This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow – a theme that recognises the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are working to change the climate of gender equality and build a sustainable future. We caught up with some of the Allergen Bureau Directors and Lisa the Allergen Bureau Manager, to talk about what IWD means to them, and some words of wisdom for young women pursuing a career in science and the food allergen space.
Thank you to all of you for joining us on International Women’s Day, firstly could you share some words of wisdom to the young women coming into a career in science and/or the food allergy space?
Caroline (Allergen Bureau Vice President): Do not be shy to question, probe and challenge. There is no such thing as a dumb question and you may just find you have a perspective other parties hadn’t considered yet. Science is exactly the place for curiosity and testing of boundaries.
Kirsten (Allergen Bureau Invited Director and past President): Be evidenced based no matter what as it will drive credibility in what you do and provide the opportunity to lead the conversation.
Debbie (Allergen Bureau Honorary Treasurer): Everyone has to eat, so there are endless opportunities for interesting and exciting career paths in the food industry. Grab opportunities offered to you, both paid and volunteer/unpaid, as you never know where they may lead.
Lisa (Allergen Bureau Manager): Study the art of communicating effectively. Often we have very technical, complicated, variable information to explain that is nuanced. Learning to do this in a way that both scientific and non-scientific people will understand will greatly help you to influence the right people. Understanding and loving the science is one thing, leveraging skills such as empathy, and perception and using them to read the room and communicate effectively is also extremely important.
Jasmine (Allergen Bureau President): Be brave, don’t be afraid to ask questions and be willing to listen. Practical application of the theory that you learn is what allows us to grow in our careers. After almost 25 years in food manufacturing and the food allergen space, not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new.
What is the most exciting thing about working in the science/allergy space in 2022?
Caroline: Since the developments in allergen regulation which evolved from the first CODEX list of priority allergens in the 1990’s to now, we have seen much progress in the establishment of regulations globally in this field but also a lot of divergence in the approaches taken globally. I think/hope that the developments ahead in respect of CODEX’s consideration of a revised allergen list, and the application of quantitative risk assessment in allergen labelling, provides us with the most exciting developments since that time. With the perspective of the past 25-odd years of allergen labelling regulation globally, be it industry consumers, regulators, clinicians, or those involved in allergen analysis, I believe we are ready for the changes ahead. The time is right, and there is good reason to be optimistic!
Kirsten: It is always changing and growing in directions you almost don’t anticipate and that is exciting and satisfying.
Debbie: The (long overdue) FAO/WHO Codex Expert committee review of Global Guidance on Food Allergen Labelling, (which includes all 6 VSEP members), reports referencing VITAL science principles. (Yeah!)
Lisa: Every day you are a part of making a difference to someone who must make compromises and manage risks due to circumstances beyond their control. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing the work you are doing is helping real people.
Jasmine: The next 12 months for food allergen management is going to be very exciting. The outcomes of the FAO/WHO Expert Panel recommendations are likely to pave the future in this area. It’s exciting and an honour to be able to work with the team at the Allergen Bureau and the food industry as this area evolves both locally and internationally.
What has been the most challenging?
Caroline: If I were to apply an industry lens to the question, I would say most challenging is that, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to do everything to ensure allergic consumers get their one simple quest for food labels they can trust. That said, the Bureau’s mission is to be a trusted food supply for allergen sensitive consumers globally, so it’s something we will continue to strive for as we jump the hurdles we encounter along the way.
Kirsten: Keeping connected to the purpose as it underpins all that we do in the allergy space.
Debbie: There is no such thing as zero risk, so getting global harmonisation on risk assessment, then effectively communicating that risk to the food allergic consumer is very challenging.
Lisa: Helping others understand the why and motivating people to do as much as they possibly can when they may have other outcomes or concerns is always the most challenging. One has to understand, manage and communicate risks clearly to get positive outcomes.
Jasmine: Allergen Management, risk assessment and managing day to day allergen risks comes easy to those of us that have been in the industry for a while. One of the challenges that exists is recognising that this journey is only beginning for many in the industry. Ensuring that the Allergen Bureau is there to guide the development for those new to industry is critical.
Are there any women that inspire you/or a doing a brilliant job at making a change in our industry?
Caroline: To be honest I am continually in awe and inspired by the selfless contribution and sacrifices that are made by our own women of the Allergen Bureau. Kirsten Grinter for her tireless dedication in bringing the VITAL concept to fruition, Jasmine Lacis-Lee whose enthusiasm and brilliance abounds, Debbie Hawkes for grounded wisdom, Lisa Clark for a wealth of hands-on experience and absolute commitment to the cause, Georgina Christiansen and Lisa Warren (previously with the Allergen Bureau) for their supreme technical capabilities and tolerance for all that is thrust upon them.
Kirsten: There are so many out there – so here’s to all those brilliant compassionate and evidenced based women working in allergy, I have learnt so much from you all!
Debbie: Professor Miranda Mirosa leading the sustainable food systems behavioural research group at the University of Otago.
Lisa: I am a bit biased. Any group of people who give up their time and do work on top of their day jobs to create better outcomes because of a deeply held passion to me are inspiring, brilliant and will leave a fabulous legacy. So the founding members of the Allergen Bureau, and those contributing now, I salute you and I am honoured to finally get to work with you.
Jasmine: When I started my career in the food industry all those years ago the gender landscape was very different. What inspires me in 2022 is seeing the diversity of roles in which women are in within the food industry and how through networking and advocacy they can inspire others.
What are you most proud of as a Woman in the food industry/allergen space?
Caroline: I am proud to live in a time and a place that I am able to be a woman in the food industry/ in science, who enjoys equality of status and respect among my peers. I know that this is not the case in every corner of the world, and I appreciate that I have this privilege.
Kirsten: The relentless nature of the pursuit to do better for the allergic consumers.
Debbie: Being involved with the amazing Allergen Bureau team, and the long journey to see VITAL becoming recognised as advocating global best practise.