Currently showing: Food security > Food industry

06 Nov 13 14:21

Apart from the famous Mr. Ed, our wise talking horse U.S. TV star, we well know that a horse cannot talk. Therefore it cannot say where it comes from. This brings us to one of the key elements when it comes to food risks and the key challenges for our industry.

Food safety is built on the four pillars of availability, stability, access and use: all four need to be ensured simultaneously for food safety to be achieved. It is described as one of the largest risks in society in the next 10 years by the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report.

Unsafe food can cause many severe and life-long diseases, even death. The WHO estimates that food-borne and waterborne diarrheal diseases kill about 2.2 million people every year. Climate change is contributing by providing warmer and moister environments, in which bacteria grow better.

A recent example is the horse meat scandal (horse meat in beef lasagna) in 2013. While horse meat is not harmful to health and not a direct food safety issue, the scandal revealed a major breakdown in the traceability of the food supply chain, and therefore some risk that harmful ingredients were included as well. Sports horses for instance could have entered the food supply chain, and with them the veterinary drugs which are banned in food animals. The scandal has since spread to 13 European countries.

Because food recalls and food-related incidents are increasing, we need control over the supply chain, a quality assurance on internal processes (selection, auditing, certification of suppliers), and internal process standards (hygiene, quality control, traceability, recall plans etc).

PS: And if Mr. Ed puts you on a trip down memory lane, get the tune right here:

Category: Food security: Food industry


Alicia Montoya - 7 Nov 2013, 7:54 p.m.

Thanks for a great talk at the CRO Assembly today, Matthias. You raised an interesting point when you said that urban farming is but a drop in the ocean in terms of the amount of food we will need to produce to feed the world's 9 billion population expected by 2050. While I realize that the challenge is immense (and you're absolutely right, there's no two ways about the sheer quantity of food we need to produce, and agree urban farming won't even begin to cover it), I think we could be overlooking the value that educating and empowering urban populations could have.

Let's not forget that, according to the UN, more than 60% of the world's population will live in urban centers by 2050. So getting at least some of those urban dwellers thinking about, and involved in, small-scale solutions could help and, I'm hoping, that micro could lead to macro ideas?

In this world of vast and interconnected risks (such as climate, food security, energy safety) our biggest problem is often that the challenges seem immense and unsurmountable to the layman. As citizens, we often feel powerless. Don't you think initiatives such as urban farms can help get our creative juices flowing in the right direction?

Paritosh - 9 Nov 2013, 2:31 p.m.

Mr. Ed Rocks!!!

Not only beef is not beef and tuna is not tuna... Guess in today's business world, all the pillars are getting replaced by one and only one pillar, which seems to be profitability!!

Do customers need a watchdog on what they consume? Gives me a business idea of starting a consumer magazine with test reports of what they are being offered off the shelves.... Will thank you if I get rich :o)

Stéphane Vincent - 10 Nov 2013, 6:41 p.m.

Matthias, you are right to show the link between food security (producing enough food to feed 9 billion) and food safety (doing so healthily).

This week France 2 TV broadcast a documentary on the high levels of toxins, antibiotics and disease in Norwegian fish farms, due to intensive farming. Watch it here:

Does this mean we all need to simply accept that in order to eat healthily we will need to reduce (or select) our meat and fish consumption more drastically? How else can we produce the food required for such a vast population while avoiding the horrors of mass farming?

I really wonder how we can expect producing healthy food for 9 billion knowing that we already have to compromise on safety today to feed 6 billion. Are these two "S" compatible with the actual global food industry and customer demands?

Since our actual (global) approach seems hardly controllable shouldn't we foster a more regional food production model (with taxes & legislation) to make each country more responsible for its own food security and safety and implicitly reduce over-consumption?

Matthias Scheurer - 14 Nov 2013, 3:23 p.m.

Alicia, first of all: “The deep root of failure in our lives is to think, 'Oh how useless and powerless I am.' It is essential to think strongly and forcefully, 'I can do it,' without boasting or fretting.” Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama quotes (Dalai Lama, b.1935).

Thanks for having joined the breakout-session and bringing in the additional urbanisation aspect. Urban farming may be a first step to achieve a shift of focus much more on the value & appreciation of food, which in the end is determined by each consumer.

Consumer demand triggered many developments, one example being the significant improvement when it comes to achieving species-appropriate conditions for animal farming, at least in Europe. The same customer demand triggered the fact that strawberries are readily available all year long.

How comes that the highest density of dogs, cats, hamsters etc. can be found in cities? Are cities the ideal species-appropriate environment for such animals? The difference being the animal in the city having a surname? And is it really necessary having strawberries in winter?

Customer demand may steer this in the right direction. But I guess the obvious alienation to food production (be it vegetables or meat) will need to be overcome first.

Matthias Scheurer - 15 Nov 2013, 2:29 p.m.

Stéphane, food production is a market. Whilst there may be some niche markets for environmentally friendly grown products, the price consumers are willing to pay for food products seems only be sufficient to allow for such mass food production systems to economically survive. Consumer demand for more sustainable produced food products is developing, however in terms of scale it is not really making a major impact from a global level.

Let's also not forget, it is a luxury to discuss such issues and fingerpoint at those who produce cheap food products. There is a demand by those who either depend- or for whatever reason opt to buy such products. Simply because some can afford to choose does not necessarily imply that the "not so well fed" need to see it the same way and if I had to chose between either satisfying basic food needs or going hungry, the decision in fact would be quite simple.

