Brexit could impact UK nutrition research funding

Williams: UK involvement in future big EU nutrition projects is in question

Brexit could severely hinder the ability of UK firms and research bodies to participate in big EU-funded food science projects, a leading nutrition scientist has warned.

Despite government assurances that funding for current EU projects would be honoured, a failure to commit to new research once the UK had left the EU was “worrying”, Professor Christine Williams claimed.

Nutrition science relied upon large projects – the type of which were only possible with pan-European co-operation – Williams, professor of human nutrition and pro-vice-chancellor (research and innovation) at the University of Reading, told Food Manufacture.

“While assurances have been given by the Treasury that existing projects would continue to be funded, what happens after that is worrying.

“The EU has big investment plans for food and agriculture coming up, and whether the UK will end up being able to participate in those, I don’t know,” she said.

‘Big investment plans’

Williams, who is also a governor and chair of trustees at the British Nutrition Foundation, said studies such as the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) were “really very valuable”.

“EPIC is going to go on for another 20 years,” she said. “Will the UK still be able to participate in those sorts of big powerful studies? It remains uncertain.”

More positively, Williams said there were a number of areas of nutrition science that showed promise, particularly when it came to reversing the nation’s obesity epidemic.

“The colon has become a very interesting part of our anatomy. We are starting to learn that some of the nutrients that escape absorption in the upper gut do actually get absorbed lower down,” she said.

“This includes the likes of resistant starch, the by-products of which go into the body, affecting cholesterol metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and possibly appetitive as well.”

‘Quality of our diet’

“We are also discovering that the ‘fingerprint’ of what goes on in the gut can, to some extent, be measured by what appears in our urine. With the use of mass-spectrometry, I’m hopeful that urine will be able to accurately tell us the quality of our diet.”

Williams also expressed optimism about the current level of innovation in the food industry, and the entrepreneurial drive towards healthier products.

“I think food is going in the direction of the digital industries of 20 years ago, where everything was booming and new companies were coming on to the market with regularity.

“We don’t just need good nutrition science, we need young people who are interested in food – and they are growing in number.”

Look out for Food Manufacture’s big interview with Williams in this month’s issue.

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