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Food System Must Invest in Processing

14 June 2011

Processed meat and food products have received a lot of criticism for being unhealthy, causing obesity and at times for safety issues, writes TheMeatSite Editor-in-Chief, Chris Harris.

The popular press has increased negative perceptions about processed foods, particularly in the United States and Europe.

However, according to Dr John Floros, the professor of food science and Pennsylvania State University, today s food processing science and technologies have created a food system that is safe, nutritious, abundant and diverse.

Speaking at the recent AMI Expo in Chicago, he said that there are great challenges facing the global food system today, with an increasing demand for diverse food and changing patterns of consumption.

As more and more people become wealthier and more people move to urban living from a rural existence, the demand for meat and richer products is increasing.

The sector also has to face the challenges of diminishing natural resources and land area and the impact of climate change and environmental issues.

He said that the sector is full of dichotomies for the consumer - decisions between local and global, seasonal and all year round produce ready-to-eat and natural, low price and premium.

However, he said that the world and the food industry had to somehow fine a way of feeding an every growing world population that will reach 9 billion by 2050.

With a demand on resources and land at a premium, the sector has to fall back on food science and technology and on to processing to ensure a supply.

"We will have to double the amount of food each year we produce up to 2050 in order to feed the population," said Dr Floros.

"To do this you have to have an industrial food system behind you.

"You can't grow that amount of food without science and technology. We have to change very, very fast and this means there is a need for much better food processing."

Dr Floros said that techniques of processing food have been around for thousands of years, ever since man started to cook food on a fire.

He said that whenever anything is done to food - packaging, cooking, freezing - it is being processed.

"Throughout history humans overcame hunger and disease not only by cultivating and harvesting food but also by processing it," said Dr Floros.

He said that some processed foods are more nutritious than non-processed food but he added that processing will produce sustainability and will also give the consumer convenience and make food more easily available.

The whole object of processing meat and food is preservation, safety, quality, nutrition, availability, sustainability, convenience and health and wellness.

The degree that the global consumer audience now needs food to be processed is being accelerated by the changing demographics of the global population.

There is a switch from a rural population to an urban population and this produces a demand for more highly developed foods that are processed.

This in turn means that the food industry has to develop new technologies to improve the food products, including biotechnology, personalised nutrition plans, molecular biology, microbial ecology and nanotechnology.

Dr Floros said that along the food production system, the industry and in particular the processor has to work closely with governments to met future challenges including diet and disease.

He said the changing population and consumer needs are illustrated by the changes seen in China. In 1980 meat consumption per capita was 20 kg. By 2007 it had risen to 50 kg and it is still rising.

However, the requirements for meat production compared to cereal production are completely different. It will take 1,000 to 2,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of wheat but it takes between 10,000 and 13,000 litres to produce a kilo of meat.

To meet these challenges, Dr Floros said that the food system of the future must be science and technology based and it must be flexible and resilient.

He added that it also has to be consumer driven and must assure the health and wellness of the consumer.

The production system also has to take into account the environment and natural resources it uses and affects and most of all it must be sustainable.

"This cannot be done without food processing," said Dr Floros.

"Society must invest in basic and applied research and it must invest in education and outreach."

June 2011

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