ICC president discusses challenges facing cereal science in 2009

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Maize, Genetic engineering, Food

ICC president discusses challenges facing cereal science in 2009
In the first of a two-part interview, award-winning scientist Professor Dr John Taylor, and 2009-2010 president of leading cereal science organisation, the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC), sheds light on the key issues facing cereal science in 2009.

ICC was founded in 1955 at the 3rd International Bread Congress in Hamburg, Germany. Its original objective was to develop internationally approved and accepted standard testing procedures for cereals and flour.

Today, these qualitative standards are used as benchmarks the world over by the grain trade, ingredients firms and food manufacturers.

Further, the ICC, with fifty country members and the same number of corporate members, now describes itself as a "neutral forum for all cereal scientists and technologists" encouraging national and international events to disseminate information that touches the domain of cereal science.

Prof. Dr. John Taylor, since 1992 based at Pretoria university's food science department, has spent more than 30 years working on cereals and is currently studying the grain sorghum that he describes as "probably one of the most useful of the gluten-free cereals."

Food prices, food security and the role of genetic engineering

The subject of food prices grabbed the headlines across the world in 2008 as populations felt the impact of the soaring cost of key staple cereal crops, notably wheat, corn and rice.

A hesitantly more optimistic picture has been painted for the supply situation in 2009 thanks to some recovery in stocks and a fall in demand as the global economy contracts.

But for the ICC president, food security will be a key issue in 2009.

"People naively believe that this has gone away but the issue of global food security is still very much on the agenda,"​ Prof. Dr. John Taylor said to BakeryandSnacks.com.

A statement backed by a report this week from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that asserts despite the decline in international prices in the second half of 2008, domestic food prices remain very high in several developing countries, affecting access to food among low-income population groups.

According to the agency, food crises persist in 32 countries around the world.

While in the developed world, consumers will tighten their budgets and pursue low-cost food items as the shrinking economy persists.

"The affordability of food products is clearly an issue: as is the application of cereal science in the food technology sector to tackle this matter,"​ added Prof. Taylor.

Reticence over genetic engineering contributing to rise in food prices?

Falling staunchly into the pro-side of the divisive issue of genetically modified foods, the cereal scientist asserted: "People in Europe have a negative attitude towards thistechnology, but I will say that genetically engineered foods are every bit as safe as conventional foods."

For the professor, the issues are not "well enough understood by the ordinary person".

He attests that genetic engineering is necessary, even going as far to say that "the failure to implement this technology is a contributory factor in the dramatic rise in food prices."

Genetically engineered crops, he claims, could play a pivotal role in feeding the world's not only escalating, but also increasingly wealthy, population that is digging deeper and deeper into global cereal stocks.

"GE maize in the US today obtains about 10 tonnes a hectare, this represents an eight fold increase, at least, over the past century: the figures speak for themselves, recombinant DNA technology is necessary,"​ claimed Prof. Taylor.

In Africa, the professor cites the example of food scientists there who are investigating bio-fortified sorghum, using GE technology to improve the cereal's nutritional qualities and to boost its protein content.

Science to save costs

While the vertical plunge in the price of oil should offer some relief in energy costs for the world's manufacturing base, spending on this crucial input is clearly still an issue.

In terms of the bakery industry, elements of cereal science continue to investigate optimum yeast performance at lower proving temperatures in order to save costs.

And vice versa: professor Taylor said that in hot countries where the actual development of the dough process requires refrigeration, scientists are facing the challenge of controlling yeast at higher temperatures , and looking to develop new technologies to save energy costs linked to refrigeration.

AACC award for Prof. Taylor

In 2006 the American Association of Cereal Chemists’ (AACC) awarded its ’Excellence in Teaching Award’ to Prof John Taylor.

According to the AACC, since joining South Africa's Pretoria university in 1992, Taylor has supervised and co-supervised some 40 masters and doctoral graduates in food science from eight African countries, plus South Africa.

Together with these students he has authored more than 50 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

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