Food scientists and technologists operate and practice in several separate but intricately linked worlds. We, as scientists and colleagues, must be conscious of all these worlds and be able to move effortlessly between them, to operate at the interfaces and overlaps, to conduct ourselves in each world with competence and integrity, and to do so to the best advantage of the public, the food supply, our profession, and ourselves. These worlds can be defined in a number of ways, as I discuss below.
The World of Scientific and Technological Knowledge
This is the primary world that we learn about as students—and that thereafter some of us teach as academics. This is the world in which we pursue new knowledge by research; or communicate scientific knowledge to our peers or to the general public; or develop new food products and processes; or optimize the safety and quality of food via quality assurance, good manufacturing practice, and HACCP; or monitor compliance with food regulations.
It could be argued that this is not one world but five—the worlds of research, teaching, product development, quality assurance, and compliance. These aspects crop up in other worlds as well. For the purposes of this classification, however, this world is the one world of scientific and technological knowledge—the “nuts and bolts” of our multidisciplinary subject, whether that knowledge is being sought, taught, communicated, or applied.
We need to acquire, maintain, and display assured competence in that world, but we must never make the mistake of assuming that this is all that is required of us.
The World of Employment
We perform the scientific nuts-and-bolts activities in the world of employment, whether we are employed in industry, academic or research institutions, international agencies, government, regulatory agencies, or, if we are consultants, by the most exacting of employers, ourselves! As employees, we have a responsibility to provide conscientious and competent service to our employers, and to pursue their proper interests without compromising our integrity or our primary duty to the safety of the food supply and to the ethics of professional conduct.
Apart from academic tenure, the current world of employment is very different from what it used to be (as even that last bastion of the “job-for-life,” Japan, has now experienced). Mergers, take-overs, reorganizations, and downsizing or its myopic euphemism, “right-sizing,” provide an uncertain working environment in which career development needs to include that apparent paradox—planning for the unexpected—and the acquisition of transferable skills.
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The World of Professionalism
In many countries, there are societies concerned with food science, or with a contributory discipline as applied to food, or with science applied to a particular sector of the food field. In some countries, there are many such societies, with what is often termed a “learned society” character. Unlike professional bodies with standards of entry for professional grades of membership based on qualifications and experience, these societies do not have entry standards of competence and integrity—anyone interested can join. Many of the national bodies adhering to the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) and some of the national organizations with which the Institute of Food Technologists enjoys a mutual Allied Organization relationship are societies of this kind. Individually, we food scientists and technologists around the world are practicing experts originally trained in food science and technology or in one of its contributory disciplines. Not everyone is a “joiner,” but many of us do join one or more of these national learned societies.
However, some of those experts see beyond the nuts and bolts of expertise and realize that food science and technology is not only a knowledge field, not only an occupation, but a profession; and that they are also individual professionals. Some take that realization to its logical conclusion—they join, and better still, play an active part in, their professional institute where one exists. Where one does not exist, they may join IFT or the United Kingdom Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST), both of which have members outside their home countries. The more farsighted may try to get together with fellow professionals and seek to create their own “home-grown” professional institute. Indeed, while IFT and IFST welcome these individuals as overseas members, both of these well-established professional bodies have a professional duty to encourage and help the formation of such home-grown professional institutes.
So what are the key characteristics of professional bodies?
• They are independent, not-for-profit, self-governing, democratic organizations.
• They have established standards of entry to professional grades of membership, based on appropriate academic qualifications and a specified minimum length of assessed experience at a responsible level.
• They admit as professional members only those who fulfill the criteria, and only in their individual personal capacities, and who in no sense whatever represent the companies or organizations where they may be employed.
• They provide non–professional membership grades, including a student grade and one for those who have gained appropriate academic qualifications but have not yet fulfilled the minimum experience requirement.
• They require all members to show professional integrity and be seen to do so by undertaking to adhere to a published and publicly available ethical code of professional conduct.
• They recognize their professional responsibility to the general public and the food supply, to advance and extend the body of food science knowledge, to assist in the continuing professional development of existing practitioners, and to attract new entrants to the profession.
