Achievements in food science, technology, and engineering during the past century have made immense positive contributions to society, and more advances are critical to feeding the future population―expected to be 9 billion by 2050 (FAO, 2009). Advances made in science, technology, and engineering during the past century have transformed our food system to one capable of producing an abundance and diversity of foods that are nutritious, safe, flavorful, convenient, and less costly than ever before. This transformation has also contributed to the population surge to the current level of nearly 7 billion people, and enabled access, primarily in the industrialized world, to foods that can be used for personalized health and wellness.
The benefits of our current food supply are often disregarded in many books and articles in the popular press, on television shows, and in other media. This coverage frames many of today’s challenges (e.g., diet and health) and issues as resulting from modern food processing. These challenges, such as obesity and diabetes, are especially concerning and very complex. The food science and technology community, in collaboration with other professional communities and the public policy and regulatory communities, can contribute to resolving them, however.
How the food supply has evolved and must continue to do so to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population appears to not be very well recognized outside the scientific community. IFT produced a scientific review, supported in part by a grant from the International Food Information Council, to serve as a foundational resource for public outreach and education about these historical achievements and the many possibilities for achieving IFT’s vision through continued scientific and technological advancements. Entitled “Feeding the World Today and Tomorrow: The Importance of Food Science and Technology,” the IFT review will be published in the September 2010 issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.
IFT’s scientific review summarizes the developments of food science and technology, and agriculture, from the beginning of modern society to the present. The document also explains why food is processed, details key food processing methods, and presents information about technologies and other developments that hold promise for solving current and future challenges.
Food Supply Evolution
Mankind has evolved through hunter-gatherer, agricultural, and industrial stages (Figure 1). The need to solve different issues, such as inadequate and inconsistent nutrition, as society progressed through these stages drove the development and growth of the food industry. Advances in agriculture and food science and technology allowed the success of our modern food system through the integration of many disciplines—biology, biotechnology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, physics, materials science, microbiology, nutrition, toxicology, genomics, and many others. Examples of the application of these disciplines in food science and technology include application of biotechnology to develop enzymes valuable in cheese and bread making, and use of chemistry in food analysis, genomics in pathogen detection and identification, materials science in effective packaging, nutrition for food fortification, functional foods to address specific health needs, and sensory science to meet flavor needs. Advances that contributed to increased agricultural productivity in more environmentally sensitive ways include biotechnology; “no-till” agriculture, integrated pest management, and precision agriculture; and technological improvements in meat animal production and fisheries.
Food Processing Objectives and Methods
The IFT review describes the objectives of food processing, to achieve preservation, safety, quality, availability, sustainability, convenience, and health and wellness. The document provides briefs on the operations, technologies, and processes used to achieve these objectives: mechanical operations, heating (e.g., pasteurization), refrigeration and freezing, dehydration, acidification, fermentation, water activity, smoking, irradiation, extrusion, modified/controlled atmosphere, additives, packaging, biotechnology, and emerging novel processes. The paper also addresses the role of food processing in food waste management.
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The ability to apply these advancements is out of balance, however, and has contributed to a growing food security gap between developing and industrialized countries. If we are to reduce this food security gap while meeting the food needs of a growing population, future advances are needed in the agricultural production and food manufacturing sectors, and they must be applied in ways that do not compromise our limited natural resources. For example, food science and technology, applied in culturally relevant ways, is needed to mitigate the substantial postharvest losses that occur in the developing world. Providing developing countries with improved varieties of crops, fish, and livestock, and addressing subsidization and other impediments to market access are also important, IFT’s review points out.
Many in the world, especially in developing countries, face food insecurity, while others, largely in industrialized countries, face complex diet-related health issues. To address diet and health concerns, food manufacturers have made considerable progress in developing and providing new products to help consumers meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Examples range from baby carrots to ready-to-eat salads, whole grain bread and cereal products, and trans fat reductions to innovative toddler foods and limited-calorie packaging (IFT, 2010). However, many people still do not meet their nutrient requirements and some have an inappropriate energy balance, contributing to major health problems. The IFT review points out needs in several realms for addressing these challenges: (a) more healthful consumer dietary choices; (b) clear, accurate information about foods and the consequences of eating habits, and education about how to make healthful, economical food choices; (c) wider availability of more nutrient-rich foods and beverages; (d) responsible marketing; (e) healthful offerings and appropriate portions with nutrition information in foodservice settings; (f) responsible goals for applications of technologies to develop better products and more effective public health messages; and (g) more research investments into the effects of food processing on nutrients and their bioavailability, the relationship of diet composition and energy balance, and behavior modification for healthful diets.
