Reports from IFT17

IFT film aims to ‘fight myths about food science’

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

The IFT hopes the Food Evolution film will combat prejudices against GM technology
The IFT hopes the Food Evolution film will combat prejudices against GM technology

Related tags Food science Film Scientific method

Fighting myths about food science is the aim of a new film commissioned by the US-based Institute of Food Technology (IFT). Ahead of the IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo, which starts today (June 26), Food Manufacture talked to Professor Colin Dennis, immediate IFT past president, about the film.

The 90-minute feature film – Food Evolution​ – makes a passionate plea to base the debate about food science and technology, with particuar focus on genetic modification (GM), on sound science rather than prejudice.

Directed by Oscar nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy and presented by US TV science star and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the film explores the myths and science surrounding GM technology and motives of opponents and supporters. The director was allowed full control of the film’s creative content.

The film featured the views of anti-GM campaigners and scientists who believe the controversial technology could make a big contribution. Supporters focus on how GM could help to alleviate hunger in developing countries and combat the effects of climate change, while protecting dwindling natural resources.

It also included the comments of Ugandan farmers​ who believe regulations banning the use of GM technology should be relaxed.

Food Manufacture asked Dennis four key questions about the film.

What do you hope the film will achieve?

“We hope that Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s film will encourage a thoughtful, positive and much-needed dialogue about the important role that sound science plays in the global food system and the challenges of feeding a growing population. Scott’s film addresses the larger issue of how we make decisions about science and the consequences of making decisions based on emotions, ideology or myth rather than scientific evidence and the reliable scientific method. 

“We also hope that IFT’s members, and fellow professionals in the science of food everywhere, view this film in the context of their work. It should help them start productive conversations with professional peers, and in their personal networks, about how their work is part of ensuring a safe, nutritious and sustainable food supply.”   

Why was it necessary to commission the film?

In the IFST’s view

“This film is a bold move by IFT and delivers some thought-provoking messages for all of us. It really brought home to me what a massive job the food science community has, to persuade decision-makers to use truly scientific, evidence-based, data to help form their decisions rather than just rely on popular media and social media trends.”

  • Jon Poole, Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST)

“Food is an essential component of life on this planet. Furthermore, science has been an essential component in the safe and nutritious food we enjoy today, and will continue to be essential in providing safe, nutritious and sufficient quantities of food to feed a population expected to reach 9bn by 2050. 

“Scott’s film is a story that makes the case for the use of sound science in our global food system at a time when this obvious and unquestionable truth is being challenged and replaced by myth and fear.” 

How will you measure its success?

“IFT funded the film, but it represents the vision, full creative control and final cut that Scott and his partner on this project, Trace Sheehan, have maintained throughout the project. With regard to IFT’s investment in the film, our primary measurement of success will be the number of people that see the film on the various platforms on which it will be available. 

Meanwhile, the impact of that viewership – in terms of the conversations they generate and the hearts and minds that are touched ​ will be the ultimate measure. We believe that Scott’s final cut is thought-provoking, emotional and fair-minded. 

We’re very proud to have provided funding support and did so because we envisage a world where science and innovation are universally accepted as essential to a safe, nutritious, and sustainable food supply for everyone.” 

How can the science community rebuild trust in an age when many scientists who accept funding from commercial organisations are accused of bias?

“The erosion of trust in science and scientists isn’t based solely on the perceived bias from privately funded research, as you may also conclude from watching Scott’s film. Nevertheless, the current mood around privately-funded research has caused some erosion of trust – and trust is largely about transparency.  

“Research has been funded from both public and private sources for years, and much of the innovation we enjoy today in terms of safety, reducing food waste, freshness, flavour and nutrition has been a result of both private and publicly funded research – research that also helps to train and prepare future scientists. As a scientific community, we must stay committed to a level of transparency in our research and findings that doesn’t leave room for objective distrust.  

“By-and-large, our community does this very well, but we are living in an age of doubt and confirmation bias that asks of us to be ever more diligent in our commitment to the scientific method and the transparency of our work.” 

IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo

IFT17 takes place between Monday June 26 and Wednesday June 28 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event​ aims to attract “creative minds in the science of food” – ​including industry, government, and academia – to share the latest research, innovative solutions and forward thinking topics in food science and technology.  

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