Neil Mermelstein

Neil H. Mermelstein

More than 600 people from 49 countries attended the 12th World Congress of Food Science and Technology in Chicago in July to hear about world food problems and discuss approaches to solving them. President of the World Food Prize Foundation, announced that Catherine Bertini of the United Nations World Food Program will receive the 2003 World Food Prize on October 16-17, 2003, in Des Moines, Iowa, for her leadership in saving millions from famine and starvation. Per Pinstrup-Andersen [6],

The Congress, with the theme, “Feeding the World—Opportunities Without Boundaries,” was held in Chicago, Ill., on July 16–20, 2003, immediately following the Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting + Food Expo®. Presented by the International Union of Food Science and Technology and hosted by IFT, this year’s biennial Congress featured an opening session, plenary lectures, symposia, technical sessions, poster sessions, roundtables, and discussion groups. 

This article reports on the seven plenary lectures and provides photo highlights of the Congress activities.

Plenary Lectures
Per Pinstrup-Andersen,
the 2001 World Food Prize Laureate, currently at Cornell University, spoke on “Feeding the World—Innovations from Farm to Plate (Applications of Science and Technology).” 

He said that globalization, including trade liberalization for food and other agricultural products, could be an important tool to promote food security in developing countries. However, he added, without appropriate policy guidance at the national level and without effective international and national institutions, its potential to improve food security will not be fully utilized, and it may actually cause deteriorations in food security. 

Removal of trade-distorting agricultural policies in industrialized countries will positively influence food security, he said. To partake in the benefits from such trade liberalization, developing countries must invest in rural infrastructure, appropriate technology for small farmers, primary education and health care, market institutions, and other public goods. Such investments are of particular importance in the poorer developing countries, including most of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

He concluded by saying that research to develop appropriate knowledge and technology for food production, processing, and distribution in developing countries is of critical importance.

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Ismail Serageldin, Director, Library of Alexandria, Egypt, discussed “Harnessing Science and Technology for Food and Agriculture in the 21st Century.” In developing countries, he said, some 800 million people—mostly women and children—are chronically malnourished, and 40,000 people die from malnutrition every day. He defined food security as access to sufficient food by all people, at all times—in terms of quality, quantity, and diversity—for an active and healthy life without risk of loss of such access. He added that security is not only production but also access, not only output but also process, not only technology but also policy, not only global but also national, not only national but also household, not only rural but also urban, and not only amount but also content. It is a complex problem that must be tackled on many levels. 

Food production, he said, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for food security. Focusing on the small-holder farmer in developing countries is key to environmental protection, poverty reduction, and food security. We must increase the area under cultivation and increase yields through high-input agriculture, organic/peasant farming, and sustainable precision farming, using the best science and best management,he said. We must also remove urban bias; emphasize investments in education, health, and infrastructure; improve rural roads and markets; remove distorting factor price policies that adversely affect agriculture; and ensure that benefits go to small-holders, not large landowners. 

We must reduce the need for more land under cultivation, which will save habitats and biodiversity. We must reduce post-harvest losses—as much as 30% of food produced in developing countries does not reach consumers. This will require better storage, better transport, efficient distribution systems, and production systems adapted to an increasingly urbanizing world. 

We must also address the nutritional quality of food for poor consumers in the developing countries. Saying that healthier infants can absorb nutritious food better, he discussed the role of science regarding food and human health, including harnessing the genetics revolution. 

He said that 83.2% of the population in 2025 will be in the developing countries and the rich control 85% of the income there, and just as moral outrage abolished slavery, “we must all become the new abolitionists, and it must be done within our generation.”

Richard Black, Executive Director, ILSI® North America, spoke on “Overcoming Barriers to Globalization.” He began by reviewing world statistics on such topics as population size, density, and growth rates in developed and developing countries, then said that a ranking of countries on ten indicators of how government intervention can restrict economic relations between individuals (the “Economic Freedom Index”) shows that the United States ties for 4th place and Canada comes in at 15th. 

