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2019-02-12

Interview with Prof. Martina Schraudner from acatech

1. Dear Prof. Schraudner, you represent acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering –, our youngest member of the Global Food Summit Board of Trustees. Let us begin with a personal question: Of which food innovations are you fascinated the most?

For me, approaches leading towards the avoidance of food waste are particularly important, including the protection of drinking water. I am convinced that the "values" formulated in the Sustainable Development Goals will be much more strongly integrated into the innovation process – not only, but especially in the food sector. Overcoming poverty and hunger, ensuring sustainable energy production and other sustainability goals will increasingly become the starting point for innovation; they are not mere accessories. This applies both to technical innovations and business models. 

2. acatech wants to focus more on developments in the field of food technologies. What are your expectations regarding the cooperation with the Global Food Summit?

Food is an important area of application for new circular economy and biotechnological approaches. From acatech's point of view, these are very important fields of innovation. Take the topic of proteins, for example. The agricultural sector has the second largest greenhouse gas emissions after the energy sector. Animal husbandry is responsible for nearly 80 percent of methane emissions – and methane harms the climate far more than carbon dioxide does. With this background, it seems sensible to use animal proteins sensibly. Far too much food ends up as waste, which can be avoided by tracking and tracing technologies. The question of alternatives to today's meat production arises. Artificial meat is currently being researched very intensively, start-ups are looking for venture capital, German companies such as Merck are buying in there.  

In this respect, we are pursuing the same goals here as the Global Food Summit. I expect many synergy effects and new cooperation opportunities. It's about research and innovation and above all about the social debate on the extent to which we can do without meat or switch to alternatives.

3. You declare in your mission statement that acatech brings science and society together; fact-based, independent, and oriented towards the common good. How difficult is the situation for science and society at the moment? Does the current discussion climate, which is frequently not based on facts, have a negative impact on Germany as a research location?

The social climate is getting rougher – and that is why social dialogue is becoming increasingly important. Politicians know this, scientists know this, and technical communication is becoming increasingly important for acatech as well. In cooperation with the Körber Foundation, we analyse in the “TechnikRadar” what Germans think about technology-related topics – and how opinions are formed. There, as well as in the science barometer, it is noticeable that the field of green biotechnology and thus also the food sector is viewed particularly critically. In addition, it seems to be becoming increasingly important for society that new developments are in line with social values and sustainability goals. Explaining a new, fascinating technology is not enough. We must openly discuss its use and the associated advantages and disadvantages. This makes it all the more important to communicate new approaches a lot earlier and more extensively and also to try out new formats of dialogue and exchange. Perhaps this will also be a topic for a future Global Food Summit.  

4. In the food sector, we can observe a worldwide start-up boom, supported with billions of venture capital. Many start-ups come from scientific institutions or universities. How do you rate the conditions for spin-offs from universities in Europe compared to those in countries like China or the USA?

A lot has been written about a lack of start-up dynamics in Germany. There are certainly start-ups coming from universities and research institutions in Germany and Europe. One example: The large EU Climate KIC programme is based in Munich. Start-ups from the food sector are currently gathering there. We at acatech perceive a particular need for action in growth financing, i.e. in the phase in which start-ups scale their business model. 

A completely different point: There are many regional approaches that might not even define themselves as start-ups, since they are experimenting with (new) cooperative approaches and new business models, for example. The food sector could play a pioneering role here.