How the Arab region can catch up with the future of food

A guest uses a mobile phone to take a video of a meal featuring a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat during a media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals, on December 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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A guest uses a mobile phone to take a video of a meal featuring a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat during a media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals, on December 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
The panel discussion, “The Future of Food: New Tastes, New Priorities, New Technologies,” organized as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 18-21), examined how the world’s food needs have evolved over recent decades from hunger prevention to tackling obesity. (Supplied)
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The panel discussion, “The Future of Food: New Tastes, New Priorities, New Technologies,” organized as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 18-21), examined how the world’s food needs have evolved over recent decades from hunger prevention to tackling obesity. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 January 2021

How the Arab region can catch up with the future of food

A guest uses a mobile phone to take a video of a meal featuring a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat during a media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals, on December 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Investors seek regulatory environment that promotes innovations like plant-based alternatives and cellular agriculture
  • Saudi Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, founder and CEO at KBW Ventures, wants tech start-ups to solve the sustainability challenge

DUBAI: Lab-grown meat may sound like an unpalatable sci-fi concoction, but thanks to new innovations in cellular agriculture, combined with growing consumer demand for sustainable alternatives, test-tube T-bones could soon be on the menu.

Threats to global food systems and agriculture have come to the fore since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted regional value chains, heightening awareness about the importance of public health and regulation of new scientific techniques.

For the Middle East in particular, the crisis has been a wake-up call for policymakers acutely aware they have fallen behind in the food sciences — a gap that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now hopeful they can close.

“Food science is definitely something that’s missing here,” Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, said during a recent virtual panel discussion on “The Future of Food: New Tastes, New Priorities, New Technologies.”




Vegetarian alternatives to burgers and sausages, revived by start-ups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, are enjoying a certain enthusiasm that meat giants also want to enjoy. (AFP/File Photo)

“We’ve voiced it a bunch of times and we are actually working with the UAE government to establish some sort of ecosystem to develop that.”

The panel discussion, organized as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 18-21), examined how the world’s food needs have evolved over recent decades from hunger prevention to tackling obesity, and how they must adapt to face new realities.

“Fifty years ago, food science was created for food safety. It was not created for food health,” Gabrielle Rubenstein, co-founder and chief executive of the US private equity firm Manna Tree, told the panel.

“They were just trying to feed the world and mass produce, but we didn’t know that it would cause cancer or obesity.”

Today, the cost of treating chronic diseases caused by obesity in the US is equivalent to roughly 9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), while 70 percent of deaths are caused by lifestyles linked to poor diet.




This undated handout from Eat Just released on December 19, 2020 shows a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat at a restaurant in Singapore, which became the first country to allow meat created without slaughtering any animals to be sold. (AFP/File Photo)

Solutions could lie in the new scientific innovations led by start-ups. The missing ingredient, according to Rubenstein, is scalability. “This is something that we all need to work on together,” she said. “The only way we can do that is by scaling innovation knowledge and research. It’s not necessarily about getting food into the hands of the country — what’s totally missing is knowledge in innovation.”

Universities in the UAE, for instance, currently do not offer PhDs in food science, leaving regional startups whose goal is to create the foods of the future at a disadvantage. Rubenstein’s company wants to change that. “Let’s take our scholar model and give this to you so that the next generation are food scientists,” she said.]

One interesting takeaway from the pandemic is the shift in consumer preferences towards healthier and more sustainably produced food. Experts believe technology and regulations will have to adapt quickly to respond to these changing demands.

“We are going through what is probably the most challenging time we have gone through in the last 20 years,” Prince Khaled said. “And from my point of view, it is the most important thing that has happened to us because it has shifted people’s attention towards what their priorities are.”

Responding to these new demands, retailers are already allocating more shelf space to the likes of Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other plant-based alternatives as shoppers cut back on animal products.

FASTFACT

Cultured cells

*Singapore became the first country in the world in Dec. 2020 to approve a commercial meat product made from cultured animal cells for human consumption.

Scientists have gone a step further, exploring the revolutionary possibilities of cellular agriculture — the production of proteins, fats and tissues using lab-grown cell cultures that would otherwise have come from the slaughterhouse.

In Dec. 2020, San Francisco-based alternative protein company Eat Just announced its cultured chicken product has been approved for sale in Singapore — the first time a commercial meat product made from cultured animal cells has been approved for human consumption.

“I hail Singapore for the enormous courage that it took to just start regulating cellular agriculture,” Prince Khaled said. “This didn’t happen coincidentally during this pandemic. We’ve seen a lot of the issues that this current pandemic has driven towards; it has opened people’s eyes to the zoonotic diseases that are out there.”

High concentrations of livestock are potential breeding grounds for epidemics. Indeed, scientists believe the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic originated in animals sold at a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan before making the jump to humans.

Experts believe moving away from the mass farming of meat, eggs and dairy could not only reduce the risk of future zoonotic outbreaks but also reduce pressure on the environment.

