Ireland earmarks millions for functional food research

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Ireland has formally launched its marine functional foods research
programme, pledging to spend €5.2m towards becoming a leader in the
global market for foods with added health benefits.

Some of the most exciting ingredients in the functional and health foods arena are derived from the sea. The most obvious is omega-3, for which fish oil is widely recognised as the best source, but minerals and vitamins, antioxidants, peptides, proteins and enzymes can also be sourced from the marine environment. As an island, Ireland boasts a marine resource spanning some 220m acres. With the global functional foods market estimated to be worth some US$74bn, tapping this resource represents a big opportunity for the Irish economy, market innovation, and consumer health. The initiative, which follows recommendations made in the Marine Institute's recently published report Sea Change, A Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007 to 2013​, will run for seven years. Research institutions in Ireland are now being invited to submit applications, which will be assessed by a panel of international experts. In early January The Marine Institute held a workshop to identify core themes for the marine functional foods research. Four key themes were identified by attendees, who were drawn from food companies, ingredients suppliers, seafood processors, biotechnology firms and researchers: Sustainable harvesting of fish species not currently targeted as food for human consumption; seaweeds; farming of fish and shellfish; and discarded materials from fish processing plants. The initiative is being funded by The Marine Institute and the Department of Agriculture and Food. It was launched yesterday in Dublin by Noel Dempsey, minister for marine communications and natural resources, and Mary Coughlan, minister for agriculture and food. Dempsey said that it seeks to redress the imbalance between consumer awareness of some marine-derived ingredients and the full potential from the sea, "by supporting cutting edge research that could yield enormous benefits to [Ireland's] economy and to [its] health as a nation.""Marine functional foods and ingredients are key elements in our strategy to brand this country as the Seafood Island of Europe"​ Coughlan added that the partnership between the Marine Institute and the Department of Agriculture and Food is "an innovative way of pooling expertise as well as funding." "The initiative dovetails neatly with the commitment in the Agri Food 2015 Plan to stimulate collaboration and to strengthen inter-institutional research partnerships in order to ensure a competitive consumer focused agri-food sector."

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