The industry must define its role on the issue of the national diet.

DURING MY WATCH AS editor of Food Engineering magazine in the mid-1980s, three trends were emerging. Each came to reshape the industry and each is still in play today.

Mergers and acquisitions, often fueled by leveraged buyouts, produced a sort of “Big Bang” reaction, setting in motion wave after wave of industry-rattling buyouts.

Plastics packaging began its amazing ascent in food and beverage packaging in 1980s, first in carbonated soft drinks, then in food products, underscored by H.J. Heinz’s move into multilayer plastic bottles. Campbell Soup soon followed, famously replacing its iconic aluminum TV dinner tray with plastic trays. This tinkering with plastics in the ‘80s led to even more serious conversions from glass to plastic in the 1990s.

It was also during my tenure that the line between food and health benefits, or claims, began to blur. I took heat for an editorial disagreeing with one company’s effort to associate one of its cereal brands with the fight against cancer. Was product advertising the proper venue for consumer education about cancer, I asked. Others thought it was and that argument still goes on.

Today, the food industry is the target for a campaign by those who believe the industry peddles too many high-fat, high-sodium, and high-sugar items. The industry is charged with providing products that facilitate and accelerate obesity and a host of related diseases.

The industry must find its way on the issue of its role in the national diet. Is food curative or a contributor to disease? As with every phenomenon seen by this magazine in the past 75 years, leadership, or its absence, will provide the answer.