Impact of the Institute of Food Research

30th June 2013

A new independent report on the impact of the Institute of Food Research has shown that every £1 invested in IFR delivers £8 in benefits to the UK economy.

IFRaerialFood is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, and the report shows IFR’s research and innovation is supporting growth in this sector and the UK economy as a whole. This new independent report quantifies the impact of IFR’s research on improving health and reducing the economic burden diet-related diseases place on our healthcare system and the wider society. Every £1 invested in IFR research funding provides a return on investment to the UK economy of £8.18.

Whilst lifespan in the western world has increased, the number of years we are free of chronic diseases hasn’t. The IFR is addressing this by looking at food, diet and how these interact with our bodies to help us age healthily, with a safe and sustainable food supply.

In generating this report, Brookdale Consulting have looked at a number of IFR projects that have had, or will have, significant impacts on both the health of the nation and on its economic strength. Whilst the IFR is independent and receives public funding through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to support fundamental research into food and health, it must work alongside industry to ensure these research findings have their impact on the food we eat.

For example, the IFR has conducted extensive research into the microorganisms that are the principle causes of food poisoning in the UK, which costs an estimated at £1.5billion per year. A recent project has seen the IFR work with the chilled food industry to safely extend shelf-life whilst increasing controls and efficiency in the process resulting in improved products that are safer, last longer and so reduce wastage. This has a value of £25million each year to the chilled food industry. The IFR has also developed ComBase, a web-based tool for predicting microbial growth that saves industry from expensive research and development time. Every hour that the food industry saves in research and development results in a £1million saving, as well as helping to reduce incidences of food poisoning.

Food, Health and the Economy

Food and health research are converging more and more as we learn about the impact of our diet on health, in particular through the protective effects fruit and vegetables, and compounds found naturally in them can have. This impacts on government policy, health advice, and is a significant potential growth area for the food industry.

HG broccoli glucoraphaninIn 2011, Beneforté, a variety of broccoli enriched in a key phytonutrient called glucoraphanin was launched in UK supermarkets. Developed at the John Innes Centre, the IFR has played a crucial role in understanding and proving the health benefits of Beneforté and diets rich in glucoraphanin, which is key to the commercial success of the product. On-going human intervention trials, with Norwich Research Park Partners at the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are gathering evidence for verifiable health claims, looking at high-glucoraphanin broccoli’s effects on cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and our general metabolism. A 1% reduction in cardiovascular events and prostate cancer would save the health service £38million each year.

Obesity and related illnesses costs the NHS over £5billion each year, with wider costs to the UK economy of at least £10billion more. The UK has the highest obesity rates in Europe. The main reason for this is overconsumption of calories, with people on average over consuming by 10% – a small amount but enough for continued weight gain over a lifetime. Research at the IFR is looking at satiety – the feeling of how full we are – to try to reduce overconsumption. Understanding and manipulating food structures can delay fat digestion and trigger satiety-inducing hormones. A functional ingredient developed through this IFR research preventing 0.1% of the population from becoming obese would reduce NHS costs by £19.6million and benefit the UK economy by £61.6million annually.

The IFR is also developing novel ways of reducing fat levels in foods, without affecting their texture or taste, and without replacing the fat with sugars that are converted to fats in the body. Reducing fat intake reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and 1% reduction in cardiovascular events saves £30million in healthcare costs each year.

Claims for health benefits in any new functional foods must be backed up by the very best science, an area in which the IFR has world-leading expertise. The IFR is now leading a European consortium to help SMEs also access this level of research to help them obtain health claims that meet EFSA’s newly introduced guidelines. Whilst protecting consumers, these new guidelines are stifling innovation and development of new functional foods – a 1% increase in functional food sales through IFR support is worth £14.6million to the sector each year.

Probiotics, the so-called beneficial bacteria, is one functional food area where the IFR has been active. Although the global market is worth $20Billion, probiotic manufacturers must now supply stronger evidence to satisfy EFSA health claim regulations. The IFR can support industry with reputable science, which is also being attracted by the combined expertise found across the Norwich Research Park. Establishing verified health claims for probiotics would support growth, where a 1% increase is worth £2million per annum to the UK market alone.

Understanding and verifying the effects of beneficial bacteria is just one aspect of IFR’s research projects based around understanding the complex microbial biology found in our digestive system. These bacteria play roles in digestion, our immune system and preventing disease. The IFR is also looking at whether they can be modified to combat inflammatory bowel disease (Chrohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), which affects 250,000 people in the UK. A new treatment for IBD would save £9.5million each year in long term drug costs, lost working days and outpatient costs.

Then IFR is also conducting research into the disease-causing bacteria that cause food poisoning, in our bodies and where they occur throughout the food chain. One strand of this research is investigating whether pathogenic bacteria can be out-competed by harmless bacteria in poultry. A 1% reduction in food poisoning would save £15million and prevent 15,000 cases.

National Capabilities

The Food Databanks at the IFR is a BBSRC-supported National Capability that manages and publishes data on the nutritional content of foods eaten in the UK. This data is used by academia, dieticians and the food and healthcare industries and is worth £19.5million each year.

Another National Capability at the IFR is the National Collection of Yeast Cultures (NCYC). NCYC is providing a number of services to the food and brewing industries, as well as academia, based around its collection of 4,000 yeast strains. Brewers large and small use its confidential safe deposit service, and other industries and researchers use NCYC to identify yeast types. There is also considerable scope to exploit the diversity in NCYC’s collections for the production of biofuels and valuable chemicals, in conjunction with the IFR’s Biorefinery Centre. NCYC benefits are estimated at £6.6million for the UK economy.

Further impact

The IFR achieves further economic impact through its industry-facing organisations. The Food and Health network (FHN) has around 250 members and links them with IFR scientists to give industry access to the latest research findings, ensuring IFR’s research has the best chance of being translated into products or services. IFR Extra was established in 2009 as a commercial subsidiary of the IFR to supply short-term, applied research projects, trouble-shooting and consultancies based around IFR’s expertise and experience.

Further impact comes from IFR’s direct and indirect influence on policy decisions in the UK and internationally, where its science is used to support evidence-based decision making and it’s expertise feeds in to consultations on policy development.

The IFR also plays a key role in training the next generation of food scientists, including hosting 30+ students and a similar number of visiting workers who have chosen to come to the IFR to learn from the unique expertise contained within it. The IFR plays an increasingly prominent leading role in coordinating national and international networks that are bringing together the often disparate players in the food research arena. The IFR is a lynchpin in the expansion of the Norwich Research Park, a UK Research and Innovation Campus containing Europe’s largest concentration of bioscientists working in food, health, agriculture and the environment.