Under government's Food Institutional Research Programme (FIRM), about €55 million has been granted so far for 115 food projects at 20 research institutes. The money funds Irish food researchers atthe doctorate and post-doctorate level. The programme has been in operation since 2001. FIRM has been instrumental in developing innovative food products, which contribute to consumer health and nutrition," the department's minister, Mary Coughlan, saidon Tuesday. "Many of these have been adopted by food companies or have significant commercial potential." The funding also goes toward research in food safety, environmental protection, ingredients, new technologies and market analysis. Under the project the following products, technologies and research results have been released to the market: a special form of bio-cheese with the ability to improve dental health; a low-fat snack food containing imitation cheese, fibre, spices and seasoned bread. It can be eaten hot or cold and has particular potential in the children's food market; a probiotic cheese for the Irish Dairy Board; improving the quality of gluten-free bread, biscuits and pizzas for the growing number of coeliac sufferers; a nutritionally-enhanced ingredient for use in a new generation of infant formula. The new product is now manufactured by Wyeth, at its plant in Limerick and is being marketed worldwide; technology to make beef more tender, juicier and tastier; edible coatings with the potential to improve food quality and reduce recycling costs; technology for freeze-chilling ready-meals. The technology has already been adopted by a number of manufacturers; research on cheese starter cultures which has the potential to expand the range of cheeses with new and enhanced flavour characteristics; the development of specifications that improve the quality of a range of processed fruit and vegetables; a new chocolate technology for the dairy industry to develop a more specialised business in chocolate ingredients; a national food residue database containing extensive information on residues and contaminants in foods available in Ireland; improved tests against the spread of BSE; the first ever quantitative risk assessment on E.coli O157 H7; a survey on the eating habits of Irish adults. a non-antibiotic treatment for the control of salmonella in pigs. The discovery involves the use of probiotics as an alternative to antibiotics; the discovery of resistance of some major food borne bacteria to antibiotics. The discovery has substantial human and animal health implications; and a rapid method to detect pathogens in food within 24 hours, compared to the four to five days with conventional methods. "Health motivated consumers are driving demand for food with health benefits," Coughlan said. "Functional foods or 'food for health' is forecast to become a major growth area. Researchers and the food industry mustplay fulsome roles in addressing lifestyle factors and societal concerns around issues such as obesity and nutrition." She called on the food industry to increase investment in research and development as a means of generate a culture of innovation and risk taking in the market. The research will increase Ireland'sintellectual property rights in the food market, allowing it to export the new foods and technologies. "In recent months I have witnessed at first hand the developments taking place in China and in the United States," she said. "Without increased investment in R&D, Ireland's food industry will be outstripped and out-paced by others who already possess thenecessary research capability to meet the demands of the health and nutrition agenda." Descriptions of other food research projects funded by the programme can be found at RelayResearch.
Ireland's public investment in R&D is beginning to pay off, with the launch of such products as a new form of bio-cheese and a low-fat snack food. The government has identified health and nutrition food development as a major funding target, reports Ahmed ElAmin.