10. Who owns the taste of coffee – examining implications of biobased means of production in food

Z.H. Robaey*, C. Timmermann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperAcademicpeer-review


Synthetic foods advocates offer the promise of efficient, reliable, and sustainable food production. Engineered organisms become factories to produce food. Proponents claim that through this technique important barriers can be eliminated which would facilitate the production of traditional foods outside their climatic range. This technique would allow reducing food miles, secure future supply, and maintain quality and taste expectations. In this paper, we examine coffee production via biobased means. A startup called Atomo Coffee aims to produce synthetic coffee with the aim of saving ‘the taste of coffee’ from the effects of climate change. This decontextualisation of coffee production ignores the current and historical contributions of coffee farmers in two ways: the traditional varieties in taste of coffee and their cultural significance, and the potential shade-grown coffee plantations have in capturing carbon. In addition, synthetic coffee may lead to the loss of agricultural biodiversity and the removal of resources away from production systems that provide a safe space for tropical flora and fauna. How should the ‘taste of coffee’ be owned? We investigate the property regimes under which we could consider owning the taste of coffee as a ‘synthetic’ agrobiodiversity to help identify rights and responsibilities. Building on this analysis, we consider dimensions of responsible innovation and social justice to help guide synthetic foods as an agricultural innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJustice and food security in a changing climate
EditorsH. Schübel, I. Wallimann-Helmer
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Electronic)9789086869152
ISBN (Print)9789086863624
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2021


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