Marketing gold or practical innovation?
Posted by Andrew Wadge on 20 November 2009 in Science, safety and health
As I write this, some of my colleagues are at a conference in Amsterdam, working with their counterparts from all over Europe to review and refine procedures to assess the safety of new foods and technologies, such as nanotechnology. Innovations in food technology are often the result of highly sophisticated scientific research, and while the end products can look like a ploy to increase profits for the food industry, (especially when, as in Times 2 article on Wednesday, we’re talking about pizza that can help us lose weight), the outputs are usually more practical, for example, the discovery of pasteurisation of milk is considered one of the major public health achievements of the 19th century. To further such advances, the Agency has funded a number of horizon-scanning projects over the years to look at what’s currently being developed by industry and universities. Although some of the technologies mentioned in the Times article, such as the radical sounding microencapsulation and high pressure processing could be viewed as novel foods or processes, many aren’t actually all that new. Microencapsulation has been used in probiotics for a number of years, and the safety of high pressure processing, as an alternative to heat pasteurisation, was evaluated for use in the EU a decade ago. It’s the Agency’s job to ensure all novel foods are safe before they are placed on the market, and there’s a well established regulatory framework in place to prevent people from having the wool pulled over their eyes, as Mr Renton puts it. The UK is very active in this area and the Agency is very open about the products it reviews under this Regulation, inviting the public to highlight any concerns they may have. And thanks to work underway in Europe, claims about the health benefits of these new foods will only be allowed if they are underpinned by robust scientific evidence.