Food Science in Ireland

(selected from the 1970s Irish Times Science and Technology Column)

Dr Roy H W Johnston

(All this material is copyright to the author; comments to

I am making this available as a sort of pilot project, with a view to establishing whether there would be any contemporary interest in snapshots of science and technology questions, as they were preceived by the writer nearly 3 decades ago, other than as a nostalgia trip. To what extent have things chaged? Have we learned from experience?

March 18 1970

There is a healthy cross-fertilisation going on between the UCC Food Science Department and AFT Moorepark. The former was originally Dairy Science, but it has now very sensibly generalised to cover all food processing. Moorepark work is recognised for higher degrees, an internal supervisor being appointed.

(At the Cork Science Exhibition, organised by the Cork Regional Scientific Council)....Moorepark had a number of palatable cheeses and sour cream products on display....they also have a stabilised cream with a long shelf-life.

There is a need for the development of such products, as the butter market is saturated. There are, however, two major obstacles.

The first is the seasonal quality variation of milk, which follows the milk production cycle. Two approaches to this are possible: the first is to smooth the milk production cycle by a price policy directed at developing the supply of winter feed; the second is to accept the cycle and to develop products having long shelf-lives, capable of storage, using only the high-quality summer milk. The former looks to be a sounder policy; it has been said that the success of the Wexford cheeses is due to the local winter feeding tradition.

The second is the lack of a marketing organisation with productive know-how, specifically for developing new products, initially for the home market, eventually for export. Bord Bainne has a positive record in butter exports; as yet however it has not filled this necessary product development role. It has tended to see the short shelf-life of soft cheese products as an insuperable obstacle to exports, and has failed to appreciate the need for the initial home-market development step.... Once this was done, people coming from abroad would develop a regard for good local products. This is an important dimension of European culture; for example in France, on hearing that one is Irish, they ask 'Qu'est-ce qu'on mange la?'.....

There is, therefore, scope for setting up an experimental milk products unit, linked with Moorepark, and with a Bord Bainne and IIRS interest. There are as yet no standards for dairy products except salt content.

March 25 1970

....Suppose we want to expand the food sciences: to whom do we give the money? Let us list the possibilities:

  • 1. Individual firms, to build up their own R&D groups on a competitive basis;
  • 2. A Research Association for the industry, supported by the State and co-operatively by the firms in the sector (the British pattern);
  • 3. Existing bodies with positive records in food research, such as the UCC Food Science Department, or AFT;
  • 4. Some completely new structure to fulfil a co-ordinating role for the sector.

It would be possible to work out a system of grants, tax-concessions and incentives, with a series of promotional events, such as to develop a suitable mix of these elements......if the picture was not complicated by the presence of structures such as Heinz-Erin(1).

Do we supply the Heinz empire with the results of our nationally-financed research, by bringing them in on the food research effort? Or do we exclude our own nationally-owned sugar industry and its food subsidiaries? This type of problem is posed in a situation where State policy looks towards development by foreign capital. It may sometimes be feasible to bring in the foreign firm to the national research effort, but only on condition that they establish in Ireland a viable R&D centre of their own , employing Irish graduates. It is not too late to begin making this a condition of grants toforeign firms.

September 9 1970

In my article on August 5, in which I commented on the NSC grants, I referred to a project on the production of cheese inoculum on a continuous basis. This project is organised jointly between the UCC Dairy and Food Microbiology Department and AFT Moorepark.

There was no indication in the NSC statement that there was any direct connection with the industry, and in my remarks I suggested that the main difficulties were likely to develop at the application end of the project(2). Now I find that this bridge is in fact being built and that the project does have manufacturer support, on the basis of a levy per gallon of milk.....

It is unfortunate that the NSC should have neglected to refer to this aspect. I am indebted to Mr J McCarthy, the General Manager of Mitchelstown Creamery, for drawing this to my attention.

September 17 1970

The organisation of a public lecture on Monday September 7 in Cork on 'Unsolved Problems in Processing Horticultural Products' by the Cork Scientific Council may be seen as a means of drawing attention to the development of food science in the Cork region, and an implicit bid for the recognition of Cork as a 'centre of excellence' in this respect, for purposes of future development.

