/ Food & Drink

What does the future hold for our food?

Frying pan with world map

There are many challenges facing the food system which will impact the choice of food we have in the future. The question is; how are these challenges going to be met head on?

I’m sure you’re aware of all the various food issues that have hit the headlines recently. The horsemeat scandal helped illustrate how meat products are traded internationally, often passing through numerous hands before reaching your table.

And our own investigations continue to highlight fraud affecting a variety of other foods – lamb takeaways, fish and chip shops and more recently, oregano.

All of these stories demonstrate how complex food supply chains can be, as well as how vulnerable. As one woman from Cardiff put it:

‘Food is supposed to be a necessity we can’t do without, yet they’re making so much money out of us they’re willing to give us anything and put stuff in it for us to crave it.’

But there are also longer-term challenges. Whether it’s an increasing global population (forecast to be over nine billion by 2050) or the effects of climate change threatening supply chains (such as flooding), more food will need to be produced with less.

Challenges facing the food industry

We wanted to make sure that your views were front and centre when the government, retailers and manufacturers plan how to tackle these food security and sustainability problems. So in conjunction with the Government Office for Science and Sciencewise, we commissioned research to explore public views on these challenges.

In a series of two-day workshops in Cardiff, Glasgow and London, we invited participants to debate their priorities for Britain’s future food supply, the wider food system and their expectations.

The report’s published today and we’ll be discussing the implications of this research with the government, as well as with the food and farming industry. You can have a read of the report here. But, in short, people were shocked to hear about the scale of the challenges facing the food system and how this may impact on the availability and choice of food in the longer term. One Londoner said:

‘I’m quite up to date on current affairs, I read the paper and newspaper articles on Facebook and things and I haven’t really seen anything. I think that’s kinda why it was such a shock on the day, this information, it’s just not talked about really.’

However, once they heard about the issues they thought it was imperative that something needed be done. The research considered views on some possible solutions to these challenges, including new farming and production methods.

Participants expected strong, independent oversight – including over food safety. And they called for action from all those involved in the food chain including retailers, manufacturers, caterers, farmers, government and consumers to address the challenges facing the food system. That’s something we wholeheartedly agree with.

If we’re to have a food system that’s secure and sustainable in the future, policymakers need to put your views at the heart of their work. So make sure to tell us what you think about the challenges facing our food system and the action you’d like to be taken.

Comments
Member

Whether you are concerned about GM food, it is likely that you are eating it. Companies rely on the fact that it is not easy to detect. They could ensure that GM crops are kept separate but making a profit is probably more important.

My biggest concern is the poultry industry. Chicken is our favourite meat and intensive farming and processing are used to bring cheap chicken to our supermarkets. The carcasses become contaminated with faeces infected with campylobacter to such an extent that we are told that it is hazardous to wash raw chicken. This problem should have been dealt with decades ago, but thanks to the efforts of the Food Standards Agency and Which?, efforts are being made to tackle the problem at last. Supermarkets now sell their contaminated chicken in bags that can be put straight in the oven.

Yesterday afternoon I was speaking to a retired chap who had briefly worked in a food processing plant and started to tell a nauseating story about what can go into food intended for human consumption.

Member

Its always interesting to see how large any research project is so I have had a read of the linked report. I have extracted that info and it is 49 people took part. However quickly scanning the research I find no mention of TTIP where both the EU and the US have accused each other of endangering Global Food Security.

Given TTIP is an imminent event it seems bizarre that the concerns aired by the participants were not linked to the TTIP negotiations which could change current food production methods:

“Food and TTIP
Big business sees EU food standards – crafted to protect public health and the environment – as “barriers to profit”. A host of US corporations and associations are pushing hard for EU standards to align with low US standards under a deregulation agenda.

The EU differs from the USA in its adherence to the “farm-to-fork” approach and use of the “precautionary principle”. The farm-to-fork approach ensures that hygiene is prioritised at every step of the food production process. The precautionary principle means that before a product or new process is released onto the market, companies must prove that it poses no risk to public health or the environment; in the absence of which the precaution will be taken to prohibit the product/process.

The USA adopts an opposite approach. It evaluates profit alongside health and environmental concerns; with pesticides, if a product is more profitable, the required standard for health and environmental impacts is lower. In meat production, meat is bathed in harsh chemicals before being sold, as opposed to ensuring hygiene at every step of the production process. New products or processes do not need to go through rigorous testing prior to being commercialised as they are presumed safe. The burden of proof instead falls upon the government, funded by taxpayers.

