The world's food system provides food for nearly seven billion people each day. But according to a new report from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), more advances are critical for an adequate food supply, which must nearly double during the next several decades, for the future world population.
The first-of-its-kind scientific review, to be published in the September 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, takes a historical look at the food system, the many challenges ahead, and the crucial role of food science and technology in meeting the needs of the growing population.
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) highlighted the report at IFT's 2010 Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago. IFT produced the report to inform the public about the advances in food science and technology that were necessary to meet the needs of an evolving society, which today has much greater access to an abundant, diverse food supply that is largely safe, flavorful, nutritious, convenient, and less costly than ever before. The report summarizes the historical developments of agriculture and food technology, details various food manufacturing methods, and explains why food is processed. The report also describes and stresses why further advancements in food science and technology are needed to more equitably meet growing world population food needs with enhanced food security in developing countries and solutions to complex diet-and-health challenges in industrialized countries.
Impact of Modern Food Manufacturing Methods
"Thanks to food science and technology and modern food manufacturing methods, nutritional deficiencies and inconsistent food availability can be addressed, harvests can be protected, and various commodities can be transformed into new products having specific nutrients for better health and wellness," said John Floros, PhD, of the Pennsylvania State University Department of Food Science. "However, this success has distanced consumers from the agricultural origins of today's food products and understanding of why processing is important. As a result, there are concerns and misconceptions regarding food safety, and the food system's effect on health and the environment," he said.
Scientific and technical achievements applied throughout the food system, from agriculture and food manufacturing to preparation in the home, have freed most people in the developed world from subsistence farming and full-time home food preparation, and allowed "ready access to a diverse, abundant supply of food that is safer, tastier, nutritious, convenient, and relatively inexpensive than would otherwise be the case."
Promise for the Future
Food science and technology contributed to this success by integrating many disciplines – from biology, chemistry, and engineering, to genomics, microbiology, nutrition, and toxicology – to solve difficult problems. With this interdisciplinary approach, food scientists and technologists can apply promising developments in biotechnology, microbial ecology, molecular biology, and nanotechnology, for example, to meet the needs of our rapidly growing population more efficiently and cost-effectively than before, and in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Additional report highlights include:
"Drying, canning, chemical preservation, refrigeration (including chilling and freezing), and nutrient conservation and fortification were the significant advances of the 19th and 20th centuries and permitted population growth in more-developed countries." Alternative preservation technologies, such as high pressure processing, have been developed during the past 15–20 years to meet consumers' growing demands for safe, fresh-like and highly nutritious foods.
"Processed foods and beverages can have positive nutrient benefits beyond those of the raw or home-prepared product," according to the report. Additionally, "some processed products, are often a better value for the consumer than the fresh or raw product."
"Commercial food manufacturing operations are more efficient in the conversion of raw materials into consumer products than home processing and preparation." Through life-cycle assessments of the environmental impacts of the food system, waste-management practices are being refined and improved further.
Biotechnology has potential to improve food quality and nutritive value, and lower raw materials costs in an environmentally sustainable way.
Nanotechnology holds tremendous promise for many applications. Nanotechnology could enhance food safety, for example, through better bacterial detection and control methods.
A growing body of evidence shows that food and diet are important factors in chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. The solutions to the diet-and-disease challenge (e.g., overweight and obesity) are complex, "and require a multi-pronged strategy from both the public and private sectors," according to the report. "Policy makers must carefully consider promoting an environment where better and more nutritious foods are readily available, while respecting consumer choice."
Individuals must make more healthful choices pertaining to diet and exercise, and the food industry should use "innovative pipelines and resources to produce foods and beverages that are more nutrient-rich rather than energy dense to assist the consumer in the quest for a healthful diet." Responsible food marketing is also encouraged.
"With science and technology solutions available to address specific issues throughout the food system, our ability to feed a growing population in a sustainable way, while safeguarding both human and planet health, looks not only possible, but also promising. We must, however, remain steadfast and rational about our approach, to help both humanity and nature" according to the report.
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a nonprofit scientific society. Our individual members are professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT's mission is to advance the science of food, and our long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply, contributing to healthier people everywhere.
For more than 70 years, the IFT has been unlocking the potential of the food science community by creating a dynamic global forum where members from more than 100 countries can share, learn, and grow. We champion the use of sound science across the food value chain through the exchange of knowledge, by providing education, and by furthering the advancement of the profession. IFT has offices in Chicago, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.ift.org.