• In fulfilment of those professional responsibilities, they collaborate in the public interest with government, academia, consumer groups, and industry, but fully retain their independence.
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The last point raises the question of the role of a professional body in relation to the food industry of its country—e.g., IFST in relation to the U.K. food industry, or IFT in relation to the U.S. food industry. Taking IFST as the example, it needs to offer something of value to U.K. food companies in order to gain/maintain goodwill in supporting the active participation of U.K. food company scientists and technologists as volunteers in IFST work and affairs. It is right and proper, and only to be expected, that IFST would therefore want to equip their companies with the best of food science and technology. But if this extends beyond, to general external promotion of the competitive commercial global interests of the U.K. food industry, this would exceed the proper role of a professional food science body. Exactly the same considerations and principles apply to the relationship between IFT and the U.S. food industry.
A word about the ethical code of professional conduct. I am sometimes asked, concerning IFST’s Code, “How effective is it, how many times has it been used to discipline members?” The answer is that its effectiveness is not measured by how many times disciplinary measures have been used, but by how very few times they have needed to be used. Its real effectiveness lies in the guidance that it gives to members, particularly to younger, less-experienced members, and, equally important, in what the content of the Code tells the public about the integrity of the professional body and its members and about the philosophy which actuates our profession.
The World of Continuing Professional Development
Science does not stand still—and food science, being a relatively young multidisciplinary subject, develops all the faster. Knowledge is the indispensible working tool of our profession. As working individuals, we know that our knowledge can rapidly become out-of-date unless we continually update it. More than that, as professionals, we need not only to keep up-to-date but must also be able to demonstrate that we are doing so. That is why in many professions, formal programs of continuing professional development have been or are being implemented.
It is not only a matter of keeping up-to-date in the particular area of one’s present or past specialization. The attainment of transferable skills as part of career development may offer opportunities to move into previously unvisited areas. For example, I sometimes reflect on how bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has led me into areas of knowledge in which I would never have dreamed, say a decade ago, of finding myself.
Back in 1990, viewing BSE (“mad cow disease”) as a food-related problem and as an important and fascinating puzzle to be solved, IFST developed a Position Statement on BSE, which was updated in 1992. As a member of the IFST Technical Committee involved, I took part, but not in a leading way. Having designed, constructed, and written the IFST World Wide Web site in early 1995 (itself then a new area of knowledge and activity for me) and being aware of the importance of up-to-date IFST Position Statements on the Web site and the ferment of discussion on the Internet (and of course in the media) about BSE, I looked at our 1992 Position Statement. It was, of course, embarrassingly out-of-date.
The outcome of my vigorous championing of the need for preparation of an updated version was that I found myself volunteered as leader of the drafting team for the numerous updated versions since then, which have increasingly had to embrace not only the subject of BSE in cows but that of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. I am not a medico, an agriculturalist, a physiologist, a veterinarian, a neurologist, a pathologist, a virologist, a molecular biologist, a geneticist, an epidemiologist, or a researcher carrying out any experimental BSE- or CJD-related project. So I have had to acquire knowledge in all these areas from the literature, symposia, IFST colleagues, specialists, and the Internet. This has involved applying a critical scientific faculty, honed over the years, in separating presently known fact from speculation. It has also involved the skills of a food scientist in doing what the food scientist does all the time—collating, interpreting, and integrating information from many contributory disciplines into as coherent a picture as possible.
In one sense, with regard to BSE, I have been and always will be a generalist dealing with the fruits of the specialist activity of others. In another sense, perhaps my contribution is to have a scientific view and perspective of the whole picture, rather than the specialist’s detailed close-up of one or another specialized part of it.
This perhaps also illustrates that continuing professional development is not restricted to the younger members of our profession but is still ongoing at age 76.
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The World of Information
The outcome of all efforts in food science and technology is information. It is like oxygen-carrying blood—it is useless unless the oxygen of information is carried to the places where it is needed. Information needs to be communicated by the provider, and accessed and perceived by the intended recipient. At different times, we occupy either of those roles.