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He then reviewed how the U.S. and Canada agree and differ on nutrition labeling requirements and dietary guidelines and recommendations. For example, science is a common language, he said, but the U.S. and Canada can’t agree on what goes on the label. Imagine multiplying that on a global basis, he added. He said that there are no perfect dietary guidelines/recommendations and that any such recommendations will be the result of a series of compromises between competing agendas. He said that governments, non-governmental organizations industries, companies, and scientists all have competing agendas. 

He said that ILSI was founded 25 years ago as a not-for-profit institute, with branches around the world providing research, conferences, and publications. There have been three collaborative efforts among these branches over the first 20 years of its history, and he used these collaborative efforts as an example of how developing effective communications, an understanding of cultural differences, and personal relationships has helped solve competing-agenda issues. 

He concluded by saying that “There is as much work to do within each of our communities (government, industry, academe) as anywhere else. Never forget that the world is made up of people, not just trading zones.”

Wayne R. Bidlack, Dean, College of Agriculture, California State Polytechnic University, discussed “Water: The World’s Most Precious Resource.” He said that freshwater is essential for all life, for agriculture to provide food, for industry and commercial use to serve the economy, for municipal development and household use to support our daily lives. Oceans, salt water seas, and lakes make up 97.5% of the earth’s water. Most of the remaining 2.5% is freshwater trapped in glacial ice and arctic snow packs, leaving only 0.76% of all water on earth available for human use. 

The world population growth will continue to stress water availability, he said. Underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia have the fastest-growing populations, having tripled since 1950. Asia will continue to increase another 50%, while Africa will double. The net result will be a continuing 50% increase in the world population growth to 8.5 billion people. Unfortunately, the less developed parts of the world continue to grow the fastest, and may not have access to sufficient freshwater for health, economic growth, and sufficient food. 

Agriculture continues to consume the greatest amount of water. Irrigation has enabled more efficient crop production, but also resulted in widespread salt deposition and loss of land use. Changes in irrigation methods, such as micro-irrigation, would conserve water, delivering it to the root base and minimizing evaporation losses. Industries and municipalities use water but are more efficient in recycling and reutilization of the water. 

It should be noted, he added, that water stress occurs across the equatorial region of Northern Africa, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, Western Asia, and South East Asia. These are the same regions that have irregular rainfall, monsoon floods, and droughts, overpumping of their aquifer stores, and conflict over limited water resources. 

He stressed that new, innovative water management policies must be created and jointly implemented by the world community to provide better stewardship of our most critical resource, to enable allocation between competing sectors and meet demands for upstream and downstream water sharing, and to allocate water for societal use, while protecting the environment. 

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There is no overreaching solution for all of the problems related to water scarcity, he said, but a variety of solutions for preservation, purification, and reutilization can be of value to each region. Application of new technologies to recycle and purify waste water, to generate freshwater by desalination, to decrease losses due to evaporation and delivery system leakage, and to assure purification with chlorination or ozonation will provide inexpensive, pure, and safe water to those who need it.

Bruce R. Tompkin, retired Vice President Product Safety for ConAgra Refrigerated Prepared Foods, spoke on “Assuring Safe Food: An International Perspective.” He described the work of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene toward a food safety management system that applies Codex documents in a logical sequence: assemble epidemiologic and other relevant information; conduct a qualitative or quantitative risk assessment; assess possible risk management options; establish a food safety objective (FSO); confirm that the FSO is achievable; establish process/product requirements; and establish acceptance procedures. 

This scheme, he said, recognizes the importance of process and product design as the most effective means to ensure food safety. Integral to this approach is the FSO, a new concept that offers significant advantages and defines the maximum frequency or concentration of a microbiological hazard in a food at the time of consumption that will provide an appropriate level of protection (ALOP). FSOs are realized through the application of Good Hygienic Practices (GHPs) and HACCP and, where appropriate, scientifically based criteria that specify the conditions necessary to meet an FSO. 

He said that validation of control measures will become increasingly important for a wide variety of foods. Collectively, FSOs and performance criteria specify the expected level of control and can be used to assess food operations. Operators who can demonstrate their control systems will consistently meet established criteria and can be relied on to produce foods that provide the intended appropriate level of consumer protection. 

