Leader of world’s best agri-food university visiting New Zealand

The Riddet Institute will host the President of the world’s leading Agri-Food University, Professor Louise O. Fresco, during her visit to New Zealand this  week.

Professor Fresco, from Wageningen University and Research, is in this country from December 3-7.  She will meet with thought leaders, primary industries and key research partners.

The Riddet Institute will be hosting a summit at Te Papa in Wellington on Thursday where Professor Fresco will be the keynote speaker.  The summit will address the challenges of food production and nutrition that must be tackled to sustainably feed an ever-growing world population.   It will also address the impact of this on the New Zealand economy and primary industries.

Professor Fresco and other strategic leaders in the areas of food economics, research and production will speak on this theme from a global perspective and the implications for New Zealand as a food producing nation.

Riddet Institute director and Massey University Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh says the visit is a highlight of the year.

“We are extremely proud and honoured to host Professor Fresco. This visit is another important milestone in the continuing relationship between Wageningen University, the Riddet Institute and Massey University,” says Professor Singh.

The Riddet Institute and Massey University have a special relationship with Wageningen University, a collaboration that goes back over 30 years. Over that shared history, there have been many collaborative projects, along with staff and student exchanges.

During her visit, Professor Fresco will spend time at Massey University, where she will meet with the University leadership team, as well as key academics.

Wageningen University is celebrating its centenary this year and during this visit special events will be held to commemorate the anniversary.  Massey University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas and Professor Fresco, will plant a special UniversiTREE to symbolise the continuing relationship between Wageningen University and Massey’s Manawatū campus. The iplanting will form part of a “virtual forest” of trees that Wageningen has planted with other collaborating institutions around the world this year.

There will also be events where the Wageningen delegation meets past and present academic, post-doctoral and postgraduate staff including a special event at the Netherlands’ Embassy in Wellington on Friday, December 7.

Professor Fresco, a high-profile leader in the Agri-Food sector globally,  is a highly recognised academic, has her own TV programme, has written several best-selling books on her research and has given many lectures on the subject of feeding the world, including a TED Talk. She has a long academic career at both Wageningen and Amsterdam Universities, with extensive involvement in policy and development programmes.

Professor Fresco is a member of eight Scientific Academies and for 10 years was Assistant-Director General at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. She has also served on the boards of companies including Rabobank and Unilever.

This week she also will meet with a variety of industry and government representatives including Dr Megan Woods (Minister for Research, Science & Innovation), David Parker (Minister for Economic Development), the Global Women Showcase Dinner in Auckland and a public lecture at the Beehive hosted by Damien O’Connor (Minister for Agriculture, Trade and Export Growth, Biosecurity & Food Safety).

Source:  Riddet Institute

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The forensic science challenge of tracking foreign objects in food

ESR food forensic scientists say they have several ways of working out whether an object found in food has been put there maliciously or accidentally.

Several cases to hit the headlines recently have involved fresh produce containing foreign objects such as needles.

It’s a scenario that ESR has encountered from time to time.

ESR food forensic scientist Darren Saunders says one of the first things to establish in such cases is whether there are fingerprints or DNA on the container.

“Then there is the identification of the foreign objects themselves – if you have a thumb tack, needle or a pin you look at simple measurements, like dimensions, then compare it to what’s commercially available, analyse its composition – what sort of metal is it – where are these available and so forth,” Mr Saunders says.

Foreign objects in food are one of the big concerns ESR gets from manufacturers and suppliers, who want to know where the responsibility lies.

“They will want to know if it is a malicious case of someone inserting, for instance, something sharp and horrible into their bread. They’ll want to know whether it was baked in.

“We had a series of cases with needles found in baked bread and you could tell from the bag by the tiny holes in it that something had been inserted and which direction it came from – that is from the outside.”

Mr Saunders says another complaint ESR frequently gets relates to suspect rodent droppings, which – on the face of it – can be hard to tell from bits of burnt grease or other food ingredients.

“But under the microscope, you’ll find faecal material which contains the rodent’s hair,” he says.

“That’s because they’re always grooming and consuming their own hair, and hair can often be identified down to a species level. Mice hairs for instance are very characteristic.”

One complaint involving hair came from a milk company, which was continually finding ginger hairs in its on-line filter.

“We identified it as coming from a cat, so you get this image of the cat waiting until night time and jumping into the vat. Literally, the cat that got the cream!”

You can listen to Darren Saunders explain his work here.