As information recipients, we are dependent on the providers’ communication skills and the objectivity of what is being communicated. Today, our main problem is information overload, how to select effectively, and how to process the information that we select. I wish I could offer a magic solution that would lead to better skills in these areas, but there is none.
As information providers, we need to communicate objectively and effectively with the intended recipients, whether we are conveying facts (e.g., quality assurance results, details of a specification, a product formulation, or a process) or research results, or explaining science or risk assessment to a lay audience. Unfortunately, scientific or technological excellence does not automatically carry with it communication skills. I am sure that we have all known some outstanding scientists who were abysmally incoherent or boring communicators. Still, most of us can work at it and learn how to make our information readily understandable and interesting to the intended recipients.
As information providers, we especially need to learn and cultivate the skills of imparting our specific knowledge and the understanding of science itself to the general public in language that they can understand. It is not always easy to do and still less easy in an era when certain groups ideologically hostile to the application of any new technology spread deliberate disinformation to scare the public about food and specific technologies, and may seek to undermine confidence in science itself.
It is much too easy, when rebutting the scare stories from extremists, to find oneself moving toward—or being perceived as adopting—a scientifically untenable position at the opposite extreme and appearing to promote new technology for its own sake regardless of problems. Any new technology has potential hazards; but if these had frightened mankind to the point of rejecting them, the first passenger flight would never have flown, the first surgical operation would never have taken place, and indeed we would still be living in the Stone Age. The answer is to use scientific effort and research to foresee hazards and either eliminate them or, by using our HACCP approach, establish controls at critical points to prevent hazards from giving rise to unacceptable risks. Science is now better equipped to do so than ever before.
The World of Cyberspace
“The world of” is not just a figurative expression here. As anyone who has spent time on the Internet will testify, this “virtual” world is a very real world in which all sorts of things are happening and all sorts of food science information is being communicated and perceived. Those who are confined to the terrestrial world are totally unaware of the power of the Internet. This is the world of Web sites, listservs (i.e., electronic mailing lists), newsgroups, word processing files sent as attachments to e-mail, on-line journals, on-line conferences, and on-line virtual distance courses. One outstanding long-distance course, “Critical Food Safety Issues in the International Retail Market,” was run earlier this year by Carol Sawyer and her colleagues at Michigan State University. I mention this course as an example simply because I happened to be fortunate enough to have a sort of virtual ringside seat.
As providers, the Internet offers the opportunity to “publish” what we like, when we like, without hindrance. The other side of the coin is that it offers the same opportunities to a motley crew of individuals offering ignorant speculation as fact, anti-technology activist groups and individuals, junk e-mail advertisers, political extremists, and pornographers. As recipients, we must be particularly selective in separating the gold nuggets from the dross. On the Web, this is fairly easily done by visiting reputable food Web sites—those of professional bodies, university food science departments, food research institutions around the world, international agencies.
This plethora contributes to the information overload, but it provides the means for accessing information on a chosen topic via Internet search engines and database search facilities—and, while sitting at one’s computer, with an immediacy not available with the printed word.
To any who are not yet connected to this virtual but very real world, I have to say that in food science terms you are greatly deprived and disadvantaged, and I urge you to rectify that situation.
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The World of Food Legislation
Food legislation impinges on us all, whether we are involved in developing it, complying with it, monitoring and enforcing compliance with it, teaching it to the next generation of food technologists, or being protected by it as consumers.
Legislation changes and develops rapidly, partly reflecting advances in food technology, but partly reflecting the ebb-and-flow of pressures from the stakeholders—for, make no mistake, there are conflicting interests. At one end of the spectrum, companies want maximum freedom to sell and make claims for products. At the other end, consumer activists seek maximum restriction. In the middle, legislators try to strike a reasonable balance between the twin desires of honest enterprise and consumer protection and information—and try to avoid being criticized from both directions.
The World of Food Politics
Using the word “politics” in its widest sense depicts this as an almost universally nasty world. It has many features which, if many of us “had our druthers,” would not exist. In food science, we rarely speak openly of most of them, and I would prefer not to refer to them at all. But it is a world which exists and affects us, impinging on our activities, and therefore we must recognize its existence and its interaction with all the other worlds.