He pointed out, however, that while the scheme holds considerable promise, many issues still must be resolved by the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene.

Barbara Schneeman, Professor/Associate Vice Provost, University of California, Davis, spoke on “Emerging Food Technology and World Health.” She said that with respect to international food and nutrition issues, the good news is that in most developed countries micronutrient deficiencies have been essentially eliminated as major public health problems, and intervention strategies focused on specific nutrients and related factors have emerged to combat deficiency. The bad news, she said, is that micronutrient deficiencies continue to affect millions of people, including our most vulnerable populations, and interfere with health, growth, and development, and that chronic or noncommunicable diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer are emerging as significant public health problems in all countries. 

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We have learned that nutrition problems evolve from disease toward prevention, and that food needs to be a part of prevention strategies, she said. We have learned that we can’t ignore lifestyle factors when considering food and nutrition; that foods that meet the Dietary Guidelines or Recommended Allowances do not in themselves solve the challenges; and that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increase of chronic diseases. 

She said that a portfolio of strategies are needed to address nutrition problems. These include supplementation, fortification, dietary diversification, traditional plant breeding, and modern biotechnology. Producing more food will not address the core issues related to nutrition and food safety. She added that food technology will be most useful when it leads to healthful foods that maximize the primary determinants of consumer food choice, diversification of the food supply, better utilization of existing resources (including local foods), safety of the food system, improvements in nutrient retention and availability, and better information for consumer choices. 

Among the challenges for the future, she concluded, are balancing the issues of safety, malnutrition, and well-being; scientific substantiation of links among food, nutrition, and health; development of appropriate food composition databases; and establishment of relevant nutritional criteria for emerging food technology.

Mark Mansour, Partner, Keller and Heckman, LLP, addressed “One World for All: International Harmonization of Food Regulations—Codex and the Treatment of Foods Derived from Biotechnology as a Case Study.” He said that although the Codex Alimentarius Commission has functioned as part of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization since 1962, with the advent of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other regional trading blocs, the deliberations of Codex have become significantly more important to the international trade interests of government and industry groups alike. 

Increased interest in the elaboration of Codex standards, guidelines, and recommendations, he said, may be attributed to increased international awareness of two very practical functions of the Commission and its numerous committees. 

First, lesser developed countries lacking both the expertise and financial resources to fully develop food regulatory structures adequate for the protection of public health and the free flow of goods within their own borders have become aware that the guidance and information needed to fill in these regulatory gaps is often made available in the Codex activities and deliberations of delegates from more industrialized nations. 

And second, multinational corporations and trade associations have become aware of the role that Codex has been given in the WTO Agreements as the means by which disputes over trade in food products may be resolved. Increased awareness of the practical functions of Codex activities in shaping national legislation and establishing international trade standards appears to have strengthened Codex’s role as the focal point of efforts to achieve internationally harmonized food standards. However, as the Commission’s work has continued in recent years, many international regulatory gaps show signs of being filled by legislation that imposes burdens on industry without demonstrable benefits to public welfare. In their most troublesome manifestations, he concluded, some of these measures, especially recent regulations concerning biotech food labeling, could be viewed as technical barriers to trade.

Proceedings and Next Congress
The proceedings of the 12th World Congress—Opportunities without Boundaries: Papers, Discussions and Proceedings of the 12th World Congress of Food Science and Technology, Chicago, 2003—will be edited by Manfred Kroger of The Pennsylvania State University and published by Blackwell Publishing/Iowa State Press next summer. For more information, contact the publisher at 800-862-6657 or

The next World Congress of Food Science and Technology will be held on September 17–21, 2006, at the Palais des Congrès in Nantes, France. The theme will be “Food Is Life.” For more information, contact Pierre Feillet, Congress XIII Organizing Committee Chair, at [email protected] (fax +33 4 99 61 26 45).

by Neil H. Mermelstein,

About the Author

IFT Fellow
Editor Emeritus of Food Technology
[email protected]
Neil Mermelstein