Scientists at the James Hutton Institute yesterday took to the sun-filled berry fields as the annual ‘Fruit for the Future’ event returned in the flesh, after the Covid pandemic saw it take place in virtual format only last year.
Speaking as the first major review of the UK’s food policy for 75 years was published, scientists said that, with their work focusing on improving not only the yield but also the nutritional value taste and importantly harvestability of the wide range of crops, research would play a key role in delivering improved diets.
Dr Alison Karley said that much of the work at the Hutton would feed straight into the strategy - with improvements in optimising harvestable yield being a major factor in increasing production and supporting improved levels of consumption.
With research and breeding projects looking at crops as diverse as raspberries, blueberries, honeyberries, cherries and a range of other emerging crops and superfoods, geneticist, Dr Julie Graham said that a wider range of fruits would offer a level of choice to consumers which would encourage greater consumption.
A wider recognition of the health aspects of eating more fruit, along with greater availability would, said Graham, play a role in helping to address food poverty - as well as convincing politicians and policy makers of the value of investing in research and development in the sector.
Researchers at the institute also said that while the shortages of labour to pick fruit crops had been hitting the headlines in recent months, ease of harvestability had been a long-standing focus of most breeding projects.
Raspberry breeder, Nikki Jennings said that while the industry’s move to the sale of fresh dessert rasps in recent decades had seen production move into pollytunnels and away from machine harvesting, ease of picking and display of fruit had remained a key factor in the choice of a commercial variety.
“And a lot of the germplasm for our current breeding projects can be traced back to varieties which had been bred for the processing market, so there has always been a focus on machine harvesting, with our rasp programme producing varieties which have been bred with easy plugging and picking efficiency in mind.”
The report’s recommendation that meat consumption should be reduced by 30 per cent drew a less favourable response from the country’s livestock producers.
English NFU president, Minette Batters stressed that not all meat was the same – and that it was important that a clear distinction was made between grass-fed British meat and cheap imports.
““This strategy says major reform is needed of the food system. I would suggest we first look at the actions our government is taking by agreeing to trade deals that welcomes imported meat of lower standards”.