Prince Khaled wants to see companies working in cellular agriculture and plant-based proteins demonstrate how they can address food and land scarcity. “Now’s the time to actually find solutions,” he said.




The panel discussion, “The Future of Food: New Tastes, New Priorities, New Technologies,” organized as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 18-21), examined how the world’s food needs have evolved over recent decades from hunger prevention to tackling obesity. (Supplied)

With an estimated 9.7 billion people to feed by 2050, companies involved in these projects will have to play a role in the drafting of regulations. Much will also depend on what governments choose to subsidize.

“At the end of the day, the future is definitely going to be solved through people like these panelists — people who have the money, the backing and the investors to do it,” Prince Khaled said.

“But, more importantly, it’s a match made in heaven when you have the entrepreneurs who share that vision with you. We invested in a company that ships organic seeds to people to grow in-house. These aren’t going to solve world problems or world hunger, but collectively, that’s the only real way we’re going to be able to do something about this.”

The regulatory environment will have to move with the times to ensure a smooth transition. Singapore is currently leading the way, with its food agency working closely with start-ups.

“I’m from California and I’ve been in Singapore for a few years, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Max Rye, chief strategist at TurtleTree Labs, a Singapore-based biotech company founded in 2019 with the aim of producing lab-grown dairy products.

“We meet with the agency on a very regular basis. They ask questions about how we can work together to get our products to the market, and that’s not what I’m used to hearing,” he said.




Lab-grown meat from the US is presented in the Disgusting Food Museum on December 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (AFP/File Photo)

By contrast, in the US much of that discussion would revolve around food safety and toxicology, he said.

“If there was any recommendation, it would be just to work much closer with your startups,” Rye said. “These types of companies are trying to solve the much bigger problems around climate change among (issues).”

KBW Ventures recently increased its investment in TurtleTree Labs and Prince Khaled has joined the firm as an official adviser. He also holds investments in the California-based company Beyond Meat.

Prince Khaled agrees that a nourishing environment from a regulatory standpoint will be crucial.

“The thing that struck me with Singapore is that this is a breakthrough when it comes to regulatory approvals,” he said. “I’m really hopeful the US, and the Middle East, will follow suit.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute
Updated 48 sec ago

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute
  • The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes
  • Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile
CAIRO: Egypt said Wednesday it has endorsed a Sudanese proposal to internationalize arbitration in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said Cairo backs the formation of an “international quartet” including the US, the European Union, and the UN, along with the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.
The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan also call for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.
Shukry said Egypt wants to develop the negotiating mechanism to reach a “legally binding agreement” at the earliest possible opportunity.”
He announced Egypt’s position during a meeting Wednesday in Cairo with Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, the coordination of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s current leadership of the African Union.
There were no immediate comments from Washington, Brussels, or the UN
Sudan has announced its proposal earlier this year after AU-led talks failed to achieve progress. Since then, Khartoum has become vocal against Ethiopia’s plans to start the second filling during the next rainy season.
Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok said earlier this month that the dam threatens at least 20 million Sudanese, roughly half the country’s population.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan from where the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
There was no comment from Ethiopia that had left a US-led attempt to mediate the dispute, alleging bias. The administration of former President Donald Trump last year sanctioned Ethiopia over the dam’s first filling before reaching a deal with Egypt and Sudan.
On Friday, President Joe Biden’s administration said it has de-linked the sanctions from the dam dispute.
About 85 percent of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions
Updated 25 February 2021

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions
  • World Bank threatens to suspend its backing for the country’s vaccination drive

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers who allegedly jumped the queue and received the first shot of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on Tuesday are feeling pressure to defend their actions.

Eleven politicians, some of them younger than 75 years old, even had their vaccines “delivered” to Parliament.

A spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the organization in charge of monitoring the country’s vaccination plan, “was unaware that President Michel Aoun, his wife and his work team had received the vaccine on Friday, which is a violation to the terms of the national plan.”

As a result, the ethics officer of Lebanon’s vaccination committee, Dr. Talia Arawi, resigned on Wednesday.

It also prompted representatives from the World Bank, the Lebanese Health Ministry, the country’s COVID-19 vaccination committee and other commissions to meet and discuss the breach within the national vaccination plan. 

The World Bank, represented by its Beirut-based office, said it “will continue supporting Lebanon, but with respect to priority groups. If necessary, it is ready to suspend the financing for vaccines.”

Lawmakers who received the vaccine early were on the defensive Wednesday.

“How are lawmakers at fault?” Elie Ferzli, the Parliament's deputy speaker, asked. “Twenty-five lawmakers have been infected in parliament so far, along with 25 other employees. The latest infections occurred during the Procurement Law Committee’s meeting.”

Ferzli said he and other officials registered on the platform, based on the ministry’s request. Of those who registered, 27 lawmakers received approval for the vaccine, because they were 70 or older. Sixteen said they were inoculated in hospitals while the other 11 received the vaccine in Parliament.

