Leadsom launches network to ‘push boundaries of British food’

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, chats to Rebecca Burge, from Living Salads, Ellerker, East Yorkshire, during her visit to the National Agri-Food Innovation Centre in Sand Hutton, York.  Picture: James Hardisty.
Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, chats to Rebecca Burge, from Living Salads, Ellerker, East Yorkshire, during her visit to the National Agri-Food Innovation Centre in Sand Hutton, York. Picture: James Hardisty.
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A new initiative that opens up “first-class” facilities to budding food entrepreneurs has been launched by Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom on a visit to North Yorkshire.

Known as the Food Innovation Network, it will give food businesses “unparalleled” access to test kitchens and laboratories to help them launch new products onto the market and “push the boundaries” of food production in this country, Mrs Leadsom said.

The Cabinet Minister visited the National Agri-Food Innovation Centre in Sand Hutton, York to announce the details of the new network which is designed to give more than 6,000 British food and drink companies access to a new online portal where they can obtain guidance on issues such as intellectual property and developing new technology.

At the launch event, Mrs Leadsom said: “Our thriving food and drink sector has already helped make Britain more globally competitive through its incredible innovation.

“The UK’s food and farming sector generates over £100bn a year and employs one in eight people, with the food manufacturing sector bigger than cars and aerospace combined.

“From extending the shelf life of our food to increasing the amount of Vitamin D in our eggs, the Food Innovation Network will help make the sector as forward-looking as possible and push the boundaries of British food production.”

As part of the project, The Knowledge Transfer Network, a body set up by government agency Innovate UK to help deliver economic growth, has been appointed as a ‘matchmaker’ to join businesses with the expertise they need for any particular aspect of their business, from new packaging to waste management.

Simon Baty, Food Innovation Network co-ordinator at the Knowledge Transfer Network, said: “The Food Innovation Network will identify the innovation needs of agri-food businesses and connect them with research experts, so they can transform their superlative science into valuable, innovative and commercial products.”

Alongside the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the project involves the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Professor Melanie Welham, chief executive of the BBSRC, said: “The UK’s bioscience is truly world leading; the network will help industry access this expertise and join up research and innovation across agricultural and food industries.

“We’re particularly excited to see the launch of a pilot programme to target academic and industrial partnering in research, which addresses key challenges in food, nutrition and health.”

The new network is a timely initiative and one which Yorkshire was well place to take advantage of, according to David Kerfoot, vice chairman of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership.

Mr Kerfoot said: “Two of the biggest global challenges we face in the next 100 years are food and energy security. Innovation is essential to address this.

“York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding is ideally placed to be at the heart of this, demonstrating world class business, internationally renowned assets and industry on a global scale to provide the resilience and opportunity the UK so desperately needs.”

During Mrs Leadsom’s visit to Sand Hutton yesterday lunchtime she took time out to hold talks with members of the National Farmers’ Union.

Early next year, the NFU is expected to publish a detailed paper on what its members believe should form the basis of a future British agricultural policy.