CFANS food symposium looks at a myriad of issues

Four researchers discussed 21st century food issues at the symposium in St. Paul.

by Betsy Graca

Drinking coffee, eating red meat and indulging in a glass of red wine each night – with so many trends and debates surrounding food and diet, consumers are often baffled by varying evidence and recommendations from experts.

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences hosted a “Solution-Driven Science” symposium Thursday in the St. Paul Student Center focusing on food systems and human health.

Abel Ponce de Leon, senior associate dean for research and graduate programs in CFANS, said it’s important for the University to bring such complex issues to a discussion.

“There is no single solution,” he said. “Solutions will take place with interactions.”

Four researchers in the college made up the panel of experts addressing varying issues surrounding the 21st century food industry.

Vince Fritz, a researcher in the department of horticultural science and panel member, focused on chemoprevention – or cancer prevention – which can be benefited by a diet rich in broccoli, cabbage and other vegetables.

Alida Sorenson, a nutrition junior and attendee of the symposium, said it’s important for the general population to be more informed about food with medicinal benefits.

Jean Kinsey, program director of the department of applied economics, said movements concerning the food industry are a global issue.

With developing countries in need of more animal protein, there is a shortage of grains for feed and food, Kinsey said, adding that rising food prices are also affected by climate change.

“We are not an innocent industry,” she said of the food industry, noting that 18 percent of greenhouse gases come from it.

A three degree centigrade increase will lead to a 40 percent increase in food and agricultural production costs, she said.

Companies are making an effort to reduce gases, particularly from the food service industry, Kinsey said. These corporations are making the changes quietly and not necessarily advertising their decisions, she said.

Small changes every day including growing crops, packing products and transportation methods can make the difference, she said.

“Sustainability is a worldwide issue and not just a Minnesota issue,” Kinsey said. “But we have a lot to offer and contribute.”

Francisco Diez, associate professor in the department of food science and nutrition, explained the threats consumers face as far as contaminated produce and meat.

While leafy vegetables and lettuce are more prone to contamination, bananas, broccoli, peaches and other fresh produce pose little risk to the consumer.

He said there was little difference between organic and conventional food as far as safety, according to studies.

Diez noted how damaging the E. coli breakout of spinach in 2006 was to human lives and the economy.

The food industry lost between $50 million and $100 million, and hundreds of people became ill, including three deaths.

More research is needed to address concerns surrounding food contamination, he said.

As far as diet, Diez said while the most recent government food pyramids recommend nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the average consumer eats only three and a half servings.

Katherine Clancy, senior fellow in the school of agriculture endowed chair in agriculture, said people have been aware of the importance of eating fruits and vegetables for more than 100 years.

To avoid confusing diet trends, Clancy stressed eating in moderation and variety.