The lecturer, Professor Maynard A Joslynn, of Berkeley, California, is the author of 15 text-books and 400 papers in the field of food-processing over the past 40 years. He is currently working at AFT Oakpark, Carlow, on a year's leave of absence.

It is arguable whether his experience is related to the Irish situation: the type of problem faced by the California growers and the Irish are in some respects poles apart. However there is a common basis of fundamantal knowledge in physics, chemistry, biochemistry, physiology and bacteriology which underlies all food production and preservation; Professor Joslynn is making a real contribution to science in Ireland by his presence here.

Much of what Professor Joslynn said would not be new to a well-informed lay audience: the trend away from food processing being a salvage operation to preserve products otherwise unsaleable, towards actual preservation as if fresh; the breeding of plants and animals to match processing and marketing needs, staggered planting and growth control to extend the season etc.; all these have been with us for many years.

The chemistry of fruit ripening, and of what happens in the can, is beginning to be understood, and is having an effect on process modification. For example, in tomato puree production it is now known that enzyme-controlled reactions which occur in the crushed tomato give rise to off-flavours in the product, and that the speed of the reaction is such that the temperature must be raised high enough to destroy the enzyme within 20 seconds of crushing-time. Such a factor can dominate the design of a processing-plant.

The use of SO2 as a preservative is coming in for criticism; undesirable side-effects associated with free radicals exist, but are not understood.

Techniques exist for seeking out and killing micro-organisms in a specific manner, without cooking the food. These may be divided into chemical and physical methods..... One beautiful example of a natural antibiotic process occurs in the traditional champagne industry. Excess fermentation is inhibited by the di-ethyl ester of flavonic acid, which occurs naturally in the process, and when it has done its job disintegrates into alcohol and CO2. This delightful substance, without adverse effects or poisonous residue, is now widely used for stabilising fruit-juices.

As regards physical techniques, the whole radiation spectrum.... is being experimented with. The possibility exists that a specific organism may be sensitive to a particular frequency, and that microbial 'death-rays' may be devised for particular applications. Work is going on in the College of Pharmacy with the aid of an NSC grant in this field.

In the discussion it emerged that Professor Joslynn is currently working in Carlow on wheat as a protein source...... Much work is being done currently on synthetic meat-substitutes derived from vegetable proteins. The 'soy-bean steak' is already with us..... This method of production is likely to increase in importance as relative costs come down. The livestock industry may in 10 or 15 years find itself with a declining market on its hands. To grow soy-beans in Ireland would however present problems.

Fortunately it turns out that wheat as grown in Ireland is a rich protein source; it is for this reason, paradoxically, that the millers don't like it. Used as a feed-stock for a yeast-like organism, the protein can be upgraded, concentrated and extracted as a basis for synthesis of fibrous meat-like products. (Have you ever noticed how similar soy sauce is to marmite?)

This type of work is crucial to our long-term national survival..... If, however, we are to benefit from it, steps will have to be taken to develop some central responsibility for food science and technology. There is no use doing basic research, publishing and then having the results pirated.

Rival bids for this role appear to be developing from both IIRS and AFT. Neither body, in my opinion, has a basis wide enough to build on.

The IIRS has a mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering tradition; it is beginning to take a little interest in biological systems.

AFT has the biological system knowledge and some small-scale industrial experience in the milk-product field. AFT is hampered by an academic approach to publication of results, and has not yet developed a sponsored research contract system, although the pressure for this is building up.

The Food Science centre would need to be able to draw, without barriers, on the process experience of the former and the biological system experience of the latter. It would need to be able to take on sponsored research projects with industry in highly competitive fields. It would need to be near existing industry, and near a 3rd-level college with a tradition of food science. There is a case for defining the centre as one of biotechnology, and including in its scope pharmaceuticals.

In the Cork region all these conditions are satisfied, so that the case of the Cork Scientific Council deserves a hearing.

October 7 1970

I want to bring together some facts and ideas from two recent events and link them with some comments I made about the Cork food research, in recent articles.