Source:  ESR  

New programme to foster high-value goat milk infant formula industry

A new Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme launched today has its sights on growing a sustainable, high-value goat milk infant formula industry in New Zealand.

Caprine Innovations NZ (CAPRINZ) is a five-year, $29.65 million PGP programme between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Dairy Goat Co-operative (NZ) Ltd.

The objectives include improving the health and well-being of families, delivering a range of benefits such as growing research and farming capability and increasing export revenue across the New Zealand dairy goat milk industry to $400 million per annum by 2023.

The programme was launched in Hamilton today by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

“Our CAPRINZ PGP programme aims to strengthen the position of goats’ milk infant formula as the preferred alternative to conventional milk infant formula,” says Dairy Goat Cooperative chief executive David Hemara.

“We recognise breastfeeding as the best source of nutrition for babies and infants.  Our aim through this PGP programme with MPI is to target consumers in New Zealand and overseas by meeting demand in situations wherebreastfeedingg requires supplementation or isn’t feasible.”

The CAPRINZ PGP programme will develop innovative tools to enable all New Zealand goat farmers to measure and improve their performance, while ensuring any economic gains don’t come at the expense of the rural environment.

“Because many dairy goat farm systems use off-paddock animal housing facilities there’s the opportunity to decrease the environmental impact of pastoral farming through conversions from other farming systems,” says Mr Hemara. “Our programme aims to increase dairy goat numbers in the long term by 50% to over 100,000.”

MPI director-general Martyn Dunne says the CAPRINZ PGP programme expects to deliver a number of industry-wide benefits.

“In addition to the economic benefits, the CAPRINZ PGP programme also aims to create more than 400 new jobs on-farm, improve dairy goat farming practice and sustainable production, and boost capability across the industry,” says Mr Dunne.

“It will also grow New Zealand’s research capability in the science of high-value nutrition and health, and establish a dairy goat research farm to deliver and trial its innovations.

“The CAPRINZ PGP programme meets our criteria for investment, such as an innovation focus, delivering economic and environmental benefits, and a focus on the value chain.

“Due to the uniqueness of our New Zealand pastoral farming, developments by the programme won’t be able to be easily replicated overseas, ensuring benefits are retained in New Zealand.

“We’re excited about the benefits expected from the programme and the difference it’ll make for New Zealand’s goat milk industry.”

More information on the programme HERE. 

The CAPRINZ programme was one of nine business cases for new Primary Growth Partnership  programmes in the pipeline prior to the announcement of the independent review of the PGP. The review was announced in late 2017.

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries

 

Understanding MYBs and how they generate ‘wow factors’ in fruits and vegetables

Novelty and health benefits play a major role in influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions and are often controlled in the plant by a family of proteins called MYBs. Understanding how these work could result in new fruits and vegetables on the supermarket shelves, Plant & Food Research says in a press release today.

Studies have found that changing, or selecting for changes, in the activity of a single family of genetic controls, called MYB transcription factors, enhances key traits of fruits and vegetables such as appearance, flavour, texture and nutritional content.

For example, in many fruiting plants these controls maintain colour compounds, which have been associated with health benefits for humans, in the skin of the fruit and low concentrations in the large volume of flesh. By changing or selecting for changes in the activity of these transcription factors, the plant could produce more of these healthy compounds throughout the fruit.

In a cover story titled “MYBs drive novel consumer traits in fruits in vegetables” published in the August 2018 issue of academic journal Trends in Plant Science, Plant & Food Research scientists Professor Andrew Allan and Dr Richard Espley review plant MYB transcription factors that are associated with the development, hormone signalling, metabolite biosynthesis and pigmentation of plants.

“Studies have shown that pigments such as anthocyanins and carotenoids are thought to offer health and dietary benefits. Changes in key MYB transcription factors could turn the colourless flesh of certain fruits into one with colour,” Professor Allan says.

“It could significantly increase the content of pigments per fruit serving, resulting in a possible step change in health benefits.”

MYBs are also involved in taste and flavour via aroma, astringency and piquancy, as well as affecting the texture of the flesh and hair formation on the skin.

Understanding the regulation of MYB transcription factors facilitates the breeding and production of completely new categories of fruits and vegetables with desirable consumer traits. These added potential health benefits, more attractive appearance, better flavour, better texture, better storage and more convenience will encourage the purchase and consumption of plant products rather than heavily-processed synthetic food, for people looking for a longer, healthier life whilst benefiting the environment.