Ferzli cited an American University of Beirut (AUB) report that said more than 50 percent of those who have received the vaccine did not register on the national platform.

He accused World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha of “playing a political role”. He said: “This reflects the lack of ethics that a World Bank representative should have. If this is how the bank is planning to deal with us in financing the vaccination plan, forget about the vaccines.”

Ferzli also attacked activists on social media who criticized the lawmakers, describing them as “ridiculous” and “electronic flies.”

Ghazi Zaiter, a politician and former minister, who was summoned for questioning by the former judge leading the probe into the Beirut port explosion, also tried to defend himself. He took to social media, claiming that “he is more Lebanese than others, which gives him the right to the vaccine before the others.”

Zaiter was heavily criticized, with some even calling on him to leave the country. Using a hashtag that was trending on Twitter, online activists said he “considers himself above the law and citizens.”

The AUB called on the ministry to clarify and apologize for the alleged breach of the vaccination plan. It also suggested more transparency when it comes to publishing criteria for those who are eligible for the vaccine, the number of inoculated people in each center, who should not be included in the priority groups and why.

The country’s vaccination campaign started 11 days ago. Yet half of the 12,000 doctors who are members of the medical association have not been vaccinated, nor have 55 percent of the nursing staff.


Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
Updated 25 February 2021

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
  • Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office

ISTANBUL: A Turkish lawyer has been arrested and charged with “insulting the president” over a controversial tweet that included sexist remarks directed at ruling Justice and Development Party MP Ozlem Zengin. 

Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office.  

Zengin sparked widespread anger recently with dismissive comments on alleged human rights violations and strip searches in Turkish prisons, ridiculing the claims of dozens of conservative women who said they had been subjected to intrusive searches in recent years. 

“An honorable woman, a woman with morals, wouldn’t wait a year (before complaining). This is an imaginary narrative,” Zengin said on Feb. 19. 

Amid public debate on the topic, Zengin said that women were falling pregnant on orders from various “illegal” groups seeking to trigger public anger over babies growing up in prisons.

“These people are having babies upon directives so that they can assert ‘there are pregnant women or women with babies in jails’,” she said on Feb. 21.

Yasar responded to this latest statement with a furious tweet, targeting the MP: “If the presidential cabinet is given the right of the first night, will Ozlem Zengin close her mouth?” he tweeted, sparking anger among women’s rights activists from all sides of politics. 

Fahrettin Altun, presidential communications director, immediately issued a statement urging the “independent Turkish judiciary to punish this creature named Mert Yaşar in the severest way possible.”

“What will the opposition do in the face of this dishonor? They will, most probably, hide their heads in the sand. We will follow it up,” he said. 

Yasar was arrested on charges of insulting the president according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code — which critics say points to the disproportionate use of this clause since his tweet targeted an MP, not the president himself. 

Article 299 stipulates that the person who insults the president shall be punished by imprisonment from one to four years, and if the crime is committed publicly, the punishment will be increased by one to six years.

Between 2014 and 2019, about 128,872 investigations were carried out into alleged insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with prosecutors launching about 27,700 criminal cases.

A total of 9,556 defendants were sentenced by Turkish courts, while about 900 minors aged between 12 and 17 also appeared before the court on the same charge. 

“The politicization of the judiciary continues with unlawful arrest and false accusation,” rights activist Nesibe Kiris said. 

Several female politicians and right activists offered examples of their personal experiences with insults that failed to lead to criminal proceedings, sparking debate about the “politically motivated” implementation of such penal clauses. 

“All kinds of insults, threats, sexist attacks on me and all opposing women are free and even they provide a reason for a decision of non-prosecutions. But when it comes to an AKP politician, it becomes a reason for his arrest. It is a tailor-made judiciary. The people’s scales of conscience will weigh all of you when the day comes,” Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul head of the opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted. 

A group of lawyers issued a message in support of Yasar, saying that his arrest “is the continuation of the judicial practice that makes decisions under the pressure of social media and political power.”

The arrest was also attacked as being a warning against any vocal criticisms on social media.


Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
Updated 25 February 2021

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
  • The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday pledged his country’s commitment to the war on terror during a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden.

Shoukry told Blinken that Egypt was keen to build on the progress made over recent decades to develop cooperation between the two countries.

According to an official statement, their talks focused on regional and international issues of joint interest. They also discussed the latest developments in Libya and Palestine, and the need to continue working together to combat terrorism and other challenges and security threats facing the region.

Highlighting the historic partnership between the US and Egypt, the officials agreed to further develop political, economic, and cultural ties while promoting issues related to human rights.

US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that Blinken’s call to Shoukry showed the importance that America attached to its strategic partnership with Egypt, especially in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and the exchange of views on regional matters.

However, the statement said that Blinken had raised US concerns over Egypt’s potential procurement of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft.

During the call, they also discussed support for UN-led Libyan peace negotiations, the Middle East peace process, and cooperation in fighting terrorism in Sinai.


Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
Updated 25 February 2021

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.