IFSTAL Symposium: Perspectives of the Day

IFSTAL SYMPOSIUM – 27th January 2018


IFSTAL students were invited to the annual Symposium on January 27th at the Cass Business School in London. This year’s topic was ‘Food Systems in Changing Trade Landscapes’ exploring the impact of trade on public health, diets and the environment. Experts from academia and professional fields were present to share their insights and experience on the topic, through a series of workshops and panel discussions. Here are some of our key points from the day!




Martin Caraher, Professor at City, our first speaker introduced Christopher Elliott, Professor at Queen’s University in Belfast, who gave the keynote speech on ‘The challenges to the integrity of the Global Food Supply System’. Among many achievements in his professional career, Chris led the UK Government’s independent review of food systems following the 2013 horse meat scandal. Chris explained how the global food supply chains face important challenges as we continue to have a fast growing world population. In view of these challenges, he proposed the concept of ‘food integrity’. As he stood in front of the IFSTAL students from all different universities, Chris delivered a very empowering message ‘I am standing in front of the future of food’.



Food systems, trade and changing environmental landscapes


Vicki Hird, from Sustain, began her workshop telling us about her professional career development, going from an insect lover (or entomologist) to an award winning author, and food expert at Sustain, an alliance of over 100 members seeking a better future for the environment, farmers and the food chain. Vicki believes that the nearer the market the better, so the farmers/producers/growers gets a fairer cut of the pie, as big money is being made by supermarkets, ‘the larger you are, you larger you get’.


There were two messages I took from Vicky. The first, in line with IFSTAL’s approach,  “You can’t take off one thing, you have to change the system”, and the second, which describes her dedication for her role in the food and environment world: ‘Never satisfied’.



Brexit – Challenges and opportunities for trading food and drink


In the workshop titled ‘Brexit- challenges and opportunities for trading food and drink’, Sarah Malone and IFSTAL alumnus Skye Oudemans from the Food and Drink Federation had us question some of the impacts that Brexit will have on the food and drink industry. After receiving a 10 minute breakdown on how the EU institutions work currently, the discussion shifted to the impacts that Brexit will have on the UK’s trade strategy in terms of food, and what may be desired by different stakeholders. For example, will the UK maintain access to EU regulatory agencies such as the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) post-brexit? Will the UK maintain the same Free Trade Agreements the EU has with other countries, once it will exit the common market? To think about some of these implications, we were asked to put ourselves in the shoes of the Food and Drinks Federation, and explain our stance to a Daily Mail reporter, The key IFSTAL takeaway here was to get us students to think about the complex impacts that trade policy may have on various actors within the industry, and understand what their priorities may be.



The implications for trade: shopper perceptions of quality and buying behaviors


Alan Hayes, from the Institute of Grocery Distribution, led a workshop on shopper perceptions, and behaviors, another key stakeholder when considering trade in the food industry. Starting with the results of a survey conducted on 3400 UK shoppers, which said that consumers’ main reasons for buying a specific products were 1) Quality, 2) Price and 3) Price Promotions, our discussion started on trying to understand what these responses meant. Does price have the same importance in decision making in different categories of food products? And how then, if price is so important, can we engage consumers on issues of “food integrity” such as that described by Christopher Elliott? One key message that resonated with us was that perhaps these survey results would have been different if we had asked respondents to answer as “citizens” rather than “shoppers”, as citizens are aware and care about ethical issues in the food industry, and generally care about the impacts it may have on workers and on the environment, whereas a consumer is pushed to think on an individualistic level.


To wrap up the Symposium, a panel discussion was held in order to leave us with some additional questions before letting us enjoy a glass of wine during the networking cocktail. The speakers noted that it was difficult to always stay optimistic when facing such complex issues on trade in the food industry, especially when, as the workshops highlighted, so many stakeholders are involved. Professor Corinna Hawkes for example, insisted that trade, as a tool for peace, had been highlighted by all political leaders during the World Economic Forum in Davos, from which she had just returned. However, food was and is too often perceived as any other commodity in these discussions.


On the other hand, the panel were optimistic about the future generation of food leaders, sitting in front of them. The questions for us will therefore be, how do we differentiate ourselves from previous generations? How do we understand these complex problems in the food system, and how do we address them in the integrative way that IFSTAL is teaching us to?


Key Takeaways

Coming from the public health nutrition perspective attending a symposium on trade landscapes was of great value to me. However, I would have liked to see a representative of the public health and nutrition disciplines.


Although the topics covered across the workshops and the plenary sessions had a slightly depressing note I am always grateful to see how many people from different backgrounds are invested in finding ways to improve our food systems. It makes me optimistic!

And lastly, because we talk about food I want to mention that the catering was very good and provided us with an excellent lunch!

(Heike Rolker, LSHTM)


If there is one main lesson that we are taught in the MSc of Food Policy at City University, is that for food policy to be successful, it must be integrative and take a whole systems approach. Saturday’s symposium brought together an array of food industry actors, and engaged students to think about repercussions of trade policy on each of those actors, which was both insightful and challenging! It was also very inspiring to be part of such a motivated group of students, and to hear from people with such interesting careers!

(Ana Bolivar and Madeleine Coste, City)


With many thanks to our IFSTAL members:

Heike Rolker, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Ana Bolivar, City, University London

Madeleine Coste, City, University London




Find out ways to get involved with IFSTAL, join our Food Systems Community, or contact us for further information.

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