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Conference highlights role for farmers in improving nutrition

Posted 25 April 2014

David Northcroft and Caroline Drummond

Harper Adams University played host to an influential conference which highlighted the potential role farmers could play in helping to combat the current obesity epidemic.

The 2014 Nuffield Farming Frank Arden Conference was entitled ‘How can farming learn from science to improve the nutritional value of our food’ and featured presentations from two current scholars – Caroline Drummond and David Northcroft.

Selected for their aptitude in the topic, the scholars travelled extensively during the course of 12-months, meeting with leading researchers and organisations from around the world.

Speaking at the conference, Caroline Drummond, MBE, Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), summarised her research findings, under the heading ‘health by stealth.'

Caroline, who received an honorary doctorate from Harper Adams in September, said: "Food and nutrition is the bed-rock of society. We need to develop the building blocks that connect health, well-being, nutrition, farming and education, to create sustainable diets and food systems that are underpinned by the need to improve health and nutrition.

“The investment in reducing the burden of diet-related diseases will have high returns. Feeding a world without nourishing it at the same time is not sensible. We all need to do more and we need to ensure that health is embedded as a value when we buy food.

“To make sure this happens, the general public needs to have a deeper connection with agriculture, they are becoming increasingly removed from how food is produced, and it’s also important not to neglect the fact that farmers can improve their own nutritional knowledge.”

The conference was chaired by television presenter, Tom Heap, who opened the event and facilitated the audience-led question time.

During the presentation of his research findings, David Northcroft, Waitrose Category and Varietal Development Manager, said: “Farmers have a contract with society in producing their food. It’s imperative that higher quality, more nutrient-dense food is produced, as we are still not achieving ‘5 a-day’ in the population.

“Currently, 64% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese; this is costing the NHS £5 billion a year.

“Future product development should adopt a more scientific basis to improve the nutritional value of food – this is the next necessary trait and will become the new benchmark. We must educate and inform consumers to understand the importance of a healthy diet.

“It’s not just about one element working in isolation. The retailer may pull it through the supply chain, but everyone needs to work together. We must all work to improve diets and inform consumers using appropriate communication channels.

“This is an exciting time for farmers and growers; during my travels I have seen niche, higher nutritional produce turn into mainstream commodities. Farmers need to be connected to the best agronomists and scientists to have the opportunity to be early adopters.”

Also speaking at the conference was UK Champion for Global Food Security, Professor Tim Benton; Head of the IFR Food and Health Network, Professor Tim Brocklehurst; and farmer Matthew Naylor.

Final year BSc (Hons) Food Nutrition and Well Being student, Anna Bird, was selected to receive a complimentary ticket for the event. The 22-year-old from Malvern, said: "I would like to thank Harper Adams for the opportunity to attend the Frank Arden Memorial Conference, as it proved a thought-provoking event in which many key messages were gained.

"Agriculture in terms of food security was looked at from a different angle, focusing not on the entire production and how to feed the ever growing population, but how farming and science can work together to create more nutritious food. This is through various ways of agronomy, genetics, and the environment, and was aptly named 'health by stealth' by Caroline Drummond.

"Currently there isn't a market demand for nutrition, so the market needs to be reconfigured by policy makers, or perhaps increased health claims and marketing from producers and retailers to reach the consumer more effectively.

"The conference provided a stimulating discussion, with excellent real-life examples as well as technologies, and was well chaired by Tom Heap. A topic that was very relevant to my degree, and will be of great help to my final year exams as well as my career path."

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