 14 December 2016 to encourage a discussion on the following three questions:

1. What are the three most exciting and promising technological developments that are currently facing resistance?
2. What do consumers and organisations find concerning about these technological developments?
3. How can we encourage interaction and debate between the business community and society as a whole with regard to these topics?

Consumers play an important role in shaping technological developments. We need to focus on defining this role further to ensure that innovations contribute to a sustainable future for us all.