John Coupland

Before 1800, the average incomes in Europe and the United States were only slightly greater than those in China and, by today’s standards, all desperately poor. In the decades that followed, Western Europe and North America saw a dramatic increase in income while China and the rest of the world did not. Various factors have been proposed to explain what is known as the Great Divergence, including colonialism, capitalism, exchange of scientific ideas, and trade. Regardless, by the start of the 20th Century, the wealth gap between the “rich world” and the “poor world” was stark and easy to interpret as a permanent natural order of things. It was not.

In the middle of the 20th century, the economies of East Asian countries began to grow toward European and North American levels. Similar trends are seen elsewhere in the world. The fastest-growing economies are all in Africa and Asia; in Nigeria, for example, the GDP per person was $377 in 2000 and $2,640 in 2015. This Great Convergence challenges us to rethink our assumptions about the world.

Most economists see these changes as good. As people get richer, infant mortality falls, lifespans increase, and birth rates decline. There is less hunger. In Europe, North America, and Japan, populations have stabilized at a high level, and in many less developed regions population is still increasing, but not at such high rates as before. We can imagine a future world, more populous, but richer and with less human suffering. However, there are huge challenges that go with these social and economic changes; for example, as people gain wealth they typically eat more meat and consume more water and energy, and the growth in wealth is often associated with a decline in rural populations and a loss of traditional social structures. The stresses and benefits of change can be a cause of conflict.

From the perspective of a U.S. food scientist, the impact of this realignment of global wealth poses many challenges. International corporate mergers result in cost cutting—and food scientists face a loss of employment. The consequences of food adulteration in one part of the world are felt globally—and food scientists must struggle to maintain adequate analytical controls. New food trends crisscross the world with astonishing speed—and food scientists must work to ensure the safety of sushi in gas stations.

From the perspective of a food scientist outside the United States, the effects of economic convergence can be even more dramatic. Manufacturers struggle to meet the demands of U.S. and European regulators. Governments worry about public health as their country’s diet changes. Academics work harder to get their work into prestigious U.S.-based journals while trying to elevate educational standards in growing undergraduate and graduate programs.

These global changes make the ability to work across cultures an essential skill for professionals in the science of food. IFT recognizes this and supports these professionals wherever they live.

IFT’s global approach is one of partnership. We recognize that existing peer organizations in other countries are attuned to the needs of their members. IFT consistently looks for ways to partner with these organizations. For example, we have publishing agreements with the Chinese Institute of Food Technologists and the South African Association of Food Science and Technology. Meanwhile, members of the Institute of Food Science and Technology in the United Kingdom and the Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology can choose to pursue a joint membership with IFT.

IFT also works to make its products and communities accessible and useful around the world. For example, 30.6% of papers submitted to the Journal of Food Science are from China while only 13.5% are from the United States, yet the acceptance rate for the Chinese papers was 14% versus 37% for papers from U.S.-based authors. The Journal of Food Science editorial staff is working to educate Chinese scientists on how to improve their submissions to close this disparity.

Additionally, the Higher Education Review Board evaluated undergraduate programs exclusively in the United States until 2010 but now recognizes programs in China, Indonesia, Honduras, Mexico, Thailand, Australia, Canada, UAE, Argentina, and Malaysia. The IFT Student Association was strictly U.S.-based until 2000 and now has chapters in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Turkey, and Ecuador with more interest coming from students around the globe. It’s exciting to see how students outside the United States are highly competitive in the competitions at the annual event.

We live in remarkable times. The changes we are living through will reshape our world for good or for ill. As individuals, we don’t have control over the really big issues, but we can engage in the future of food science and technology through our professional organization and work to ensure that we support the highest possible quality of science and professional ethical standards around the world.


John CouplandJohn Coupland, PhD, CFS
IFT President, 2016–2017
Professor of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa.
[email protected]