The two events were:

(a) a press conference called by AFT on October 1 to draw attention to the implications for the food industry of our proposed accession to the EEC, and

(b) the publication of the Annual Report of the IIRS on October 2.

The AFT press conference was for the purpose of publicising a conference jointly sponsored by itself and the Food, Drink and Tobacco Division of CII, to be held on November 4-5.

This will include contributions on all major aspects of the food industry, from spokesmen of AFT, IIRS, the UCC Food Science Department, UCD and Erin Foods. It will also include a contribution on 'The Organisation of the Food Processing Industry in the proposed Enlarged EEC' by Professor Lazar Focsaneanu, of the Institute of Political Studies, University of Aix-Marseilles.

The report of the press conference was published on October 2 and I will not repeat it here, except to stress one point that the reporter overlooked: the question of the existing regulation governing dairy produce (which are the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture) and their influence on the butter-margarine war.

These regulations, which were framed a long time ago, are mainly directed against tampering and adulteration at a rather primitive level. They ensure that the butter comes as close as possible to the pure natural produce of the cow, a very laudable objective.

However, the natural product is subject to variation in its composition, especially as regards seasonal factors. It is desirable to produce a standard product, to a stringent specification, if butter is to maintain its share of the market. It is technically possible to do this by procedures which do not interfere with the status of butter as a pure natural product, but which are forbidden by the Department's regulations as they stand.

I refer specifically to the quality of 'low-temperature spreadability', which has been exploited successfully by the margarine people. It is perfectly possible (according to the Moorepark people) to produce a butter with any spreadability characteristics you like, by a procedure involving fractionation of the fats, so as to exclude those of higher melting-point. (The latter can find a market in a product destined for the tropics.)

This inability of the dairy producers to compete in the food market, due to obsolete regulations, is a severe handicap, which is harming the dairy farmers, the creameries and the nation.

As regards the Common Market question, I feel I must make some relevant points.

If we become EEC members, the EEC will impose the regulations on us. Those firms which have the experience of EEC standards will tend to buy us out. If we keep out of the EEC, making a trade agreement (this being the alternative for the achievement of which we have the bargaining power, should we so desire) we will need to make out own regulations for the food industry. We could in this case establish premium standards, aiming at a national quality brand image. By implication, this conference is strengthening the case for the latter course, although many of the people concerned appear either to be in favour of the EEC, or to have been brainwashed into regarding it as inevitable.

Also implicit in the content of the conference is the idea of a unified approach to R&D for the food industry, by the three bodies bordering it at present (UCC, AFT and IIRS). After a period of apparent rivalry and duplication of effort, there is now in existence a joint co-ordinating committee.

What is not yet clear is where the food-science centre should be situated, and how it should be structured. On September 17 I suggested that the Cork case deserved a hearing. The feeling among the IIRS people appears to be opposed to this if it involves 'another body', especially if the structure is 'academic' rather than 'applied science institute'. (One can draw an exact distinction: in the former case the goal is the published paper, while in the latter it is the working profitable system, preferably covered by patent.)

The IIRS would be more at ease if there were a unified multi-centred Applied Research Institute, covering agriculture, industry and food, with a unified policy regarding publications and patents. A Cork site for a food centre within such a structure would be acceptable in Dublin, provided the Dublin people were convinced that a viable range of disciplines and technical services were available.

There would be less convincing necessary within the AFT wing of the proposed unified structure, as AFT has learned to live with a multi-centred system.

To round the argument off, I should throw in some feed-back I have had from a chemical engineer, who has written a letter critical of Professor Scott's Department(3) as described by me on September 30....

My correspondent states that in his experience the type of graduate coming from all university chemistry departments in Ireland is quite unsuited to industry; they end up as technicians in quality-control laboratories. The mainstream of expertise, which influences policy-making and management, is among the chemical engineers, who are recruited mainly from abroad, due to the lack of suitable Irish graduates (the UCD school notwithstanding).

