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Food Explorer #11: A South African food scientist does IUFoST Congress in Dublin

Lisa Ronquest is one of South Africa’s top young food scientists, now transferred to The Netherlands in a global food R&D role by Mars. She’s been sharing her impressions and insights with FOODStuff SA readers in a regular blog, and we’re proud here to publish the 11th episode on her big move.
   This time, Lisa returns to Dublin for the biennial IUFoST Congress – the International Union of Food Science & Technology.

I have such fond memories of IUFoST as the first one I attended was in 2010 in Cape Town hosted by our very own SAAFoST. So in the taxi on the way from the Dublin airport with a chatty Irish driver, I eagerly anticipated what was to come, as well as to see my fellow SA food scientists who I knew were attending – the likes of Gunnar Sigge, Nigel Sunley, Lucia Anelich and Nigel Sunley.

The cab driver regaled me with stories about Dublin at each and every landmark we drove past. As we passed Dublin prison, he shared the story of the last two men executed there; grave robbers who stole dead bodies for a living and sold them to medical researchers. How far we’ve come!

We arrived at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) where the World Congress was to be held. The theme was ‘Greening our Food Supply Chain through innovation in food science and technology’.

The RDS is a beautiful old building where horse riding events normally take place – you could tell by the rather uncomfortable plastic seats in the oversized plenary hall! I went in to register along with 1 400 delegates from 72 countries and first attended the preliminary program – Global Strategies for Sustainability of Future Food Systems.

There were some excellent speakers with Prof Ian Noble from Mondelez and Maurice Moloney from the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) as real stand outs. They unpacked the huge challenges that we as food scientists of this era face – pollution, urbanisation, mega-cities, resource depletion, environmental impact, food security and waste [and there’s sure to more, to be sure].

A real shocking revelation is the cost of food waste as regards to water. We waste 2 billion tons/year of food, which took 500 billion cubic litres of water to grow!

Our challenge calls for a complete re-design of our food system together. We should be learning as much as we can from nature, which is a most efficient system. There are solutions, but they cannot be implemented in isolation.

That evening for the opening of the congress we were entertained by the ‘Smoking Kelts’, a wonderful Irish band with traditional dance and musical instruments like the Uilleann pipes – similar to a bag pipe, but strapped around your waist and arm.

I enjoyed a Guinness with my fellow Stellenbosch alumni who were attending as they were successful candidates and through to the finals of the IUFoST Product Development competition – Food Science students fighting hunger.

They came in second place overall, with the students from University of Pretoria winning Best Presentation. It was definitely a proud moment to see our future leaders compete and succeed at a global level.

IUFoST logoWhat was particularly impressive about the Ireland being host to the World Congress was how they leveraged the opportunity to promote Irish food and agriculture.

Ireland is the worlds’ 16th producer of baby formula, while it only contributes 1% of the world’s milk production. What a testament to how to add value to commodity ingredients through science and technology.

It has the highest percentage of science and engineering graduates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is ranked joint first for food safety with Canada and exported €10.8 billion of Irish food and drink in 2015, growing at 3%.

Teagasc is the agricultural and food development authority established in 1988, responsible for providing integrated research, advisory and training services to the agricultural and food industry and rural communities. Their Technology Foresight 2035 is focused on identifying key technologies that will drive Irelands’ long-term competitiveness and sustainability in the agro-food sector over the next 20 years.

The emerging technologies identified are: plant and animal genomics and related technologies, human, animal and soil microbiota, digital technologies, new technologies for food processing and transformation in the food value chain systems.

It’s a small country in comparison to South Africa in terms of arable landmass and population, yet it punches well above its weight on the global arena. South Africa has such an opportunity to leverage science and technology to add value to our abundant natural resources to export more than just our gorgeous wine and fruit.

The talk of the congress for me was Prof Mike Gibney, Health & Nutrition. He explored controversial topics facing the food science and technology community. Articulate and with a visually engaging presentation, he discussed the rise of the term ultra-processing, coined by Brazilian nutritionist, Monteiro. Never before have foods been classified by the way they are processed instead of their nutritional composition. They have the ear of the WHO, which is concerning if regulators take this random classification of foods at face value.

He also spoke of the future of food, with examples like Nestle and Samsung’s research collaboration to explore digital nutrition and health where smart kitchens, personalised nutrition and wearable technology are all possibilities; with the future of shopping being personalised and online with the success of AmazonFresh and many other individual or weekly meals being delivered to your home, vertical indoor farming, insect protein, 3D food printing and, in his view, the opportunity to harness protein and fibre from leaves.

He also predicted that the focus of our food science and technology efforts should be placed on the first 1 000 days for infants and nutrition for senior citizens, as these population groups continue to grow.

The final gala event at Mansion House in Dublin centre, venue for the historical signing of Irish Independence, was a very elegant affair. Again we were entertained by the ‘Smoking Kelts’ and enjoyed Irish food and drinks with Guinness and a good ol’ Irish steak on the menu.

All in all, an excellent event with a formidable line up of speakers from all over the world, but a particularly strong presence from UK and Europe, and with plenty of opportunity to network and enjoy the Irish hospitality and culture.

Well done to the team at the Institute of Food Science & Technology of Ireland!

Lisa GuinnessAbout this blog:

Lisa Ronquest is currently Head of Product Development – Global Food R&D at Mars Inc, based in The Netherlands. The intention of this column is to be both a personal and professional account of a South African food scientist exploring life and work in a developed market.

You can contact her at

Related reading:

Food Explorer #10: A South African food scientist explores famine and flavour in Ireland

Food Explorer #9: A South African food scientist savours Champagne in Champagne!

Food Explorer #8: A South African food scientist investigates windmills and gin

Food Explorer #7: A South African food scientist celebrates Christmas

Food Explorer #6: A South African food scientist goes to Anuga

Food Explorer #5: A South African food scientist explores things italian

Food Explorer #4: A South African food scientist explores Grolsch

Food Explorer #3: A South African food scientist explores chocolate in Belgium

Food Explorer #2: A South African food scientist goes shopping abroad

Food Explorer #1: A South African food scientist taking on a global R&D role


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