Nearly one-third of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are related to food, and food issues have been identified as one of the key thematic foci for sustainability science in the ‘Unleashing science’ report published by the ISC. In September 2021 the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) heard from the UN Secretary General that initiatives to reinforce the ambition of science-based solutions would be crucial for delivering on the 2030 Agenda.
So when ISC Members the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) met for a knowledge-sharing dialogue in November, the stage was set for a lively discussion on the type of science-based solutions required.
The meeting started with the recognition that unhealthy diets are one of the leading global risks to health. In particular, participants and speakers in the meeting emphasized the importance of effective childhood and maternal nutrition for a better understanding (and addressing) of nutritional risk factors. These are mainly governed by the bio-availability of functional ingredients of the diet, on the one hand, and the major role of poverty and food affordability, on the other. The challenge of ageing societies, accompanied by physiological and functional impairment, also brings new challenges for nutritionists. These can only be addressed by multidisciplinary approaches.
Innovations in food science and technology for sustainable food processing can support nutrition targets and health goals. Food processing plays a pivotal role in innovation through novel food production, for example in using sustainable, innovative new approaches such as algae- and insect-based foods as well as high protein foods created in laboratories through culturing techniques. In order to sustain and scale up such innovations, capacity-building on how food processing techniques can add value is needed to allow for the development of appropriate, adaptable and accessible technologies, as well as path-breaking innovations. From farm to plate, innovations can provide the basis of primary (such as cleaning and packing), secondary (such as milling or pureeing), and tertiary (such as combining ingredients into a recipe) food processing with the potential for new raw materials.
Digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and novel food production and diets, such as those based on less-used millets and legumes such as finger millet and – in some regions – insect protein, are the kind of innovative new diets that could be game-changers for food and nutrition outreach. Discussions emphasized how novel products could contribute to saving millions of lives globally and adding value to agricultural commodities in the food chain.
The role of food engineering in the product innovation and processing chain, and what that holds for early-career scientists in food science and technology is an important challenge for the future. Leadership that takes an integrated approach and ‘borderless’ international science collaboration will be essential.
Achieving sustainability demands a ‘twin track’ approach that both scales up food processing practices while keeping energy use low, and also scales down to village and micro-enterprise level. When combined with measures to support agricultural biodiversity at the local level, innovative food processing methods can improve livelihoods and address the burden of malnutrition. Local solutions can provide actionable pathways to address global problems. These, of course, need to be affordable too. Resilient local food systems and traditional foods are especially important in the scenario of the current food shortages in some regions of the world, especially in the current COVID 19 pandemic, as well as the endemic situation of repeatedly disrupted food availability, especially movement across borders.
Food safety is essential to ensuring the sustainability and resilience of dietary shifts, and allowing them to fulfil their full potential for the planet and for health. Discussions reflected the issue of regulatory dynamics in steering food safety, and the need for adaptable technologies that can help prevent food contamination. Without food safety, innovative approaches to nutrition, including for chronic illnesses, cannot be assured. The role of microbial food safety was echoed by a number of food and nutrition scientists who emphasized that nutrition and health are interrelated points.
There is no ‘silver bullet’ or single solution for achieving sustainable, healthy and safe diets. On the one hand, participants discussed the importance of the traditional Mediterranean diet for health. On the other, advances in personalized diet and health advice, such as in the application of genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics in nutritional science, and the use of tracer and stable isotope techniques in the analyses of nutrients and nutritional experiments all hold promise.
The inter-relatedness of food to other issues of climate and sustainability, and the range of solutions required, demands close interactions between food and nutrition scientists in order to provide nutritious, sustainable and affordable diets. The knowledge sharing dialogue of the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS), organized by the ISC on 16th and 17th November 2021, was a useful step towards the aim of raising the ambition of science-based solutions for sustainable development.
Watch the recordings of the event (day 1 and 2)
Dr. Vish Prakash
President, International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFOST)