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Healthier Foods Needed
June 29, 2012   
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Emilia Bagnicka, a researcher with a postdoctoral degree at the Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding who manages the Bio-Center project, talks to The Polish Science Voice.

What does the animal-food-man chain mean exactly?

We start out with research on animals, their welfare, health and the way they are fed. This should help obtain foods of animal origin such as quality meat, milk and eggs that positively influence human health. The Bio-Center’s activities are designed to make sure that people are in better shape. This is important, especially in this age of diet-related lifestyle diseases and conditions intensifying across Europe, also in Poland, such as obesity, hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Research results indicate that it is possible to modify animal-derived produce in such a way so as to reduce the incidence of these diseases and other ailments such as food intolerances and allergies.

Does this mean that food will be healthier and contain fewer chemicals?

With the equipment purchased as part of the Bio-Center project, it is possible to conduct research on livestock feeding methods, which will make it possible to obtain produce and foodstuffs with the desired chemical composition and nutritional value, safe for humans to consume. Animal welfare and environmental sustainability will also be preserved.

On the basis of this equipment, another project has also been developed. It is called Bio-Food and is managed by Prof. Jarosław Horbańczuk. As part of this project, new meat processing technologies are being developed, for example a method for producing smoked meats in such a way that they will contain less salt and not as many preservatives as today. New technologies are also being developed for dairy plants for the production of yogurts and cheeses, including goat and sheep cheeses.

Will these recipes be made readily available for purchase?

We cannot sell anything as part of projects co-financed from the European Union’s Innovative Economy Operational Program, but the results of our work will be made available to all those interested. We are obligated to provide research services, while we cannot make money on this research for five years after the project is completed. We can only charge a fee resulting from our costs. The price of such services will certainly be attractive to customers because it will be set on a non-profit basis. We hope our services will benefit feed making companies because they will be able to use our equipment to check the composition of their mixes. But also producers and growers will benefit because they will be able to check the composition of their raw materials. Of course, we realize that big companies have their own laboratories, but we hope that the smaller ones will take advantage of our services—for example a company from Bukowiec near Piła that processes goat’s milk and asks us to conduct analyses from time to time. Our research will be used by meat processing plants, dairy plants, companies producing feed and feed additives, associations of animal breeders, breeder groups, managers of large farms, and private farmers.

How will this benefit ordinary consumers?
At the moment, consumers are looking for healthy food. A breeder or farmer, in order to offer good produce, must know exactly in what conditions they should keep their livestock to make sure it is healthy, and how to feed it in the right way. At the institute, we have special stations for controlled feeding. The results of nutrition studies are the basis for developing instructions for breeders. Unfortunately, even if a breeder provides very good produce, it often happens that technology engineers in processing plants simply spoil the produce by adding various food preservatives and enhancers.

New recipes and technologies will also help specialists produce healthy food. We hope we will manage to persuade producers to, if not turn around the entire production process, then at least launch a single production line that will make it possible to offer such healthier products to health-conscious consumers.

Practice shows that organic food is many times more expensive than conventional foodstuffs. Will producers find it worthwhile to implement these new technologies? Will consumers be able to afford to buy healthier products?

I do not think that such technologies are bound to increase the price of products. We want farmers not to use chemicals to excess, especially fertilizers, and we want to make sure that they do not seek to increase productivity, for example in the case of milk, at the expense of livestock health. It is better to use animal material better suited to the animal husbandry conditions through an appropriate selection of animals, which means breeds, or in other words genotypes. By creating optimal conditions for livestock breeding, which means animal “welfare,” we will decrease their susceptibility to disease, and consequently the costs of veterinary services, especially the use of antibiotics. Such produce does not have to be more expensive than that obtained in intensive breeding conditions, while it will certainly be better. A good example is the milk of cows that stand in the barn all year around and are fed dried fodder. Such cows give milk that has a much lower content of bioactive components than milk from cows that roam pastures from spring to fall. Pasture land is a relatively cheap feed and breeders just need to be persuaded to return to these traditional feeding systems. Such a breeding system should not reduce their incomes, while it will certainly have a beneficial effect on the content of bioactive components in milk and animal welfare.

What’s the budget of the Bio-Center project and how will the money be spent?

The project began on June 25, 2008 and will run until the end of June 2012. Its total cost is nearly zl.13 million. It has been wholly financed from funds available under the Innovative Economy Operational Program. At the moment, the National Center for Research and Development is the intermediate body tasked with monitoring the use of EU funds under the project. The center supervises the way in which the money—for which the research and development park is being built—is being spent. So far, facilities including new laboratories have been built to enable comprehensive research into the production of animal produce and products; and apparatus, equipment, fittings and materials have been purchased. That’s a major breakthrough because up to now research infrastructure available at Polish scientific institutions only made it possible to examine individual parts of the production process, and conclusions drawn from this did not take into account the relationship between individual links of the production process. A comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach was lacking that would make it possible to transfer research results to the economy and use them in business practice.
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