Source:  Plant & Food Research

How some GM seasoning made possible the Impossible Burger

Air New Zealand’s readiness to dish up The Impossible Burger to a very few premium-paying passengers has prompted scientist Siouxsie Wiles to ask: so what is all the fuss about?

She concludes her article on the topic with a call to revisit genetic modification technologies and their applications – for example – to predator control and healthcare.

Her kickoff point is Air New Zealand’s announcement that Business Premier “foodies” on their Los Angeles to Auckland flights would be able to try out the “plant-based goodness” that is the Impossible Burger.

Lamb + Beef New Zealand, which represents sheep and beef farmers, is clearly peeved that our national carrier wouldn’t rather showcase some great Kiwi “grass-fed, free range, GMO free, naturally raised” beef and lamb instead.

Mark Patterson, New Zealand First’s spokesperson for Primary Industries, even went as far as to put out a press release calling the announcement an “existential threat to New Zealand’s second-biggest export earner”.

Meanwhile, vegetarians on social media are left a bit puzzled as to why Patterson is so against them having a special vegetarian option for dinner. My guess is it’s because the Impossible Burger is no ordinary veggie burger.

The Impossible Burger – Dr Wiles explains – is one company’s response to the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population using our current land-hungry, water-thirsty, pollution-heavy and extinction-inducing ways of producing food.

The Impossible Burger is the culmination of years of scientific research to create a vegetarian alternative to the humble minced beef burger patty that has the look, smell and taste of a delicious juicy burger but without the environmental impact that comes with farming cows. And that’s because the Impossible Burger isn’t aimed at vegetarians. It’s aimed at meat-eaters. And to make it appeal to the most committed carnivores amongst us it uses genetic modification technology.

The Impossible Burger is the first commercial offering from Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start-up founded by Pat Brown, an Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University.

Dr Wiles has tapped into the company’s website to learn that the Impossible Burger is made of water, textured wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, soy leghaemoglobin, yeast extract, salt, soy protein isolate, konjac gum, xanthan gum, zinc, niacin, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and C.

The burger sizzles like a beef burger patty while cooking thanks to the coconut oil, and chars and browns like a beef burger patty because of the potato protein. It has a chewy texture too, apparently, because Pat Brown and his team have figured out how to convert their mixture of plant and other ingredients into something that mimics the fibrous nature and tensile strength of animal connective tissue.

Dr Wiles then brings genetic modification into her considerations:

The ingredient that puts the Impossible Burger ahead of its competitors, and will no doubt have the anti-GM protesters up in arms, is the soy leghaemoglobin.

Haem (also known as heme) is an iron-containing molecule that binds oxygen. As haemoglobin, haem gives our blood it’s characteristic red colour and metallic taste, while as myoglobin it gives red meat its characteristic red or pink colour, as well as contributing to its smell and taste when cooked.

Leghaemoglobin is a form of haem found in the root nodules of leguminous plants like soybeans. Here it binds oxygen to protect a process crucial to the health of the plant: the harvesting of nitrogen from the air by symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia.

This nitrogen is then converted into compounds the plant needs to grow and compete with other plants. And just like haemoglobin and myoglobin, leghaemoglobin is also reddish-pink. If you cut into the root nodule of a soybean plant it looks like its bleeding.

Rather than digging up acres and acres of soy plants to harvest their leghaemoglobin, Brown and his team genetically engineered a strain of yeast to produce it instead. That way they can grow the yeast in big vats and sustainably harvest huge quantities of leghaemoglobin.

Although the yeast the leghaemoglobin comes from is genetically engineered, the leghaemoglobin itself is identical to that naturally found in the soy plants. And as the leghaemoglobin is separated away from the yeast after the fermentation process, the Impossible Burger doesn’t contain anything that is genetically modified.

Dr Wiles draws attention to something the outgoing Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Sir Peter Gluckman, said a few days ago: we are long overdue a really serious chat about genetic modification.  And not just about the science behind the Impossible Burger.

Dr Wiles points out.

Genetic modification technologies might be the only way we can really achieve our goal of being predator free. The Royal Society Te Apārangi have produced some good resources to explain what the new genetic modification technologies are, as well as some discussion papers on how the technologies may apply to predator control and healthcare.

So, what do you say New Zealand? Let’s talk.

Her article first appeared on The Spinoff.

She has written about The Impossible Burger and the future of food in the book Kai and Culture: Food Stories from Aotearoa, edited by Emma Johnson, and published by Freerange Press.

Source: Science Media Centre

Benefits of sheep milk to be tested in ground-breaking trial

AgResearch is about to begin a clinical trial to test the benefits of sheep milk for human digestion.