The European Commission (EC) says TTIP will not be used to lower our food safety standards. However, the EC is applying for the second time – after a failed attempt in 2008 – for acid-washed chicken to be permitted into the EU. In 2013 new legislation opened the door to beef washed in lactic acid, despite concerns about carcinogenic effects.” War On Want 2015

If Which? is interested in subscribers, and the general publics views of food safety, and of changing diet, perhaps they need to mention that the politics of trade are currently being negotiated but the public , and even MEP’s are not in the loop but US lobbyists are.

Member

The UK is not alone in letting consumers buy chicken that is contaminated with campylobacter. Washing chicken in chlorine bleach is not permitted in the EU but it is widely used in the US to protect the public from the risk of infection resulting from poor standards of animal husbandry and processing of the birds. Bleach or acid treatment is a cheap way for the poultry industry to limit the risk of infection resulting from poor standards, and the US has less of a problem with campylobacter than the UK. Here is an article by European consumer organisation BEUC that gives an insight into how TTIP could change our approach to the problem: http://www.beuc.eu/blog/what-is-wrong-with-chlorinated-chicken/

My neighbour has been in hospital for ten weeks due to a complication of a campylobacter infection, believed to be caused by eating chicken in a restaurant. She is gradually recovering from paralysis, but her husband still spends hours by her side every day, helping to feed and look after her.

My view is that safe food should be top priority, but that’s difficult when business and politics is involved. Those who make the decisions should learn a little about the threat posed by hazardous bacteria. Treating chicken with bleach or acid will make it safer but the real answer is to clean up the poultry industry.

Member

Chicken treated with acid or bleach doesn’t sound very appetising !!!!

Member

It certainly does not. Search for ‘Dirty chicken scandal’ and watch the YouTube video in the Guardian article to gain an insight into what can happen in the food industry. The Food Standards Agency found that all the supermarkets tested were selling chicken that may be seriously contaminated with campylobacter. Poultry is understood to be the main cause of food poisoning and responsible for an estimated 280,000 cases a year. Most people know to be careful of raw meat but bringing food contaminated to this extent into the home is not acceptable in my view.

Member

We must be careful to see campylobacter in context. Yes, it does cause food poisoning and yes, it has caused death and is therefore a serious issue that has international attention. But it is not a simple problem to solve, it seems, and has presumably been around for ever. Those concerned can avoid chicken. Those who know the problem will cook chicken properly. The supermarkets – certainly M&S – seem to be tackling the problem in ways that are improving matters, but the general view is it will never be eradicated, unless some so-far undetermined treatment is discovered. The best we can hope for is a substantial reduction. Double bagging chicken and cooking in the bag is a positive way to prevent cross contamination from open washing, if any campylobacter is present, and should be seen as a helpful and responsible step in the fight. But I suggest again avoid chicken – at home and elsewhere – if you wish.

Member

It’s not just a case of being able to cook chicken properly, Malcolm. As far as I am aware, most people understand the need to cook meat adequately. Meat juices can contaminate foods like salads that are eaten raw and food that has already been cooked, so containment of the hazardous bacteria is more complicated than it might seem.

Marks & Spencer is probably embarrassed by coming below Tesco in the pecking order when the survey of campylobacter in supermarket chicken was published last year. But it should not matter where you buy, since no-one should be selling chicken that could be heavily contaminated with bacteria.

You are absolutely right that campylobacter is a challenge to deal with. It is not necessary to eliminate campylobacter but we must eliminate heavily contaminated poultry. There has been considerable discussion about whole chicken, but what of chicken pieces, diced chicken, etc.? These represent a larger share of the market, yet I have no idea if they are tested.

As you say, campylobacter infection has caused death. It is estimated that there are 100 fatalities per year in the UK. My neighbour could have become a statistic but for prompt attention, being unable to breathe on her own. Quite frankly I think I am keeping this in context and I wonder what action has been taken against the processing factories shown in the Guardian video. I don’t know how ‘food crime’ is defined but it is obvious that there are some major problems.

I am also concerned over issues including use of pesticides and other agrochemicals, antibiotic use in animal husbandry and the use of preservatives and other additives and preservatives in the manufacture of processed foods. There is a lot to be concerned about, and here I am just worrying about something that could kill us, however careful we are.

Member

I’m not sure M&S need be “embarrassed” if you compare their own independent tests that show downward progress over the last 12 months, based on a far higher number of samples than the FSA’s, which just gave a 12 month average. However, I hope all supermarkets, and independent shops, will show greatly improved campylobacter results. I will wait to see what the latest FSA report, and supermarkets own results, show.

If people are concerned then they should avoid chicken. Observe kitchen and storage hygiene, and cook chicken properly and as I understand it you destroy any campylobacter that might be present. That was what I was trying to get across.