The seminar series ’Sustainable Food Systems: Connecting Expertise in Academia and Industry' is organised by the EFFoST Working Group on Sustainable Food Systems, together with Young EFFoST. With 255 individual participants from all over Europe and beyond, the interest in the topic and the importance of knowledge transfer were highlighted.
The chairs, Felix Schottoff and Lukas Luggin, were happy to welcome renowned speakers Hugo de Vries, Urs Schenker, Klara Hauser and Alexander Mathys who all shared valuable insights of their work and the topic – and were also available for questions from the audience. The main points raised can be found below. Access all presentation slides here.
Hugo De Vries (INRAE), ‘Overview on sustainable food systems (SFS): where are we now’
Questions were posed, evoked by Food Science and Technology (FST) driven developments:
- While contributing to goals and ambitions of improving the sustainability of food systems, do appropriate FST developments automatically result in sustainable food systems?
- Can we guarantee that food systems will be sustainable without FST input (e.g. only from agroecology, sustainable livestock, healthy soil sciences,..) ?
According to Hugo de Vries, the sustainability of food systems is an oscillating equilibrium that by essence is a dynamic between providing our primary and our self-fulfillment needs. He proposed a new framework that takes a reversed chain thinking approach. In this framework, the most suitable FST developments would be determined by Sustainability Goals and Farmer-to-Fork ambitions to reach sustainable food systems from the outset.
The 7 building blocks to create sustainable food systems and the complexity of their interactions as well as consequences across all system elements were presented. Each Sustainable Food system is unique, and its sustainability will depend on its context, thus there is no specific answer to a sustainability challenge. In addition, a complex food system will be sustainable, if the individual food systems it consists of are sustainable.
In conclusion, a new balance is required between Mission-driven FST challenges and Science-creativity-driven FST activities. Saying NO to technologies, to new food products and global food chains is NOT AN OPTION. New balanced solutions need to be found that combine FS changes with organizational and societal changes, with the ultimate goal of making the healthy & sustainable choice the safe, tasty, healthy & accessible one for consumers.
Urs Schenker (Nestlé Research), ‘TrueValue of Food’
An Impact evaluation approach was presented that depicts the societal value of sustainability improving interventions (e.g. more efficient manufacturing practices in order to reduce waster usage). It does not use scientific terms but simple terms that are easily understood across any organization (e.g. a company or a government). According to Urs Schenker, the food sector will need to consider the rising cost of materials as well as the difference in raw material quality due to the impact of climatic change on agriculture. This may require internalizing externalities in the food system such as social and environmental impacts and dependencies.
What would happen if the cost of such externalities would be added to the price of food products? True cost accounting would make the food sector a money-losing one and disrupting food changes would occur if we were to account only for this cost. Even so natural and social capital needs to be taken into consideration in order to evaluate the different dimensions of food sustainability (e.g. water, deforestation, product nutrition, climate change factor etc.)
The importance of acting at factory level as well as on agricultural level was raised, and the examples of both using resources efficiently and utilizing byproducts (side streams valorization). Examples of external collaborations were given, (e.g. CIRAIG, Oxford FoodSIVI, WBCSD) and the concluding remarks included the need for:
- A comprehensive view on different aspects of food systems, instead of a single focus
- Simplified and actionable approach to deal with the complexity of food systems
- Emphasis on the importance of sustainability for financial success
Klara Hauser (Rethink Resource), ‘Circular Bioeconomy: A way towards more sustainability’
The circular economy approach and principles and the functional benefits of upcycling / valorizing side streams were presented, including clean label nature, nutritional value (fiber / protein) and the ability to improve the efficiency and sustainability of food supply chains.
There are also narrative benefits, in terms of storytelling, product identity/uniqueness and feeling of excitement for both the developer as well as the consumer. Lastly some examples of side stream utilization were presented: bran as mushroom-substrate-additive, filter sludge for ceramics, pomegranate pomace for cosmetics, and old bread for bread beer.
Alexander Mathys (ETH Zurich), ‘Barriers for the transition towards more sustainable food systems and how to overcome them’
Alexander Mathys stated that food systems are at the heart of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it will be discussed in detail in the UK Food Systems Summit 2021. There are always trade-offs when trying to hit a sustainable development goal and most importantly both behavioral changes are needed as well as FST solutions. For example, some negative behaviors were highlighted in relation to food waste, and their impact, such as the environmental footprints that are embedded in national per capita per year: e.g. the Country-specific Wasted Daily Diets (WDD) represents the days for which a person can be fed a healthy diet meeting the daily required nutrient intake of all 24 essential nutrients and calories and the global average is 18 days, with extremes reaching 40(!) days in places like North America & Australia. Hence the need to eliminate / reduce / reuse/ utilise or valorise waste streams. ETH Sustainable Food Processing Research contributes to achieving this goal by participating in projects, such as innovative algae biorefinery and alternative animal proteins (larvae).
It was also mentioned that in developing novel materials and processing technologies one also must take into account the importance of Structure-Process-Properties interactions, as they define the final solution. The commercialization of which can be evaluated with the use of tools such as the Technology Readiness level & the Gartner Hype Cycle. The different role of stakeholders in the innovation web was also presented, notably, that science and
research are not limited to academia, and that start-ups and SMEs play a key role in helping technology crossing the “Valley of Death” of innovation, from lab to commercial application.
The next seminar of the series will take place on Friday 25 June 2021 at 13:00 (CET) and will address the topic Shift of consumer demand towards sustainable diets.