Industry Leaders Summit: Addressing Industry’s Role in Food Security, Top Challenges in a Global Economy

From left: Lim Chee Kian, President, Yi Prime Pte Limited, Singapore; Michael Knowles, VP, Coca-Cola; Diana Banati, ILSI Europe Executive Director; Randy Giroux, VP Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory Compliance, Cargill

Industry leaders from around the world spoke Sunday about the challenges their respective industries have faced and how the food industry as a whole can work to achieve the common goal of improving food security.

Co-Chaired by Allan Paulson (Canada) and John Lupien (Italy/USA), the four industry experts speaking were; Lim Chee Kian, President of Yi Prime Pte Limited in Singapore; Michael Knowles, VP at Coca-Cola; Diana Banati, ILSI Europe Executive Director; and Randy Giroux, VP Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory Compliance at Cargill. Individual talks were followed by an opportunity for audience members to ask the experts questions about their perspectives on the industry’s role in food security.

Upon being asked about the sustainability of utilizing subsidies and other such price controls, Randy Giroux had this to say: “We look at products and ask whether they’re the types of products that can sustain themselves over time without price support. Some need short-term support, for example, we were supportive of credits for biofuel because this kind of thing takes time and a large capital investment. We want to see an end game, not perpetual support. The intention should be to make sustainable products. We have never been in a more unstable time in food prices in the long term. As a general comment, those price control systems distort price and result in people growing products they shouldn’t be growing, at prices they shouldn’t be sold at. We need to rely on farmers to do what they do best. We talk to traders who have been in the business for 30 years and these are unprecedented price swings that they’re seeing- the highest the prices have ever been. Not surprisingly, we’ll be importing corn to the US from Brazil for some of our meat production, which goes to show the shortage we’re dealing with. “

Education was another theme of the panel discussion, both at the farming level as well as for end consumers. Michael Knowles specified that educating the industry about water usage has become a priority because it’s one of the most wasted resources within agriculture.

“With regards to the importance of extension and public education, in the US we don’t focus on training farmers regularly,” said Randy Giroux. “But best practices don’t just apply to the US. At Cargill, we think of agriculture on a global scale. We lose tons of grain just in storage because farmers aren’t properly trained about using best practices.”

One audience member asked how companies could regain consumer trust after so much attention has been paid to outbreaks and other such scandals.

“As consumers become more aware of food security and safety, we all share the responsibility for educating them. In order to have consumers not misperceive what we’re doing, we need to provide sufficient information, and often the media are only interested in scandals,” said Diana Banati.

“So much bad science is being published- one of the problems is that the wrong information is getting out,” added Knowles. This problem is indicative of a need for greater communication between the food science industry and the public. Randy Giroux pointed out that Cargill often has a hard time finding food scientists equipped with the “soft skills” of being able to communicate their knowledge to consumers, and that this skill needs to be made part of the training food scientists receive.

Nigel Sunley from South Africa asked the leaders about the flipside of the sustainable coin- whether companies have a responsibility for sustainable consumption.

“We work with the WHO to market to appropriate age groups – with absolutely no marketing to those under age 12. Responsible marketing is vital to Coke,” said Knowles. “It’s important to note that we never advocate high consumption, but rather moderate consumption. We have a published policy on our website, and we ensure our marketing doesn’t stray from these policies and as such, Coca Cola invests huge amounts of effort and resources to mitigate obesity issue.”

Mary Schmidl from IUFoST brought up that the problem of food security now includes the simultaneous existence of having nutrient deficiency and caloric excess; that there are enough calories in the world  but rather that what is needed is sufficient nutrients.

“The issue of hunger isn’t about calories, it’s about providing the right nutrients at the right place at the right time,” responded Knowles. “There’s a difference between being hungry because people don’t have enough calories, and being malnourished.”

Lim Chee Kian ended his talk with a quote from Dr Chua Sin Bin: “Hunger exists because we lack the will, the heart and the collective image to end it.” He added that his hope for this IUFoST congress is that it will contribute to the will, the heart and collective image to end world hunger.

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