This, if true, could pull the centre of gravity back towards Dublin, unless Cork is able to strengthen its chemistry and food science by adding a process engineering element, along the lines of the London University Biochemical Engineering Department. The latter carries out various biochemical reactions on a pilot scale, in some cases using living organisms as catalysts, with what are basically adaptations of chemical engineering techniques in the direction already known in dairy technology.

Whatever way this problem is resolved, the sooner there is a unified authority, and a unified set of food standards, the better.

November 10 1970

I feel I must come back to the question of food-science and food-technology, as it illustrates sharply a number of the reasons why science in Ireland is weak.

Last week (November 4-5) AFT organised a conference entitled 'Into Europe- the Challenge to the Food Industry'.

On November 7, another conference was organised related to the same question, though not obviously. This was entitled 'The Supranational Corporation and the Irish Worker' and was organised by the Society for Labour Law and Social Legislation.

Between them these two conferences touched upon all aspects of science, technology, production, marketing, finance and structure related to our most important and fundamental industry.

The picture which emerges is grim, although there are a few bright spots.

On the negative side, only 13 of the 150-odd delegates at the former event had their basis in the co-operative movement. The remainder, apart from a handful of AFT, IIRS, university, Civil Service and State industry people, were overwhelmingly drawn from private industry. Of the private firms represented, the majority were foreign-owned, and a significant minority were in the supranational corporation category as defined by Charles Levinson, of the International Federation of Chemical and General Workers Unions, at the SLLSL conference.

It emerged at the latter event that the method of operation of the supranational corporation is to develop its physical and financial assets in accordance with a long-term strategy which takes into account the tax laws in the various host-States, giving special consideration to 'tax-havens'. The core of the strategic decision-making is a head-office unit, with a computer, and a large model of the Corporation, capable of working out exactly where in the world growth should be channelled. Research and development tends to be highly centralised, and to draw its talent from the world market in mobile brain-power.

Clearly, it behoves any national Government, if it wishes to maintain a degree of control, to lay down regulations and conditions governing the operations of supranational corporations within their economies. That such relations are possible is shown by the extreme example of the USSR, which is capable of contracting with firms such as Fiat to build plants on its territory, for subsequent handover to national ownership.

Failure to bring in any such legislation, coupled with th provision of 'tax-haven' facilities, has resulted effectively in the handing over of the Irish food industry, and its considerable undeveloped potential, to the supranational giants, who are beginning to suck up Irish skilled labour and research talent like a sponge.....

Once into the supra-nationa structure, a bright young sciantist's way forward is inside the structure, even if he or she joins initially with some idealistic notion of developing their native country's natural resources with the aid of foreign know-how.

In this situation, the handing over of R and D results, paid for by the Irish taxpayer, to a growth-hungry international organisation which has complete internal mobility of labour, capital and information, and which is socially responsible to no-one, is imprudent (to say the least; the choice of adjective is charitable).

At the first conference, there was an ambiguity about the sense of the word 'we' as used by Mr P Keenan, of Unilever, when speaking to Dr Tom Walsh's paper. No-one seems to have sensed this ambiguity. Let me spell it out.

Mr Keenan wanted the Irish people to spend more on research (production, quality, market) so as to enable Irish foods to be exported more effectively. Good, if the 'we' means 'we the Irish food industry'. But if the 'we' means Unilever, then what right has he to ask us to spend public money for research for his organisation? Can't he employ some more Irish food scientists, to work for Unilever in Ireland?

In this context,the establishment of a food science centre (in Cork or whatever) on a university basis becomes highly unsound from a national point of view. The university road to promotion is the published paper, and in this field publication is the last thing you must do. Get you market share first, and then, perhaps, publish.

The IIRS is aware of this, and has established a confidential contract/sponsored-research system, which appears to be working. AFT is being pressed in this direction by its increasing consciousness of the nature of the food-industry environment......

I have already suggested that the type of know-how required for a food R&D centre is to be found distributed between IIRS and AFT.....

Discoveries in food research are potentially worth millions to the giants, who send their specialists to the conferences to watch hawk-eyed and keep their mouths shut. The whole field of synthetic foods based on natural products is wide open for research, development and profitable investment. For example, reverse osmosis is a useful technique for separating milk proteins from whey, which otherwise is a throwaway byproduct, at best fed to pigs.

