Associate feature: Scotland's food and drink needs innovation

Written by Graeme Cook, SEFARI on 12 February 2018 in Comment

SEFARI Gateway director Graeme Cook on the scientific research into good food in Scotland

SEFARI

Even in a world increasingly de-sensitized to outrage and hard hitting news, a recent headline in the Guardian of “'Ultra-processed' products now half of all UK family food purchases” really stood out.

Not just because there is a correlation between ultra-processed foods and the prevalence of obesity, but also because the UK consumption of such products is up to four times higher than in Portugal and Italy.

We all must eat, and whilst some have the capability to grow their own food, most of us are involved in a complex supply chain which stretches from primary production in the field or sea, to the kitchen table. We all need to better understand this supply chain, in order that we can make the right choices.

We know that our food choices affect physical and mental health, concentration levels, sleep patterns and energy levels.

Our choices also impact on the environment, most notably in relation to climate change and water availability, but we also live in an era of ever more mouths to feed, and in a less certain geopolitical climate.

How we create a more sustainable food system in Scotland and beyond is of paramount importance. There is also a big opportunity to produce more nutritious, healthier food that doesn’t damage the planet. How can we deal with these challenges whilst also delivering a sustainable rural economy, and delivering the Ambition 2030 target to double turnover in the Scottish food and drink sector to £30bn by 2030?

We are well equipped to wrangle with such systemic issues. In Scotland we have SEFARI (Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes) delivering Scottish Government funded research across all the relevant topics, such as plant and animal health, the rural economy, agriculture, climate and the environment, food and drink innovation, healthier food and science education.

Work to deliver the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation and climate change policies provide a framework for these issues, with innovation an essential part of the solution. 

SEFARI is a major part of Scotland’s innovation system, partnering with public sector agencies and land based businesses to ensure our research is used effectively.

Examples include working to deliver the Make Innovation Happen programme, which is helping food and drink businesses stay a step ahead, and partnering to deliver the new Rural Innovation Support Service, designed to innovate from the bottom up, helping rural business to stay competitive in an uncertain world.

At the sharp end, for food consumers, SEFARI is delivering innovation. This includes using vegetable and fruit waste (and their by-products) differently to substitute for synthetic chemical antioxidants, and so increasing profitability through the supply chain, examining the anticancer potential of compounds found in raspberries, developing food formulations that help people feel fuller for longer and reduce the chances of developing obesity and growing novel protein rich crops that are not just good as food but enrich the fertility of soils and reduce synthetic fertiliser use.

SEFARI is engaging with the Scottish Government’s Agriculture Champions, and is represented on the Leadership Group on Fruit, Vegetables and Potatoes, and the Scottish Food Commission. 

SEFARI works closely with the Centres of Expertise on climate, water and animal disease, as well as the newly launched centre on plant health.

The latest SEFARI Fellowship has a clear business focus, working with Food Standards Scotland to explore what information is required to profile Scotland’s food industry, and map food supply chains.

This type of work, linking research to the needs of business and policy, demonstrates that modern-day research has a huge part to play in delivering our Leading Ideas for Better Lives. 

Graeme Cook is Director of SEFARI Gateway, the knowledge exchange and impact hub for SEFARI.  Check out SEFARI online at www.sefari.scot, on Twitter @SEFARIscot or contact at info@sefari.scot

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