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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

Bridging the gap in food tech research funds

This week, Boris Johnson was intrigued by an idea to build a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. It sounds like blue sky thinking, Nicola Sturgeon thought it was an example of directing attention from more important post Brexit tangles. Personally I think that maybe this big thinking is what we are short of in the UK right now. Let me explain. We need innovation, creativity and a love of risk

As I have mentioned in earlier LinkedIn articles I feel that innovation, risk and creativity would make a tremendous difference to the future of Britain when we finally cut ourselves adrift from the EU. Now is not the time to be risk averse or lacking in ideas if we are to succeed in making our hard won independence worthwhile, especially for the Food and Drink Industry. With customs and vet checks and associated red tape surrounding imports we’d better look like a pretty exciting and innovative market to retain patience from trade partners.

Time to stamp out old ways and do something different isn’t it?

Will limiting our thinking limit our progress?

Take the U.S. for example. It has an innovation project called DARPA. This is the U.S defence team tasked with research and development for military technology. It is a blue sky body where failure is considered a risk worth taking if it contributes to overall success. You might wonder why we might focus on military technology but consider just how many benefits have emanated from space technology. Practical applications come from extreme, left field ideas.

Surely, if we limit our thinking we will limit our progress?

It’s time to break out of the EU fetters

During and after the exit negotiations we must be thinking carefully about what we want to protect with regards to the UK food and Drink industry but we must also consider what we want to develop, change and experiment with to cement our reputation as innovators, explorers and quirky experimenters. If there are problems that require solutions now is the time to break out of the fetters and revise traditions or received wisdom. There are so many opportunities ahead it would be churlish to squander them.

As an example, during the general election hustings the Conservatives promised £800 million for a research arm that ‘funds high risk and high reward research.’ Isn’t it time now to sign on the dotted line and see just what we can develop to demonstrate that the UK is a force to be reckoned with as it follows its independent pathway? That also means we must encourage creativity and innovation within the whole of our education system.

It’s no good teaching to tests or seeing education as a commodity to be traded; it should be life changing and risky where people are encouraged to think outside constraints and to ask the obvious and fantastical questions that will solve some of our most pressing problems. For example this month the U.S Institute of Food Technologists published a white paper outlining the state of research funding in the food technology sector. Their conclusion was that the U.S. is underfunded and slipping behind China and India. China now invests the most globally is food tech. We see South Korea’s Oscar success as coming from investment and belief by the country. Look at the national pride this award has elicited? Can we learn some lessons from this? I would have thought so. So what does a lack of funding actually mean for a country?

Does it really make much difference? If a country fails to fund food research then it is likely that food security and sustainability will be diminished? Probably. Will that mean food safety and public health will also be compromised? It’s highly likely. Witnessing what has been happening when global public health is threatened by a new virus we know this must be taken seriously.

Looking back at BSE, bird flu, Foot and Mouth and the horse meat scandal we understand the great concerns regarding societal interests, national and international wellbeing.

Our food systems are global and a safe, ethical, affordable and sustainable approach to this should be at the top of our agenda. That is why I believe investment in food research is vital. I also think a well trained, creative workforce will make the difference to ensuring the UK fulfils its potential as we approach this challenging time. our economic, national, and societal interests rest on what is basically a global food system. The UK should innovate to maintain its thought leadership and global competitiveness. It must also maintain safe, nutritious, affordable, accessible and an environmentally sustainable food supply. No one doubts that do they? What’s your opinion? Do please comment.


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