To your question on whether we simply need to accept this and whether reducing or selecting food has an impact:
Having grown up on a farm, I may say that I am quite familiar with all steps in the food production cycle. I strongly believe that consumers generally should become more familiar again the food production which may lead to a more selective buying behaviours (consumer demand shapes supply). Consumers again need to appreciate the value of what they actually buy and eat. I do not believe that changing diet makes much sense as the human being is firstly an omnivore, secondly pretty opportunistic when choosing its food and thirdly is a creature of habits (which may be another obstacle) but theoretically, changing dietary patterns may provide some relief.

More regional production may improve food safety (by cutting down transport distance) but in turn would mean consumer demand would need to be in line with seasonality which at least at current is diametrically opposed to what I see in the shelves: All year long 24/7 availability of extra-seasonal grown food products.

- I disagree with your view that mass farming is a horror - it is a matter of how
- taxes hardly ever helped (maybe somewhat absolute)
- overconsumption will always exist somewhere (same as smoking, no matter how high taxes are and no matter of how many smoking bans or restrictions are put in place). I believe however that instead addressing overconsumption the issue of food waste should become a more prominent role by increasing awareness and education.

Matthias Scheurer - 15 Nov 2013, 2:34 p.m.

Paritosh, compared to Motörhead who really rock, Mr Ed is more like a classic orchestra.
profitability: Do you know someone intentionally running a loss making business? Neither do I. Customers are free in their choice, whatever products they demand, and producers simply try to satisfy consumer demand, not sure whether there is consumer demand for another posh lifestyle magazine on food product quality which could be easily replaced at nil cost by common sense? But good luck with getting rich!

Alicia Montoya - 17 Nov 2013, 2:17 p.m.

Great quote, Matthias! Indeed, I agree that personal responsibility (as consumers, employers and voting citizens) is the key to solving the issue.

And yeah, consumers often make dumb choices, sometimes due to misinformation/ignorance, sometimes due to feeling disempowered (the "I alone can't change the world" syndrome), sometimes plain laziness. I almost feel like "any press is good press" when it comes to these huge, urgent issues. Yes, we will probably take a few wrong turns along the way. And maybe I'm being hopelessly naive but I feel that at least getting the public to read, discuss and attempt solutions is a key first step towards empowering people to contribute to solving them?

But clearly there needs to be more. For me the biggest issue remains that our whole system is based on short-term goals (due to personal instant gratification and lazy consumption, corporate shareholder interests, and government election cycles) but our planet has long-term sustainability problems. How can we ask corporations not to put shareholders' short-term interests in front of long-term sustainability? It's their job (as is currently defined)!

Maybe a solution would be to reintroduce company charters, through which corporations are licensed to offer good x or service y for a certain goal. Moreover, corporations would be accountable for meeting those goals and liable for potential abuses in their practices employed in order to meet those goals. I'm constantly amazed by the fact that corporations enjoy all the rights (and more!) of a citizen and yet have such limited accountability.

And the biggest question I have: Why aren't food standards being applied? What is broken in the system? If the FDAs of this world aren't protecting our interests, I guess it's time to review their 'charters' too! Same goes for governments. If a civilian poisoned another civilian, he/she would go to jail. Why is this barely ever the case with corporations?

Alicia Montoya - 17 Nov 2013, 4:01 p.m.

Sorry to spoil your plans to become a millionaire, Paritosh but consumer protection organizations like Which? in the UK or Test Achats in Belgium already exist.

Here's a campaign by Which? on food prices:

And here's what Test Achats has done so far on food safety:

Importantly, Test Achats tries to reconcile consumerism with sustainable development. The advice it offers consumers supports good quality, best priced products that respect the environment.

Paritosh - 18 Nov 2013, 11:55 a.m.

Profit is a good thing but increasing profit every quarter? Its the genetic inflationary properties of the business system today, which I criticize.

Customers do have choices but they lack knowledge and this is what I believe the people should share with each other.

I would cite an example here. Recently my relative underwent an Aortic valve replacement surgery, which a few others from my housing society went as well. But what was different with my relative was the recovery time. Instead of 3 months of chest pain, he had only 2 weeks. I just researched and found a surgeon trained abroad in minimally invasive procedure, whereas most other could not and underwent open heart surgery.

With my would be De-Glam magazine, I just wish to bring this and many other topics to help consumer make a smart decision.

Would choose facebook's loss making strategy though, just have to find and impress an angel investor :o)

Paritosh - 18 Nov 2013, 11:57 a.m.

Not many publicized ones in India though, could still take a shot at my millions!! Just kidding, its a long shot :o)

Karthik Sampath - 19 Nov 2013, 3:21 p.m.

Wish I was there for your talk at the CRO assembly Mathias. I would like your thoughts on using expired foods.

If we were to feed 9 billion by 2050, one way is to cut wastage. And wastage could be reduced not just by improving storage facilities but also on what we throw away due to misleading or over cautious date labels. This throws up the issue of safety and in today's highly competetive world, food producers will not want to compromise on anything that will effect their reputation(or their premiums). Some essential perishable foods are highly regulated(yet are susceptible to scandals as you pointed out) but many others are not.

So when it comes down to purchasing a product from the shelf, do we need better labels or should consumers rely on their best judgment?

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