Biotechnology in relation to the food industry
ABSTRACT Biotechnology has been defined in various ways but is essentially the application of biological systems to the manufacturing industries. By implication therefore food biotechnology is the application of plant, animal and microbial systems to the production and industrial processing of food, through the development of new cultivars and livestock strains, of microorganisms with particular characteristics, and thence of new and alternative food raw materials, additives, processing aids, etc. After the publication in 1980 of the report of a joint working party on biotechnology, an appraisal was made of the awareness, interest in and potential applications for biotechnology in the food manufacturing industries. This appraisal was done, firstly, by questionnaire to food-manufacturing companies, trade associations, etc., second, by follow-up discussions with appropriate academic, research institute and industrial experts in the area of biotechnology and, third, as part of a Delphi forecasting exercise. Biotechnology is not new. Indeed, the food and related industries provide potent examples of the traditional application of biotechnology in areas as diverse as the brewing of vinegar and alcoholic beverages, through to the production of cured meats, the application of enzymes to the tenderisation of meats and the production of isomerose from starch. Since foods are biological materials per se, any technological treatments of food are, by definition, applications of biotechnology. There are two primary aspects to food biotechnology. Firstly, the positive application of biological processes in the development of new or improved food products and, second, the application of what we refer to elsewhere as ‘negative biotechnology’. The latter is the application of technological skills to the prevention of undesirable biological change. Both are relevant to the modern food-manufacturing industry and must be considered in parallel. This paper is concerned specifically with the application of positive biotechnology to the food industry. The objective is to summarize some of the findings from our surveys and to indicate areas in which biotechnology developments may be applied in the food-manufacturing industries.