The report, called The Vital Ingredient: Chemical science and engineering for sustainable food, is published this week by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institution of Chemical Engineers.
It reiterates stark warnings that the world is facing crisis over the sustainability and security of food supply for a number of reasons, including climate change, competition uses for grains, and rising demands. While the developing world is likely to be hardest hit, the developed world must take notice too; according to Professor Peter Lillford, chairman of the working group behind the report, “it’s all about the availability of food as a commodity on a global scale”.
In the food processing and manufacturing sector, enzyme technology can be applied to product structure and flavour release, the development of taste and texture, and changes in products at different stages of processing.
“Nanotechnology also has potential contributions make across the food supply chain,” says the report, in areas such as new functional materials and food formulation, dietary improvements, and non-contact sensors in processing and packaging.
“In the developed world, because food is relatively cheap, we waste it,” said Professor Lillford. “That is no longer morally or economically acceptable and we’ll also rely on the chemical sciences and implement technology to reduce this waste, alongside the need for changes in consumer behaviour.”
Aspects of waste that can be tackled include both reduction and recycling – and a role for the food industry through “product and packaging design, better integration of unit operations in production, and scheduling in manufacturing and distribution.”
The authors also note that the development of sustainable packaging, better recycling processes, and better understanding of chemical and biochemical processes that underlie shelf life will help address waste challenges.
The report draws attention to other aspects of the food supply chain that must be addressed, including the role of biotech in primary agriculture, the unique position of supermarkets in implementing sustainability strategies, and the consumer element – including an emphasis on dialogue between the public, government, regulators, media, NGOs and industrial representatives.
The full report is available here