The future of food lies in the hands of food science and technology

Posted: 6 December 2023 | | No comments yet

Professor Chris Elliott reflects on recent events in Thailand and explains why he is filled with optimism for the future…

chris' corner

During my recent visit to South East Asia, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend and present at the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) ‘Future of Food Summit’ held in partnership with Food Systems Division of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The venue, fittingly, was Thailand – often referred to in food security circles as ‘the food basket of the world’.

The summit was held in response to the call for action stemming from the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit and supporting commitments to transform food systems to address the rapidly growing needs of an increasing world population. I describe this as a ‘high level summit’ and the speakers were all of an extremely high calibre. They were comprised of key opinion leaders from the worlds of food science, the food industry and regulatory bodies. 

Of course, they spoke of all the many challenges global food security faces, but at the same time they were full of optimism in terms of what is being done and can be done to address these challenges. The major outcome of the summit was to deliver a roadmap to support resilient, innovative and sustainable food systems.

The one thing that struck me more than anything else at the summit was how important innovative food processing solutions are as a means of preventing food losses and protection against existing or new food safety risks. Also highlighted was the need for increased training and education to reinforce the important role that food processing has and to address the often-negative claims linked to it. I certainly will be thinking about food processing in a very different way and hopefully coming up with some new project ideas with a number of centres that I know around the world that are very active in this research topic.

What really is the future of future food?

Just like ‘Future of Future Food’ summit that I chaired in Thailand after the IUFoST meeting, the theme of how import novel food and feed sources and ingredients such as alternative proteins will be was prominent. But ensuring their nutritional value and safety is of paramount importance. The feeling that investment in the research and development of technologies such as precision fermentation must continue came across very strongly throughout the event.

Another theme which emerged was how important a focus on the circular economy will be going forward. Optimising the use of land and water resources in food and feed production will be critical, while at the same time ensuring that new food safety risks are not introduced.

Traditional foods and traditional knowledge of food production also got an important acknowledgement. There is likely much to be learned about why some types of foods and food processing techniques were first introduced, how they have stood the test of time and are still important food sources in many regions. We may well have important ways of preventing major food losses by adopting existing traditional methods. Learning from the past to help the future is a very exciting prospect!

The Three-Pillared Path Forward

The major output from the summit was the identification of a Three-Pillared Path Forward to support the development of resilient and innovative food systems and I list this below:

Pillar 1: Continued Investment in Food Science and Technologies that enable the development of novel food sources and enhance current practices of food and agri-food production. These investments should include the development of research aiming to better understanding consumers’ interests and concerns to support readiness to address such concerns or mitigate consequences of consumers acceptance of available food sources. Particular attention should be developed to the introduction of digital solutions, including the reliance on Artificial Intelligence that can facilitate and optimize food production conditions, food safety and traceability.

Pillar 2: Availability of Funding and Investments dedicated not only to research and development but to the overall food and agri-food production sector, in particular to support knowledge and technology translation and scalability of innovative solutions of food production. Investments should cover skill and competency development, indispensable to sustain efforts of research, and food production.

Pillar 3: Development of Effective Partnerships harnessing the capacities of the public sector ie, government interventions, academia and the private sector, to support availability of sustainable food production operations resulting from research and innovation or to offer enablers and solutions to translate research, scale-up new production processes or facilitate market access where relevant.

I hope by reading this article you will get a sense of the optimism I mentioned in the introduction. I now have a lot more to think about and I will certainly try to support IUFoST in any way I can in terms of delivering their exciting and deliverable path forward.  

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