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Beef that can reduce cholesterol levels, milk that reduces the risk of allergies in children and cow’s milk for people who are dairy-intolerant are the aims of AgResearch’s three successful projects in the just-announced High Value Nutrition contestable funding round.
“The High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge’s focus is on foods with scientifically validated health benefits, and that’s exactly what these are. We’re looking at how we can increase value for New Zealand through proven health claims for our food and beverage exports,” says AgResearch Research Director, Professor Warren McNabb.
All three projects are funded for three years with $1,000,000 each from the Challenge and as well as co-investment from industry partners.
“Complex beef lipids for metabolic health” is led by Dr Emma Bermingham. She says meat from grass-fed animals may contain bioactive complex lipids that have the potential to improve metabolic health.
“We want to provide robust scientific evidence that consuming complex lipids extracted from New Zealand grass-fed red meat will lead to reduced cholesterol levels,” she says.
“We are working with Hawkes Bay company Firstlight Foods, which produces premium grass-fed Wagyu beef. We want to extract and understand the lipids from the fat, to both determine the health claims that can be made and also to develop a new range of products based on these.”
Reducing the risks of developing allergies in children is the aim of the project “Natural protection of milk” led by Dr Alison Hodgkinson. She is partnering with Miraka, the Māori-owned dairy processing and exporting company who is looking to expand their business by diversifying into higher-value dairy products.
“There is an opportunity for ‘Growing Up’ – i.e. toddler – milk powder that preserves the natural properties of milk, but in a safe, pasteurised, format. There’s a clear association between drinking farm milk and reduced incidence of allergy, but so far, there’s no processed milk product that retains those properties,” she says.
“With Miraka, we will develop a Growing Up milk product that retains the natural traits of milk and is proven to deliver added health benefits to toddlers.”
The third project “a2 Milk™ for gut comfort” is aimed at demonstrating the health benefits of a2 Milk for people who believe they are intolerant to cows’ milk and is led by Dr Matthew Barnett.
“We will be running human clinical studies to confirm the benefits of dairy products that are exclusively of the A2 protein type on increased gut comfort through preventing intestinal inflammation in some consumers,” he says.
“We’re partnering with the a2 Milk™ Company to show that their product can deliver the benefits of dairy to the rapidly growing dairy export markets of China and Southeast Asia, where many consumers believe they’re intolerant to dairy. If we’re successful, there’s a potential for significant increase in demand and revenue for the New Zealand dairy sector.”
Both this project and “Complex beef lipids for metabolic health” will also involve clinical nutrition capability from the University of Auckland led by Professor David Cameron-Smith.
Today’s announcement follows AgResearch’s success in the Priority Research programme, where it received $3.6 million for research into the relationship between nutrition and gut health.
AgResearch is also working with four other teams that have also received grants in the Priority Research programme. They are Immune Health, led by the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research; Metabolic Health, led by the University of Auckland; and preliminary projects led by Massey University on the food science of health foods, and by Plant & Food Research on consumer insights in relation to food-for-health in our key markets with a focus on Asia.
“The outcome for all of these projects will be substantially increased economic returns for New Zealand, through creating added value for our food exports and our pastoral sector,” says Professor McNabb.