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Animal, Food, Man
June 29, 2012   
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Prof. Jarosław Horbańczuk, director of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding in Jastrzębiec near Warsaw, talks to Karolina Olszewska.

Your institute is busy carrying out a project called “Bio-Center: Animal, Food, Man.” That’s an intriguing name. What is the project all about?

Generally speaking, the aim is to establish a research-and-development park that will make it possible to conduct comprehensive testing of animal produce and products of animal origin. We take into account the fact that these are produced in different production systems. As a result of this research, producers will be able to increase the nutritional and health properties of food and enhance consumer safety. But before that happens, a modern research infrastructure must be created as part of the project. The infrastructure will be put in place by research centers operating as part of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). These include the Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding in Jastrzębiec, which is the project leader, and its partners: the Institute of Animal Physiology and Nutrition in Jabłonna, and the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research in Olsztyn.

Our efforts will be based on expanding the existing research base, on the one hand, and on creating a specialized, accredited laboratory for testing the quality of animal produce and products of animal origin as well as feed, on the other.

What kind of benefits will the project produce?

The institutes carrying out this program will step up their scientific and research cooperation, because they have gained an excellent, modern laboratory infrastructure. This is likely to increase their competitiveness internationally. It will also offer an opportunity to take part in large multidisciplinary, international and Polish, research projects, where they will be playing a key role as coordinators or project managers. Modern research equipment will make us attractive research partners for institutions around the world. It is worth mentioning that our equipment for the determination of micro- and macronutrients is unique in Europe. Thanks to it, we offer value added to potential participation in international consortiums.

The economy will also benefit, especially when it comes to the agri-food sector, because there will be closer collaboration with the research and development sector. Scientists will support food producers with innovative solutions and help them implement these. An important part of this cooperation will be food testing services provided in accredited laboratories to agricultural producers and agri-food sector companies.

Finally, we will all benefit as consumers because we will be eating healthy, safe and organic produce and foodstuffs.

Specifically, how will the Bio-Center project contribute to an improvement in food quality?

We would like to use our equipment to conduct tests that will generally help improve the quality of food. This does not involve strictly organic food, but healthy food in general, which will not be much more expensive than conventional food. We are concerned about making sure that products of animal origin are enriched with bioactive components, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and E, or selenium, which are important to our diet. The food sector should focus not only on producing good produce, but also on processing it in the further stages of production in a way beneficial to our health. Therefore, we will be developing technologies to prevent the wastage of the “bio” factor contained in produce. One example is high-quality milk enriched with omega-3 fatty acids or vitamins. If we apply the microfiltration method, for example, the milk will retain its “bio” status, which means we will not lose the value added we generated in the production process.

For example, we can conduct analyses of fatty acids and develop and subsequently implement methods for feeding animals in order to obtained the desired produce. Let me emphasize that the equipment purchased with funds earmarked for the project will help precisely determine the presence of micro-and macronutrients important to our health.

Is quality the main focus and strategic objective of the project?

There is no other option. In recent years, thanks to biological and technological advances in crop production and livestock breeding, countries that were until recently leading food importers, such as China and India, have become exporters of food. This group also includes Brazil, Argentina and Thailand. These countries, with low labor costs, are strong competition for traditional food producers such as Poland. Poland is a major exporter; its food exports totaled 13 billion euros in 2011. But at a time of fierce competition on international markets, it will have to focus on producing and processing high-quality food. It will have to look for new solutions and innovative ways of implementing technology in this area, which will make it possible to reduce the costs and improve product quality while reducing the negative environmental impact.

Exports have been growing because we have been improving the quality standards of food thanks to factors including our equipment and the consolidation of research institutions. The model toward which we aspire is “precision agriculture.” The point is that the entire food chain needs to be monitored at each stage of production. We have to know what the animals are eating, what the state of the soil and feed is in terms of contamination, for example with heavy metals, and then oversee the production process and products of animal origin—in other words, the whole cycle, from the farm to the table.

Are Polish businesses ready to work with science at the highest level?

I think so. This is confirmed, for example, by the scientific and industrial consortium which has been established to carry out a project related to the Bio-Center: Animal, Food, Man project. This other project is called “Bio-Food: Innovative, Functional Products of Animal Origin,” and we are carrying it out together with other institutes operating as part of the Polish Academy of Sciences, in addition to universities and agricultural producers and food processing plants. It’s a big applied research project. Its results should contribute to providing the Polish market as well as the European market as a whole with innovative animal products with a high nutritional and health value. This, in turn, will increase the competitiveness of Poland’s agri-food sector on the global food market. It will also lead to an improvement in public health, because these foods will be recommended to consumers with a view to preventing diet-related diseases.

We expect that, as a result of carrying out the project, we will obtain four types of innovative products:
- produce and foodstuffs with enhanced nutritional and health value, including those containing bioactive components;
- products with a reduced (controlled) level of allergenicity;
- products low in salt and additives such as polyphosphates;
- low-calorie products with reduced fat content.
We will make our findings available to all interested parties on a commercial basis.
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