Global Food Security
The IFT review identifies some suggestions for attempting to address food security challenges. For example, Ronald and Adamchuk (2010) expressed the idea of judiciously incorporating recombinant DNA biotechnology into organic farming, which does not yet allow products of rDNA technology, in order to help feed the growing population in an ecologically balanced manner. The IFT review notes that rDNA technology is essential to increasing agriculture productivity, but also conveys that organic agriculture requires more land and labor than conventional practices, and results in yields too low to meet the needs of the growing population. Other suggestions include integrating aquaculture with agriculture and targeting small-holder farmers using mixed crop livestock systems with policies for sustainably intensifying production in these systems and supporting better access to markets, new plant varieties, and technologies (Federoffet al., 2010; Herrero et al., 2010).
The IFT review notes that postharvest losses in some areas, especially in developing countries, are 30% or more of the crop, resulting largely from lack of the necessary infrastructure and knowledge of or investment in preservation and processing methods, technology, and packaging that could otherwise avert various damages and spoilage. Not only can food science and technology protect a harvest and transform it into wholesome foods accessible to consumers, food science and technology also can develop from various commodities new food products having specific nutrients that play an important role in maintaining health and reducing disease risk. Only food scientists and technologists can advance the food supply in such a way. IFT has a commitment to feeding the future, and will continue to pursue innovations for improving food manufacturing and diet and health.
A U.S. government initiative to address global hunger and food security was recently announced. Called “Feed the Future,” the two-phase initiative will support implementation of country-owned plans through investments that draw on areas of comparative advantage, such as research and innovation and private sector–led growth (FTF, 2010). Phase I will include foundational investments such as in policy reform and capacity-building and core investments such as in inclusive agriculture sector growth and improving nutritional status. Phase II investments will include additional core investments for scaled-up development impacts at the country and regional level, while building on the foundation for sustainable and inclusive market-led growth. Breakthroughs in food science and technology will be important to success. Unfortunately, food science and related research is underfunded, which threatens the ability of food science and technology to meet the coming needs of the population. Unless we correct this situation, many of the challenges we face today will still exist in the future. The government must increase investment in food manufacturing—in processes, technologies, packaging, and future food science and technology professionals. Investments in research and education in the profession are critical to our future. Without food scientists and technologists and the collective knowledge and innovations they bring to bear to transform agricultural commodities to nutritious, safe foods on our tables, we will not be able to feed the future. IFT is eager to collaboratively share our collective insights within the new U.S. government initiative.
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Resolving Dietary Challenges
An ad hoc committee of the National Research Council, charged with finding scientific and technological solutions to four societal needs, including sustainable food production and improvements in human health, called for an interagency initiative that re-integrates the subdisciplines of biology and integrates physicists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in a “New Biology” (NRC, 2009) that is focused on problem solving. To address the food challenge, the New Biology should lead to the development of food plants that could adapt and grow sustainably in different and changing local environments. To address the health challenge, the New Biology is expected to accelerate understanding of the systems underlying health and the development of tools and technologies that would lead to more efficient approaches to individualized treatment. As noted above and in the IFT paper, food science and technology have integrated numerous disciplines for centuries. The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) also described an integrated approach, “systems microbiology,” a subset of systems biology, to bring together fundamental biological knowledge with genomics, metabolomics, and other data for a clearer and whole picture of the microbial cell or whole microbial communities to better control microorganisms on foods and in the gastrointestinal tract (Buckley, 2005).
At the crossroads of numerous integrated disciplines—from biology to toxicology—food science and technology met the evolutionary food supply needs of society. Continuing the interdisciplinary approach will be necessary to resolve the complex diet and health challenges going forward. As described in the review, with a more detailed understanding of biological processes at the individual and microbial level, food scientists and technologists will be able to apply advances in rDNA biotechnology, microbial ecology, molecular biology, genomics, metagenomics, and nutrigenomics to better address food safety, nutrition, and disease risk via increasingly personalized approaches. These advances could aid development of probiotics, for example, by identifying probiotic attributes from unexplored environments, more-robust probiotic strains, and probiotics capable of targeting specific pathogens or toxins. Educators, policy makers, regulators, and consumers, however, also have important roles to play in overcoming diet and health challenges.