It is the world of:
• Aggressive, “no-holds-barred” trade wars for global food markets, and science spin-doctored by governments and politicians for trade-war purposes.
• Inadequate pursuit of urgently needed solutions of major food-related problems.
• Job losses of competent people through mergers, take-overs or “downsizing.”
• Companies that fall below an acceptable standard of ethical business practice.
• Damaging internal “politics” within companies or universities.
• Research career prospects that are far more dependent on number of publications than on quality of research.
• Ideological activist groups that unscrupulously attempt to scare the public into opposing legislation to permit any new applications of food technology.
It is also a world displaying the obscene contrast between the comfortable existence of most people in the developed nations and the 800 million of our fellow human beings who daily suffer starvation or serious malnutrition—a contrast that is likely to deepen with doubling of the world’s population in the decades ahead unless the problem is seriously tackled. This was what the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) addressed in the Budapest Declaration adopted at the 9th World Congress of Food Science and Technology in 1995. I am proud to have been involved with drafting the declaration. The problem will not be solved by food science alone, but it will not be solved without food science. I am particularly interested in the possibilities that will be occasioned by genetic modification.
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The Terrestrial World of Nations
Food science knows no national or regional boundaries: it is universal. Food technology, the application of food science to the actual manufacture and distribution of food products to the public, has universal principles, but its application must be appropriate to local circumstances, local requirements, and local legislation and regulatory systems.
Professional bodies assist the interests and careers of the practitioners, but they have to do much more than that. Among many things, they must interact with their governments, in a variety of proactive and reactive ways, including food safety and regulatory matters—as indeed IFT does in the U.S. and IFST does in the U.K. Each scientific society to be effective must be recognized by its government as the national body which is the authoritative voice of the profession. In countries outside the U.S., IFT would not be acceptable in that role; nor, indeed, does it have the local presence in every capital, or the detailed knowledge of government institutions, agencies, and legislative structures, local legislative matters and intentions, or the necessary contacts with the government officials.
I must add that, although I am a strong and active supporter of IUFoST as the international body, for the same reasons IUFoST would be neither capable of dealing effectively with national governments nor acceptable in such a role.
As long as the world consists of nations with national governments, there will be a need for independent national professional bodies.
The World of Internationalism
This is the world of international cooperation. It is the world of:
• The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
• The U.N. World Health Organization (WHO).
• The Codex Alimentarius Commission, with 154 participating countries, under the auspices of FAO and WHO—a system of agreed-upon food standards which can be the basis for international trade in food.
• The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Uruguay Round Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement), and the World Trade Organization, which is the arbiter of the Agreement.
• Friendly direct collaboration among national food science and technology societies, of which the Co-operating Societies relationship between IFT and IFST is an excellent model, one which I am proud to have played a part in bringing about.
• IUFoST, which its President Peter Biacs correctly described, in the first IFT International Division Lecture a year ago, as “a country-membership organization . . . the sole global food science and technology organization.”
• The new International Academy of Food Science and Technology, created by IUFoST.
An Enjoyable Challenge
This lecture has been a distillation of my experiences during a 53-year odyssey in and among all of the ten worlds of food science and technology that I have identified and briefly described. Much of that time has been spent in areas where two, three, four, or more of those worlds overlap. They have all been a challenge. I think you will have gathered that I found, and find, one of those worlds highly distasteful; but the rest have been exciting and enjoyable worlds. To score nine out of ten can’t be a bad outcome!
Based on the IFT International Division Lecture at the Annual Meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists, Chicago, Ill., July 24–28, 1999.
by J. RALPH BLANCHFIELD, MBE
The author, a Professional Member and Fellow of IFT, Past President of the Institute of Food Science & Technology, Immediate Past Chair of the IFT British Section, Vice President of the European Food Law Association of the U.K., and Foundation Fellow of the International Academy of Food Science & Technology, is Consultant, 17 Arabia Close, Chingford, London E4 7DU, U.K.
Edited by Fran Katz, Editor