Creation and movement of knowledge in the food system

The passing of knowledge between suppliers and food manufacturers emphasises that one cannot think of a part of the food industry by itself. In knowledge creation, each part of the food system is affecting knowledge in another part. In primary production, knowledge creation has been very much government-financed and often government-led. In early years, farming and fishing were essential for the production of food for the population, and were often the occupations of many individuals and families. Governments therefore felt that R&D in food production was their social responsibility. Today scientists in private and publicly managed agencies do significant basic and applied research. Governments are still funding agricultural research from government revenues and often organise agricultural research. For example in the United States, the US Department of Agriculture is still a major player in agricultural research and State governments are also involved. Internationally, there are also United Nations organisations and other world governmental agencies funding and organising agricultural research. The roles of the different public agencies and private firms are intertwined in complex ways (Alston et al., 1997). Surprisingly, research for the fishing industry has never been so extensively government funded, and one might think that the over-fishing and lowering of fish stocks has been due to lack of knowledge as much as human greed.

Distribution research has also been an area of government research for many years because of the need to store and transport food to urban areas, and internationally. So knowledge increase in the food system is still dependent on governmental funding and support, except for the food ingredient processing and consumer product manufacturing which have been among the low spenders on R&D related to sales among the industries based on process engineering. This may be due to its only recent emergence as a science-based industry, the

Government - funded research

Government - funded research

Fig. 4.1 Information and knowledge in the food company from outside R&D.

marketing domination in many food companies, the difficulty of controlling intellectual property in the food industry, and the small margins on which the food industry works (Earle and Earle, 1997). Much of the knowledge in the food manufacturing company has been created in incremental product development, which unfortunately has often not been recorded so it is not an explicit knowledge base for future product development. Much of the private knowledge in the food industry is in the large multinational companies, and tends not to go into the public arena even for the teaching of students in food science/food technology/food engineering.

Knowledge for product development in the company can be acquired from outside R&D. It is important to identify the direct access to knowledge and also the indirect access through information as shown in Fig. 4.1. Many government agencies provide information in reports, databases and published papers, which can be developed into useful knowledge by the company. This information can be stored in libraries or other information storage facilities and on the Internet. But the company can also work directly with government research agencies, consultants, ingredients/equipment suppliers, and consumer research companies, to develop specific knowledge for the company.

It is important to recognise the science and technology information tracks so that they can be tapped into as problems arise in product development. Research in industry is focused primarily on advancing technology to fulfil changing consumers' needs, whereas in universities and in many research institutes it is focused primarily on advancing either science or generic technology (Betz, 1998). In the science track, the knowledge is published in peer-reviewed journals and is eventually summarised in textbooks and taught to students, although with modern funding in universities a significant amount of the knowledge is not published but is transferred directly and exclusively to the sponsors of the research. From an understanding of the current state of scientific knowledge, researchers in engineering and technology advance the knowledge in their disciplines by research on the basics of the technologies. This basic technological knowledge is published and taught to the next generation of engineers and technologists, and transmitted to their counterparts in industry in conferences and journals. In the early years of a new technology, a company works mostly with knowledge discovered during the industrial development. Gradually technological knowledge sources are built up and these can be used in later development projects. A combined knowledge of the food system, and in particular the company's segment of it, is built up over the years by the company's R&D and its experience in marketing, production, distribution and engineering. This is the basis for future product development.

The company also looks for knowledge from its competitors, by studying their actions and products in the marketplace and their production, raw materials and processing. Most industries work from a similar technological base; 80% of the knowledge is known by everyone, maybe even more. In product development it is the extra 10-20% knowledge that makes the competitive edge, but the company also needs to have the capability to use fully the basic knowledge.

The company is creating knowledge along the whole system from the initial R&D to the final outcomes of the product in the market (Quinn, 1992) as shown in Fig. 4.2. Knowledge is being created and then extended in the next stage

Fig. 4.2 Movement of knowledge through the company (Source: After Quinn, 1992).

where more knowledge is created. Even at the final stages where the new development has become a commercial reality, there is still knowledge being created about the product, production and marketing. Although there is a clear movement of knowledge from one stage to the next, there also needs to be interconnecting communications of knowledge between all stages so that the new knowledge is shared and the total company knowledge grows. There is also a need to evaluate the use and creation of knowledge in product development; usually the embodied knowledge, particularly the product and its success in the marketplace, is used as the indicator of the knowledge achieved in the project.

Companies have difficulty in relating the knowledge created by fundamental research to the company's final profit. But fundamental research can be evaluated on the new knowledge and understanding that is passed on to product development. Just ask the product developers what it would cost them in the long term if the fundamental or the strategic research disappeared; or if strategic research improved its performance what extra value would that give to development! In the food industry in the past 20 years, R&D has tended to be either dropped or reduced - one wonders how the company valued this asset, and how much it cost them to buy in this knowledge in the following years, and how many opportunities were lost. It is important that each knowledge-creating area is evaluated regularly to find which area is performing in creating knowledge that leads successfully to the long-term goals.

Invention is difficult to place in the knowledge flow because it is based on observation of what is happening maybe in a technology or in the community, unlike science, which is trying to discover new knowledge. Invention is not necessarily limited by the extent of scientific knowledge; inventors rely on their accumulated practical knowledge and their own intuition (Cardwell, 1994). Invention requires some conceptual or imaginative creativity. To make an imagined transformation physically real, it also has to have the necessary technology, knowledge and skills. So it is an idea that has come to its time -the idea may have been imagined a long time before but cannot be made real unless the various factors are present in people's knowledge and skills (Mitcham, 1994). The concept of invention is the opposite of the incremental change. As well as taking place in an individual' s mind over a short period, it can develop in a group through time together, but not substantially through systematic design. It is intuitive or even accidental events that lead to invention. The food industry has in the last 60 years been looking for the magical invention of a major new method of food preservation, but it has not come. There have been many improvements in drying, freezing, chilling and heat sterilisation, but there has not been the invention of a completely new method. Atmospheric control has been the one new preservation method that has gradually grown as packaging technology and inert gas production have improved. Although scientists have been studying it for over 60 years, the scientific knowledge has grown very slowly, but it is now expanding in combination with chilling for long-term storage and transport of vegetables, fruit and meat. Other methods, such as irradiation and the use of gases such as methyl bromide, have been used in food preservation, but they are rather blunt instruments that certainly did not fit with the societal environment.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment