IFST SC21 - Smart Futures Event Highlight

This event highlight covers the final session of our IFST Spring conference 2021 (SC21) food science and technology Thinking Smart, Acting Smart

The final session of our conference was a panel discussion chaired by Helen Munday, President of IFST, about 'Smart Futures: opportunities within the next 10-15 years'. Our panel included food industry professionals with a range of expertise from different food-related disciplines. Kicking off the discussion, Ximena Schmidt from the STFC network gave her views on the future for the sector - ‘’there are many opportunities, it’s about not just looking at one challenge, but addressing how we can have a system that is environmentally friendly but also beneficial for health and more equitable’’. Hugh Powell from Nestle added ‘’health has been a key focus for many years now and it will continue to be. The issue of sustainability has also raised in profile, and only recently have we been able to build commitment’’.

Helen posed the question to panellists ‘’how will food regulators need to change to prepare for the future of the food sector?’’. Geraint Morgan from the STFC network responded by saying ‘’An increasing trend going forward is that it’s going to be quicker to turn data into knowledge and that can feed into regulation and product authenticity’’. John O’Brien from the IFST also highlighted that ‘’risk assessment is another area of opportunity, there seems to be too little international collaboration in terms of regulation’’. Another key area of discussion was how smart technologies can ensure sustainable development in the future of food. Ximena Schmidt shared her thoughts - ‘’[about] manufacturing, there are a lot of innovations and opportunities to tackle climate change and to tackle the end-user’’. Hugh Powell reflected on some of his own experiences at Nestle, acknowledging that ‘’we also need to recognise that companies are already acting on their journey. We have already seen an impact from our own operations’’.

The panel closed the discussion by considering the impact of COVID-19 on the future of the food sector. John O’Brien gave his perspective - ‘’we’ve got to learn lessons from COVID at many levels’’. For example, ‘’we need to look at how systems have performed during the crisis’’. Geraint agreed with John and commented ‘’COVID-19 has changed the way the public sees risk and the collection of germs. The idea of washing food before you eat it is more important now, we are going to have a big cultural shift’’. Ximena also explained that ‘’the pandemic is an opportunity to react to the consumer perspective, now there are much more concerns about the food being eaten’’. As a result of this, ‘’we may have to look at better communication channels with a faster response’’.