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Cranfield Food Symposium highlights challenges to sector

04 November 2010

Cranfield University’s Food Symposium last month provided an opportunity for organisations across the food supply chain to get together and discuss the increasing pressures and challenges faced by the food sector

Discussions at the event, which attracted more than 60 representatives from academia and industry, considered price fluctuations, changes in the regulatory framework, how to engage effectively with the consumer, waste management, food security and environmental concerns.

The focus was on how food supply networks can develop better long-term strategies to improve productivity and security through more effective operations management.

Olukemi Saka, Assistant Director in the Government’s Better Regulation Executive, outlined the Government’s new ‘big society’ strategy to regulation in the industry – increasing self regulation and ‘one in, one out’ approaches to new legislation. He highlighted that while the sector recognises the need to rationalise the amount of regulation, the balance has to be right between the different mechanisms to ensure adequate control of the food chain and ultimately the delivery of safe food to the end consumer.

Siôn Roberts, Chief Executive of English Farming and Food Partnerships (EFFP), highlighted what he views as a paradigm shift in the food sector starting in 2007, linked to the rising prices of wheat and fuel resulting in a decrease in the affordability of food.
He also expressed his views on the immaturity and fragmentation of the upstream supply chain and the need to shift to more strategic and collaborative types of relationships with suppliers to increase the overall productivity and ultimately the survival of the different organisations along the chain. He added that much of the knowledge and best practices already exist especially in the front end of the supply chain but that there is a need to work together to transfer these across the entire network.

Jo Bray, Head of the Defra food policy unit and Caroline Willetts, industry liaison for Syngenta also presented. Jo focused on UK food policy and the strategy to ensure a secure and sustainable food system into the future. The importance of the food sector to the UK economy, environment and the individuals’ health were all highlighted as underpinning building blocks for the approach.

Caroline raised the profile of the consumer and asked the fundamental question of – ‘what is the one key message that we should give to consumers?’ She highlighted that consumers are overwhelmed by the plethora of messages resulting in confusion and general numbness which does not have the desired effect on consumer behaviour.

Cranfield, with its broad and deep expertise spanning agriculture, health, environment, manufacturing and management, provides all the necessary skills to address many of these challenges which will require a holistic approach going forward.

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