Are You Working for a Sustainable World?

Posted on:June 28, 2011
Large farm

Sustainability will be crucial to providing food for the world while minimizing harm to the planet.

I just put in a fence around one section of my garden to keep out turtles; the rest of the garden is protected by a high fence to keep out deer. Those are the primary pests I have to deal with and I simply don’t grow crops that would need pesticides. I live in an area with good rainfall and excellent soil. I view my garden as one small step for locally grown, low carbon footprint agriculture. But, it’s a good thing I don’t have to live solely from it; I and my family would have starved months ago. We, like much of humanity, rely on large efficient farms and processed foods that feed us over long winter months and, well, most of the rest of the year as well.

Professor Steve Jones, Head of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London in 2010 said, “Humans are 10,000 times more common than we should be, according to the rules of the animal kingdom, and we have agriculture to thank for that. Without farming, the world population would probably have reached half a million by now – about the size of the population of Glasgow.” (See

We are now seven billion on earth and the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base predicts nine billion people by 2050.

I believe the planet can successfully support that many humans. Efforts include boosting crop yields, including through judicious use of genetically modified crops, more efficient food processing with less waste and maximized resources to individual efforts such as reduced food consumption (we do eat more than we need, or that is even good for us) to, well, little garden plots with turtle fences.

It must be “all hands on deck” if everyone is to be fed and damage to the global environment is to be kept to a minimum. What are you doing…what is your company doing to provide for a sustainable future?

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

Emerging Food Technologies

Posted on:June 18, 2011
Canning was an important advance in food preservation.

Canning was first developed by Nicolas Appert in 1810 who won an award from the French government for devising an inexpensive and effective method to preserve large amounts of food. Illustration: 1943 Poster. Artist: Parker, Alfred, 1906-1985. United States. Office of War Information.

It is currently popular for consumer pressure groups to condemn modern agricultural, food production and food processing methods (and admittedly the food industry has brought some of this on itself). How easily it has been forgotten that food technology advances, from canning that allows for economical distribution and storage of foods, to vitamin and mineral fortification that has virtually eliminated common health conditions like rickets in developed countries, are food technologies that have made the world a better place for humans.

This post will look at emerging, mostly applied food science. Some may feel they are crucial, some may feel they are frivolous.

For one example, read the comment on natural preservatives and natural and artificial flavorings under the post ” Giving Consumers what they want: Natural and Organic.”

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

Global Health Statistics-Diabetes

Posted on:June 15, 2011


Except for Thailand, diabetes management rates were not related to income and education.

The importance of health insurance was recently pointed out in a recent World Health Organization paper entitled “Management of diabetes and associated cardiovascular risk factors in seven countries: a comparison of data from national health examination surveys[1]
It found that a range of people, from 24% of the women in Scotland and the USA to 62% of the men in Thailand, have undiagnosed and untreated diabetes. Although income and education were not found to be significantly related to the rates of diagnosis and treatment (except for Thailand), in three countries with good data on health insurance, it was found that people with insurance were more likely to have their diabetes diagnosed and effectively managed.

One could argue that the availability of health insurance in this case would keep down longer term significant health costs.

The seven countries studied were Colombia, England, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mexico, Scotland, Thailand and the USA.

Un resumen de español para “Tratamiento de la diabetes y factores de riesgo cardiovascular asociados en siete países: comparación de datos de las encuestas nacionales de exámenes medicos” está disponible al final del documento.

[1] Bull World Health Organ. 2011 Mar 1;89(3):172-83. Epub 2010 Nov 22.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

Giving Consumers What They Want: Natural or Organic

Posted on:May 27, 2011

In general, the food industry understands that the sensory quality of a food or beverage is its most important attribute. The healthfulness of foods tends to increase in importance as people age and also as they must deal with health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and so on. Foods can be formulated to help with specific health conditions; examples would include free from gluten (for those with Celiac disease) or reduced calorie for weight management.

“Back to nature” is an interesting concept.  Consumers perceive both “natural” and “organic” products to be healthier than traditional products, although in the USA, only foods that say they are organic must meet specific criteria. Saying a food is “natural” doesn’t mean as much in that such foods do not have to meet specific regulatory standards USDA products are an exception). An August 2010 Canada Organic Trade Association White Paper entitled “Consumer confusion about the difference: ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ product claims” makes some interesting points.

The paper points out that since organic producers and manufacturers are required by law to comply with the Organic Product Regulations, their costs (and thus their products) are significantly higher than “natural” products that are made with less expensive conventional ingredients. “There is a wide range of price differences, but organic ingredients typically cost anywhere from 20% to 100% more than conventional ingredients. Organic meat and dairy ingredients can be 400% more costly than conventional.” Overall, this cost differential and the general lack of consumer awareness of the difference between natural and organic has led to a more robust market for natural foods. A 2008 Nielsen’s Healthy Eating Report noted that foods labeled as natural generated $22.3 billion in sales in 2008, while organic foods (UPC-coded) generated $4.9 billion in sales. The global market for organic foods is projected to have revenues approaching US$ 60 billion in 2011 according to a blog for the Global Organic Market Access. It is difficult to find estimates for the worldwide market for natural foods due, in part, to the lack of an commonly accepted definition of “natural.” It’s kind of hard to count what you can’t even identify.

So, in the end, food manufacturers’ are giving consumers what they want: relatively low cost, natural foods.

— Claudia O’Donnell, MSc, MBA, Co-owner, Global Food Forums, Inc.

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