Norwich to become home of world-leading food research centre

Norwich Research Park. Photo: Mike Page

Norwich Research Park. Photo: Mike Page - Credit: Mike Page

Norwich is to lead the charge in the global fight against unhealthy eating with the creation of a new centre of excellence for food research.

The multi-million pound scheme will establish an innovation hub on the Norwich Research Park (NRP) tasked with bringing nutritionally advanced foods out of the laboratory and onto the supermarket shelves.

Local policymakers and leading scientists have hailed the project as a major step forward in the battle against obesity and dietary diseases which leave a heavy financial burden on society.

And such are the expectations from the Food and Health Research Centre that it will aim to leave its mark on the world stage by producing the 'safe and nutritionally enhanced' foods needed to feed the growing global population.

David Boxer, the director of the Institute of Food Research (IFR) at the NRP, said the site could bring a boost to the local economy by creating 150 new highly-skilled jobs while bolstering the economic value of its laboratories from £15m to £25m a year.

But the success of the project – which will cost in excess of £26m – will hinge on forging closer ties with supermarkets, food producers and pharmaceutical companies which will need to bring the research to market.

'This will be a very significant site for the government,' Mr Boxer said.

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'There has been a lot of discussion lately about the feeding the population of the world. But the focus of this centre will be to ensure it is done in a healthy way – so the bulk is not just increased, but the food has a beneficial nutritional impact as well. It is about getting more healthy and nutritionally balanced and safer food onto supermarket shelves.

'But it is vital that we have a good relationship with food producers and supermarkets. We may have the ideas, but we have got to have the providers in order to put these foods on the shelves.'

Funded by public money, the new centre will house more than 300 scientists and is set to be delivered by the end of 2017, subject to planning permission

It will become the new home of the IFR, part of the University of East Anglia's Medical School and Science Faculty and forge closer ties with the John Innes Centre and the Genome Analysis Centre.

It will aim to deliver:

• A better understanding of the interactions between food and the digestive system.

• Create safe and nutritionally enhanced crop-based food

• Use fresh research to underpin strategies to improve people's health and ease the burden of dietary diseases.

• Forge a relationship with the food producers and pharmaceutical companies to bring the research to market.

Michael Müller, director of the Food and Health Alliance at the NRP, said: 'It is very important that we create a knowledge base of how an integral organ like the gut functions. That way food producers and pharmaceutical companies can use our data in order to grow their companies.

'We have to understand how people react to food at different life stages and understand why different digestive systems don't work how they should. We can then have a direct impact by creating products from plant foods with an improved quality to help with those conditions.

'But we food needs to be about more than just calories – it is about having an impact by improving the levels of nutrition across the world.'

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