The trial, believed to be a world first, will involve AgResearch scientists working alongside those at the Auckland University’s Liggins Institute, with support from Spring Sheep Milk Co. and Blue River Dairy. It coincides with a period of rapid growth for the dairy sheep industry in New Zealand.

Some people suffer from digestive issues with milk and work to date by AgResearch has demonstrated sheep milk could offer advantages for some in terms of easier digestion and improved nutrition.

“Based on the literature we have seen, there has been no human clinical trial like this before measuring the digestibility of sheep milk,” says AgResearch senior scientist Dr Linda Samuelsson.

“We will be working with people who say they have some difficulty digesting milk. They will be asked to consume a specified amount, and we’ll be looking at how they feel after drinking, and measuring their digestion using blood and breath tests.”

Andrea Wilkins, Marketing and Innovation Director at Spring Sheep Milk Co. says one recent study compared the protein digestibility of sheep and cow milk – with results suggesting sheep milk proteins are more readily digested and are a better source of essential amino acids.

“Taking into account the research to date along with consumer feedback we’ve received, we know that sheep’s milk is great for those who are sensitive to cow’s milk. So, we’re really excited about what this clinical trial means for us and for the New Zealand sheep milk industry as a whole.”

Liggins Institute Research Fellow Dr Amber Milan says the trial subjects will be asked to drink both sheep and cow milk.

“Sheep milk is very different from cow milk. We know that it has more nutrients per glass: more protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. For example, sheep milk has almost twice the level of calcium and zinc, when compared to cow milk. There are also differences in the protein and fat types which we think will alter the digestive properties of sheep milk.”

Dr Samuelsson says the trial is expected to start in July and results should be available early next year.

“The aim is to provide information for consumers who may struggle with their digestion, and to provide solid evidence of the benefits of sheep milk to support New Zealand exports.”

New Zealand now has a flock of more than 20,000 sheep for milking at 16 different producers. Significant new investment is going into milk processing and supply to overseas markets.

Sheep milk products from New Zealand are being exported to growth markets such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Gareth Lyness, Marketing and Supply Chain Manager at Blue River Dairy says:

“There is already a latent awareness of the benefits of sheep milk. Asian consumers express these benefits in terms of how much ‘heat’ the milk brings to our bodies; Sheep milk is understood to ‘create less inner heat’ than other milks, meaning it is gentler on the digestive system.”

For more information on the clinical trial, visit HERE

Source: AgResearch

Conference: Science is the key to plant protein success

An upcoming food technology conference in Auckland on alternative proteins for food production will debate whether it’s a market challenge or a massive new opportunity for local producers. Science leaders say the changing global consumer trends bring a huge commercial opportunity for New Zealand agriculture.

New Zealand has strength in protein isolation and manufacturing technologies developed through our dairy industry, says Jocelyn Eason, General Manager Science, Food Innovation at Plant & Food Research*.

These technologies provide a solid base for further process developments of plant proteins,” says Eason, one of the key science speakers at the Innovatek “ProteinTECH” in Auckland on 24 July.

Highlights* from the Plant & Food Research “plant based foods” report include:

• Plant variety rights offer intellectual property rights opportunities for New Zealand developers;
• New production methods and locally developed innovations can ensure sustainability;
• Local technical and science skills are key to scaling up plant protein extraction;
• Local plant crops have significant potential as sources of high quality plant protein;
• Combined industry and research expertise can develop premium food offerings.

The mainstream media has focused on popular food products like Sunfed Food’s chicken-less chicken and ‘Impossible’ plant-based burgers, where a meat-like meal is provided with plant-based products.  But there is much more to the global market for food based on plant proteins.

The back story, says ProteinTECH director John Stulen, is there are some very experienced teams with research and science experience, developing commercial processes. They are set to capitalise on the new-found popularity and growing market acceptance for sustainable plant-based foods and food ingredients.

“Our conference includes a wide range of people with technical, market and research experience. We are pleased with the quality of our delegates to date; it’s a very senior level group of people from across agriculture including senior management, technical, science and research. It’s proving very popular,” Stulen says.

Innovatek’s ProteinTECH Conference brings together leaders in primary industries from the development and research fields alongside industry analysts, financiers and key accounting/consulting firms.

To register go HERE. 

The conference will be held at the Novotel Auckland Airport Hotel on July 24.

* Plant & Food Research Report: Opportunities in plant based foods – PROTEIN (May 2018)

Source: Innovatek