Dr Celia Caulcott stressed the importance of bioscience to the future of the food industry. However, her comments come at a time when consumers are more suspicious than ever before about the use of science and technology – particularly genetic modification (GM) – in the food they eat.
“There has been science in food since people started thinking about eating food,” said Caulcott. “Today we are bringing some phenomenal science to the food sector and addressing the big challenges facing the world.”
Some of the most important advances that have occurred over the past 20 years have been in genomics, she said. “But it is not just biology and genomics that has been changing, there is whole load of technologies … and we are bringing technologies out of one sector into another.”
Caulcott cited examples ranging from the use of high technology precision agriculture to improve crop yields to the development of modern scientific techniques to check the provenance of food products such as olive oil; from the development of high sugar grasses for animal feed, which reduce methane and other greenhouse gas emissions, to genetically modified flood-tolerant rice.
“Here are biotech crops beginning to solve a problem – the new green revolution we need,” she said. “Science consciously brought in to make a difference.”
Caulcott described how new analytical techniques and approaches such as ‘crowd sourcing’ were reducing the time it took to identify new food poisoning pathogens, such as the new strains of E.coli identified in the food poisoning outbreak in salads in 2011.
“This is modern science and modern techniques contributing to our understanding of food safety,” she said. Science also allowed companies to extend the shelf-life of foods, such as that achieved by Vitacress for its bagged leaf salads working with researchers from the University of Southampton.
Meanwhile other research at Rothamsted Research had identified the precursors which caused the carcinogen acrylamide during cooking and come up with potato varieties which produce lower levels, she added.
In another example, researchers from the University of Reading had altered the diets of dairy cattle to reduce the levels of saturated fat in the milk produced.
Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich had developed purple GM tomatoes containing higher levels of flavonols which offer health benefits. And the Institute of Food Research had developed a new type of ‘super broccoli’, which was now on sale in supermarkets, she said.
IFST chief executive Jon Poole provided a a round-up of the Jubilee conference. Watch our video with him in which he explained why young food scientists breathed new life into the sector and ensured a healthy future.
Meanwhile, the IFST has joined forces with the Food Manufacture Group, to stage a free, one-hour webinar on the origins of the obesity crisis and its remedies at 11am GMT on Thursday July 3. Register for your free place at the online seminar – backed by the British Dietetics Association and the Nutrition Society – here.