So when this centre is set up, as well as being in a regional centre outside Dublin, for national policy reasons, it should have terms of reference which restrict publication, and restrict research contracts to Irish-based firms, with special terms for co-ops, on the grounds that the latter are relatively secure against takeover by the international giants...

Such a policy could then be used as a lever to pull in some R&D from the supranational structure to an Irish base: we could say 'we will do R&D business with you if you establish an equitable share of your R&D effort in Ireland; we will then gladly supplement your efforts on the basis of free exchange of information in both directions'.

The UCC Food Science Department, as at present constituted, is not in a position to work like this.. The academic goals are not compatible with survival in the real world......

On the positive side: a firm like Cork Marts, which is agressively growing as a meat-exporting co-operative, is likely to have increasing funds available for sponsored research, and has the potential for froming part of the type of production-orientated research system that we need, if linked with a food research centre of the necessary non-academic applied-scientific type. This adds to the argument based on the Munster dairying co-operatives for putting the centre of gravity of food science in the South.

However the whole thing will be a waste of public money if it is allowed to develop as a publication-seeking body, and unless it is firmly linked into the only area of Irish industry with resistance to being bought out: the co-operatives.

December 23 1970

I have received a copy of the printed report of the May 1969 Moorepark seminar on the ultra-high temperature processing of dairy products....

It was the first international seminar of its kind held on UHT processing and it attracted participants from many European countries as well as from ....Irish co-op managements.

Four papers from Britain reflected the concern of the industry with rising labour costs, and the desire to get a stabilised milk package that would render the traditional milkman redundant.

There was also an important contribution from the Moorepark people (Dr W K Downey, Dr A C O'Sullivan and M K Keogh) on the properties of UHT cream. It emerges that a stabilised acceptable product, of considerable market potential, would be possible if only the extreme seasonality of Irish milk production could be smoothed.

Thus the bottleneck in the disposal of dairy products is not our lack of technical and scientific expertise, but the mechanisms of the socio-economic system whereby the milk is produced. The initiative for changing this rests with the co-ops. All they have to do is offer a higher price for winter milk, to the extent that their members are persuaded that autumn calving and winter feeding is worth while. The means of deseasonalising the milk supply is at hand; the AI service is available all the year round. It, too, would welcome a smoothing of the demand pattern(4)........

September 8 1971

The general public is, rightly, suspicious of people who monkey about with food, adding dyes and flavours, some of which eventually turn out to be toxic and are legislated against.

This possibly negative image of the relationship between scientists and food is due to the way in which the public has learned to connect words like 'chemist', 'poison' and 'additive'; it bears no relation however to the total reality, which is that there is a considerable body of scientific and technological knowledge which enables the natural processes associated with the cooking, preserving and processing of food to be controlled with a high degree of reliability.

The scientific basis of canning has been known since Pasteur. Meat was canned in the Napoleonic Wars; the art was known but the basis of the knowledge was empirical. The scientific technology of food processing can perhaps be said to have begun in Ireland with W F Hamilton's 1809 patent for the addition of CO2 under pressure to water, on behalf of the Dublin firm of Thwaites. (The trade names 'club orange' etc, in use to this day, derive from the fact that the early bottles were round-bottomed and club-shaped, the better to withstand the pressure.)

However once this invention was made, there was littl development potential; the scientific technology of food lay more or less dormant(5) until the 1880s when the first professional chemists were employed at St James' Gate Brewery by Arthur Guinnes Son and Co ltd. Quality control of malt and hops had given rise to a considerable body of natural-product chemistry. It also gave rise to scientific industrial quality control statistics (in the 1900s); this did not become common in the engineering industry in the advanced industrial contries until the 1920s.

Today the Guinness commitment to science and technology runs to about 80 people, between scientists, engineers and technicians. It is unlikely to be affected by the current run-down of process staff; the average technology-content of the work of those who remain on will be greater, in proportion as the plant is modernised and control over the process improved.

