Top industry representatives call for more government food research funding, leadership

Posted by Editorial on 2nd July 2008

Over 70 of the most influential intellectuals and industry representatives in the food and pharmaceutical sectors converged on Melbourne’s Federation Square on Friday 27 June 2008 for the Pharmafood Forum organised by InnovationXchange.

Speakers at the conference discussed a broad range of issues for the food and pharmaceutical industries and, in particular, the growing overlap between the two industries as consumers increase their demand for foods which serve a functional purpose.

A common concern amongst the industry representatives and academics in the food research field appeared to be the lack of leadership and funding from government in the area of food innovation. The Pharmafood Forum found that, although funding is available for research which enhances understanding of the health effects or benefits of certain nutrients, the cost of implementing changes to food composition likely to benefit consumers is largely borne by the industry.

The Pharmafood Forum also identified numerous regulatory and legal issues that may be impeding the efforts of industry to add healthy nutrients to the food supply. David Hughes, the Director of Brand Innovation of the dairy group Fonterra, cited examples of vitamin and mineral enriched milk products successfully sold by Fonterra in Asia. He noted that such products are difficult to sell in Australia because of legal restrictions on what can be put into food and what can be said about the food.

FoodLegal lawyer, John Gao, who specialises in food law ,spoke about the legal issues in the food-pharmaceuticals interface and commented that there may be several legal avenues open to exploration for food companies that seek to communicate the good health message about their food product without breaching the legal limitations.

Corporate philosopher and strategist, Dr Richard Hames from the Asian Foresight Institute concluded the day by setting out three outcomes which require the attention of the industry.
Firstly, Dr Hames commented that the discussion throughout the Pharmafood Forum suggested that there is a lack of leadership across the food and pharmaceutical industries. Consequently, as the two industries converge the need to create leadership unity will become increasingly important.

Secondly, responding to the concerns of ethicist Dr Robert Sparrow of Monash University, that the food industry and food scientists may be forcing upon consumers a view that some products are better for their health, Dr Hames concluded that there is a need for the industry to recognise that the market for food and pharmaceuticals is part of a pull economy where customer’s needs reign supreme.

Thirdly, Dr Hames believes that the industry needs to demonstrate the benefits of foods with specific health benefits by targeting an issue of national significance such as that of type 2 diabetes.

The Pharmafood Forum demonstrated that the industry is scientifically ready to take on the challenge of improving the nutritional benefits of food and formulating food to cause a desired health effect, but commercial, legal, and ethical issues may still inhibit the development of such products in Australia.