Functional foods key to Irish recovery, says EU science chief

Functional foods key to Irish recovery, says EU science chief

It is hoped that Teagasc's new facility will help create growth and jobs in Ireland during the country's deep economic slump.

Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority – Teagasc – has opened a new $5.3 million (€4 million) functional food and beverage center at Ashtown in Dublin.

It is hoped the new Teagasc Nutritional Research Facility, which has funded by the proceeds of a land sale, will help provide a springboard to creating growth and jobs in Ireland at a time when the country is in the midst of a deep economic slump.

Opening the new site Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation & Science, saluted the Irish government for approving the development of the center.

"It demonstrates a keen understanding of the vital role that investment in research and innovation can play in tackling Europe’s economic problems,” she said. "The future of functional foods will depend on continued advances in food science and developments of innovative technologies. In 2006, the European market for functional foods was worth around €6 billion euro, the third largest after Japan and the United States. 

"Experts predict that the global market for functional foods will grow in value from $78 billion in 2007 to $128 billion in 2013. It will account for 10 per cent of the overall food and drink market. This represents enormous growth and huge potential for producers in this sector.” 

Professor Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc, added: "Innovation is key to driving productivity and thus competitiveness in Ireland’s agri-food industry. Ireland’s ability to grow out of its current economic difficulties and build a successful future depends on increasing levels of innovation across all aspects of Irish enterprise. 

"The challenge is to drive the transformation of the agri-food sector into a knowledge-based bio-economy that fully embraces new technologies to create value-added outputs in an environmentally sustainable manner.”

Center follows in wake of 'milk mining' initiative

This most recent development pairs with another, earlier private/public partnership investment in the functional foods sector made in the face of Ireland’s daunting and deepening budget crisis.  In mid 2009 dairy businesses and researchers in Ireland collaborated to found the Food for Health Ireland initiative (FHI).  The project aims to "mine" milk for active functional ingredients, to categorize their health benefits and to bring them to market in new products for human nutrition.

FHI is a partnership between four of Ireland's major dairy processing companies – Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia and Kerry – and four public research organisations – University College Cork, University College Dublin, Teagasc's Moorepark Food Research Centre and University of Limerick.Together they will aim to determine how milk ingredients can be extracted and used to deliver health benefits for consumers. The aim is to "provide a pipeline for the development of new functional food ingredients and products."

Headquartered at University College Cork, researchers will tap into the health potential of bioactive ingredients derived from milk proteins, carbohydrates and fats in a project dubbed 'Intelligent Milk Mining,' which will break milk down milk into its molecular components.

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