Is this the future of food? Japanese 'plant factory' churn out immaculate vegetables

By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 9:56 AM on 03rd June 2009

They look more like the brightly lit shelves of a chemists shop than the rows of a vegetable garden.

But according to their creators, these perfect looking vegetables could be the future of food.

In a perfectly controlled and totally sterile environment - uncontaminated by dirt, insects or fresh air - Japanese scientists are developing a new way of growing vegetables.

Enlarge   ozu

Food of the future? Lettuces are grown in a sterile environment at Ozu Corporation's plant factory in Japan - without being exposed to the air outside

Called plant factories, these anonymous looking warehouses have sprung up across the country and can churn out immaculate looking lettuces and green leaves 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Every part of the plant's environment is controlled - from the lighting and temperature, to the humidity and water. Even the levels of carbon dioxide can be minutely altered.

Rather than the conventional scruffy clothes and dirty fingernails of vegetable growers, the producers wear gloves, surgical masks and sort of dust proof protective suits normally seen in chemical plants.

A worker - dressed in sterile clothing - tends to the lettuce at the 'plant factory'

Those growing the vegetables wear gloves, surgical masks and the sort of dust proof protective suits normally seen in chemical plants

The vegetables from plant factories - which include green leaf, romaine lettuce and garland chrysanthemum - are sold at a premium to Japanese shoppers. No pesticides are used - and there is no risk of contamination with food poisoning bugs.

 

Because the plants are grown in a clean room, they can be eaten safely without washing. Lettuce grown in the factories can be cropped up to 20 times a year.

Some factories are vast - and can produce three million vegetables a year.

The results are hygienic, but it's about as far from real food as you can possibly get.

Enlarge   Every element of the plant's environment is being controlled

From the lighting to temperature and humidity, every element of the plant's environment is carefully controlled

The spread of plant factories has been encouraged by the Japanese government amid concerns about the use of chemicals in vegetables.

A spokesman for the Ozu Corporation factory in Tokyo said: 'Vegetables are produced in the factory without being exposed to the air outside.

'Stable production is guaranteed throughout the year by controlling lighting, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and water. They can also meet the demands of consumers who want safe foods.'

Plant factories have yet to arrive in the UK. The closest Britain has are the vast greenhouses in the south of England where millions of tomatoes are grown hydroponically - without soil.

 

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

to those questioning the amount of electricity used.. its obviously cheaper than paying for the pesticides and fertilizers required to grow outdoors since they're selling the goods at a premium. If there was no margin of profit they wouldn't be doing it.

Japanese culture is very different to our own and the sterility would be highly valued.

Im sure the veg would taste very much like normal veg.

Click to rate     Rating   2

guy, Saudi Arabia:
"There are ways to treat manure and organically control pests, weeds, and diseases...please note that it is not the norm and the usual shopping vigilance and knowing the source should be practiced.

I am not advocating ignorance as to food sources. Your statement on organic farming is false if one considers the large-scale implications of using this method exclusively. If farmers used solely organic farming we would not only require more farm land than what is currently used but 1 billion people would not have food to eat. The environmentalist movement has anti-science and anti-human bend. Consider that Greenpeace convinced an African country to turn down food aid because the seeds had been genetically modified....in other words, starving people didn't get food supplies due to irrational fears about a new product, fears seeded by an irrational left!

Click to rate     Rating   2

considering overpopulation/food shortages this is the most brilliant solution so far in practical terms. I hope the electric is produced ecologically as well although japan are nuclear.
it is much much better to be self sufficient growing our own veg in poly tunnels or even outdoors but most urbanites don't have space and we are in the rat~race trap of convenience culture that is destroying the ecology of our world. I urge everybody who can to become as self sufficient as possible, as soon as you possibly can. it means cleaner healthier food, savings on money after the initial outlay for facilities which is not really that much, and will save you if/as/when supermarkets should stop for some reason, such as plague or environmental catastrophe. which are expected, and happening, even now.

Click to rate     Rating   2

You gotta love the Japanese, man. They get things DONE.

Click to rate     Rating   6

I would love to try these veggies. I lived in Japan for a few years and the produce they had was far superior to the produce most US grocery stores have (I won't include Farmers' Markets in that, cause Farmers' Markets are typically great). The price for Japanese produce was high (you could get a Canteloupe for upwards of $20), but it was bound to be the best tasting, peak ripeness, and most visually-pleasing food you've ever had. I would go back just for their fruits and veggies.

Click to rate     Rating   6

I'd like to know what they taste like and how is the nutritional value affected?

Click to rate     Rating   9

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