Promising Scientific and Technological Developments
IFT’s forthcoming review notes that population is the most important factor in determining the future of agriculture and the food system. The paper describes the potential beneficial applications of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and other developments as they relate to food safety, food quality, and consumer health and wellness.
Biotechnology, the paper states, has the potential to increase food production, improve food quality and nutritive attributes, reduce dependence on agricultural chemicals, alleviate biotic and abiotic stress, and lower raw materials costs in an environmentally sustainable manner. Noting the historic lack of understanding of plant metabolism, the review mentions new approaches such as design of “mini chromosomes” of gene cassettes being developed to overcome some complex problems in plant metabolic engineering.
Also, the potential for nanotechnology seems vast. The IFT paper mentions several promising applications: more precisely managing resources (e.g., water, agricultural chemicals); improving agricultural production and postharvest technology in numerous ways; and enhancing ingredient technologies, food processing and packaging, and food protection (via both microbial control and pathogen detection). Research and development in nanotechnology will require a science-based approach to characterizing novel nanoscale food materials and will contribute to a safer food supply.
The Future Needs Food Scientists and Technologists
Imagine a world in which everyone everywhere has easy access to sufficient, safe, good-tasting, and wholesome food that protects against acute and chronic illness. Imagine a food system that is robust and unaffected by climate changes, a system completely environmentally sensitive and sustaining.
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Imagine contributing to this vision. Food scientists study the physical, biological, and chemical makeup of food and the concepts underlying food processing. Food technologists apply food science to the selection, preservation, processing, packaging, distribution, and use of safe food. These professionals work with other scientists and innovators in an interdisciplinary community to transform raw agricultural commodities into nutritious, flavorful, safe foods, managing a very complex multicomponent food chain so that consumers might have ready access to adequate food. The world is counting on food scientists and technologists.
Scientific Review Authors
Contributing authors for the IFT scientific review, “Feeding the World Today and Tomorrow: The Importance of Food Science and Technology,” are John D. Floros, Ph.D., a Fellow and Past President of IFT and Professor and Head of the Dept. of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University; Rosetta Newsome, Ph.D., Director, Science and Policy Initiatives, IFT; William Fisher, Vice President, Science and Policy Initiatives, IFT; Gustavo V. Barbosa-Cánovas, Ph.D., a Fellow of IFT and Professor of Food Engineering, Washington State University; Hongda Chen, Ph.D., National Program Leader, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture; C. Patrick Dunne, Ph.D., a Fellow of IFT and Senior Research Scientist, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center; J. Bruce German, Ph.D., Professor, Dept. of Food Science and Technology, University of California, Davis; Richard L. Hall, Ph.D., a Fellow and Past President of IFT and a Past President of the International Union of Food Science and Technology; Dennis R. Heldman, Ph.D., a Fellow and Past President of IFT and Principal, Heldman Associates; Mukund V. Karwe, Ph.D., Professor, Dept. of Food Science, Rutgers University; Stephen J. Knabel, Ph.D., Professor, Dept. of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University; Theodore P. Labuza, Ph.D., a Fellow and Past President of IFT and Professor of Food Science, University of Minnesota; Daryl B. Lund, Ph.D., a Fellow and Past President of IFT and Emeritus Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Martina Newell-McGloughlin, D.Sc., Director, Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program, University of California, Davis; James L. Robinson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois; Joseph G. Sebranek, Ph.D., a Fellow of IFT and Professor, Dept. of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University; Robert L. Shewfelt, Ph.D., a Fellow of IFT and Meigs Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator, Dept. of Food Science & Technology, University of Georgia; William F. Tracy, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Dept. of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Connie M. Weaver, Ph.D., a Fellow of IFT and Distinguished Professor and Head, Dept. of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University; and Gregory R. Ziegler, Ph.D., Professor, Dept. of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University.
From “Feeding the World Today and Tomorrow: The Importance of Food Science and Technology”
by Rosetta Newsome, Ph.D., is Director, Science and Policy Initiatives, Institute of Food Technologists ([email protected].).
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