Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pre-emptive research -Collaborative Intra-industry public interest projects

Collaborative research generally conveys an impression that such projects involve collaboration between the industry and government funded research organizations including universities. In most of the existing models industry approaches such public organizations with a problem or an issue or product development need, offering funding to carry out the work and often they demand exclusivity at least for a limited period so that they have a lead time while using the results over their competitors. A big advantage is that the institutions doing the research have a number of specialists belonging to different disciplines and elaborate infrastructural facilities to do a better job than doing a solo research within the captive laboratories of the industry. But the great mistrust that exists between industry and public research scientists generally discourages them to go to such organizations fearing leakage of the results to others. It now appears that industry has realized their limitations, to better appreciate the need for carrying out research in specialist scientific organizations in solving some of the common problems faced by all of them and results of such collaborative efforts benefiting all of them. Such common programs can give impetus to promotion of growth of a group of products made by all of them. Most critical is the product safety which is the biggest concern for all consumers. If the lead taken by the chocolate industry is any indication such mutually beneficial research endeavors can be expected to be common in other sub-sectors of food industry also in the coming years. Read further below:.    

"Colonel Sanders' original document for KFC's secret recipe is reportedly guarded in a safe placed inside a Mission Impossible-style motion-detecting vault. Jay Bush of Bush's Baked Beans is the only one who knows its signature spice blend other than the family dog, Duke. The recipe for Coca-Cola is tucked inside an Atlanta bank vault accessible to only two top executives. These are billion-dollar secrets, and any major food industry player has something similar. But now, a few food companies are trying something different. Instead of protecting trade secrets, they are handing the keys over to their competitors. Together, companies are investing in large research projects that would be difficult to fund on their own — then sharing the results with the public. What would possess a multi-billion dollar company to spend money on private research only to turn around and give it away? In the case of chocolate, there's a good reason to cooperate: Companies need to keep cacao plants alive to sell more product. It's a shared goal. Cocoa plants make money for everyone, from the biggest multinational corporations to the 6.5 million farmers who grow them in countries in Africa, South America, and Asia. But the plant has been plagued by pests and disease. Now, climate change also threatens the global chocolate supply. A study of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, which produce roughly 50 percent of the world's chocolate, found that growing areas will "decrease quite seriously" by 2050 due to a rise in temperature. The group that mapped the cocoa genome hopes that making the sequence public will provide researchers with a tool for more efficient research and accelerated breeding of new cultivars. Because if there's no chocolate for anyone to sell, competition for the best candy bar doesn't really matter. This is called pre-competitive research, and food companies like Nestlé, Kellogg, and Mars have all taken advantage of it. In 2011, five food industry partners joined together with the Netherland's TI Food and Nutrition (an organization set up to do research that's good for industry's bank accounts, funded both by the food industry and government) on a four-year project to study the effects of probiotics in the human gut. In 2010, Mars, IBM, and a number of other companies, nonprofits, and academic institutions mapped the cocoa genome. In September Mars and 60 partners unveiled the Global Food Safety Center, a state-of-the-art research facility based in Beijing, China. Mars in particular seems devoted to the idea of research for the greater good — not something you'd expect from a company known mostly for selling chocolates and gum. Yet not only is the idea of "mutuality" or creating shared benefits from its business practices written into its "five founding principles," it actually seems to be more than a buzzword. It may not be obvious at first, but food safety is a common imperative for these companies. "Nobody wins by having safer products, but everybody loses when the industry isn't regarded as safe," said David Crean, vice president of Corporate Research and Development at Mars. Food safety scares can have monumental effects on demand for a product. In 1996, a cyclospora outbreak in the U.S. and Canada caused by Guatemalan raspberries decimated the industry. Four years later, only six raspberry farms remained of 85 from before 1996, and demand was still at only one-third of 1996 levels. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that ongoing food safety issues in China have led to growing demand for imported or organic foods in metropolitan areas like Beijing or Shanghai. There are problems with food safety "all along the supply chain," according to Crean, which makes it an issue that can only be solved through collaboration. "That's not been the traditional approach and [it's] one of the reasons we haven't gotten as far," he added. Another reason the traditional approach — often, universities doing public research — hasn't made a dent is that the work is slow and often decentralized. One goal of the Global Food Safety Center is to get a "critical mass of expertise in one place," Crean said. While Crean was giving a tour recently, a partner said he would have had to work with three different labs to get the same collaboration the center has in one room. Putting chemistry and microbiology labs in the same building with a staff of 30 dedicated researchers plus rotating guests will speed up the process considerably. One advantage of pre-competitive research is that it's often focused on solving a problem rather than selling products. Industry-backed studies have recently come under fire for using academics to deflect criticism. Food policy expert Marion Nestle has an entire section — and it's not a small one — on her blog "Food Politics" devoted to academic studies whose findings fall in favor of their financial sponsor. And funding bias, as the phenomenon is known, is caused both by the way the studies themselves are set up and by certain topics inviting more funding to begin with. In other words, companies won't give money to researchers likely to make their products look bad."

India has to learn a lot from this development scenario when it comes to food research as truly indigenous industry has not much of a capacity in carrying out research, that too involving high end scientific inputs. There are a score of universities and R & D institutions mostly funded by government agencies like CSIR, ICAR, DST, Dept of Biotechnology, Ministry of Food processing with unlimited resources at their disposal. What is needed is a dialogue between the researchers and the industry captains to identify priority issues requiring consolidated and integrated multidisciplinary scientific inputs. For example if trans fatty acids are posing great hazard in many food products, there has to be an industry funded project that will lick the problem in no time benefiting all those manufacturing fried and baked food products. Similarly lead contamination is a real problem in many products and a common project supported by the industry should be able to find out the treason for such contamination and ways and means to overcome it..It is very difficult to imagine whether the industry giants, both native as well as multinationals will come forward for such collaborative efforts, given the mutual suspicion between industry and the scientific community engage in food research in the country.    


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