....There are three separate laboratories, devoted to basic research, process and product development and process control. There are similar units in Dublin and Park Royal (London). Each unit involves from 5 to 8 graduate scientists or engineers and up to 45 technicians; in the case of the development laboratory the technicians are really shift operatives working in an experimental environment, with a status that perhaps need differentiation from the traditional structures.....

There is a quarterly meeting with the Park Royal people, on research policy. There is some specialisation- for example, amino:acid problems tend to get given to Park Royal, where John Pierce has established a world reputation in amino-acid analysis. His pioneering automatic anlayser for amino-acids was developed over a decade ago, in collaboration with Evans Electroselenium; it was the first effective instrument on the world market for this purpose. Yeast know-how, on the other hand, tends to be concentrated in Dublin, in Dr Gilliland's laboratory.

The scale-up procedure for experimental results runs from the bench scale (3 barrels/day) in Dublin to the pilot scale (20 barrels/day) at Park Royal, then up to the 'slice' of the main brew in Dublin (600 barrels). There is, however, little mobility of staff between the two centres, so that it is difficult to see how this progression can be fully effective when the information transmitted is restricted to the written report and the quarterly meeting.

The tiny experimental plant in Dublin has reached a high level of sophistication, being completely automated and very precisely controlled. They boil with hops under pressure, to simulate the fact that the full scale hopping operation is in a deep vessel.

A good working relationship has been established with the universities. This works at two levels; for example (1) E Collins, a staff member who has risen from the ranks via the London BSc procedure, is now at Cardiff working for a PhD on hop chemistry, on secondment. (2) Dr Bob Letters, of the Dublin research laboratory, is supervising some UCD chemistry PhDs, the work being of interest to the brewery and some of it being done actually in the brewery. The breakthrough in this area occurred some 3 years ago, when UCD first recognised extern industrial work for PhD purposes. This is a good principle, capable of being generalised.

The development unit, under Ken Fletcher, is concerned with the process as a whole.. They are currently interested in evaluating exotic raw materials, with the objective of import-substituting in Nigeria, Malaya and the Cameroons, where branch breweries exist(6). The do not employ any chemical engineers, although one would think this branch of technology relevant to their problems.

...As regards food-technology in Ireland, Guinness has remained in a rather aloof position; perhaps this is the consequence of being a one-product industry....they did not, for example, feel it necessary to participate in the international symposium at Moorepark on 'Reverse Osmosis and Gel Filtration' which took place on September 1, although they were of course aware of reverse osmosis as a technique for concentrating dilute liquids, and have in mind possible applications, such as the recovery of useful material from the effluent.

Guinness staff, on the whole, tend to be members of British-based professional bodies rather than Irish, and to be unaware of Irish initiatives outside the brewing industry.

Ken Fletcher justified his non-participation in the Moorepark event by reference to the absence of a speaker representing the firm which he regarded as the most significant. If he had had the instinct to go, and acted on it, he would have perhaps found the person he wanted in the audience, and been able to evaluate the cut-and-thrust of the inter-manufacturer debate which took place.

Turning now to the Moorepark symposium.....this has implications for the development of the food industry in Ireland, especially dairying; it also has implications for the organisation of research and development. I will return to the latter aspect, and describe first what reverse osmosis and gel filtration are.

Most people know that plants absorb water through their roots, and that the plant in growing exerts pressure (it can lift a stone). The pressure that makes the sap rise is osmotic. Osmosis is the phenomenon whereby if you have a membrane with water on one side and salt solution on the other, the water diffuses in and dilutes the salt solution, until the increased pressure prevents it. Conversely, if you increase the pressure on the salty side to the extent that you squash the water back out again, you are implementing 'reverse osmosis'. If you have a good membrane that will stand up to the pressure, you can concentrate a solution by doing work on it with a strong pump, and obtain pure water.... It is not filtration; the forces are electrical. The salt molecules are the same size as the water molecules. For solutions of large molecules, the process becomes more like filtration.. But even for reverse osmosis of proteins, which is sometimes known as 'ultra-filtration', you try to ensure that there is no build-up on the concentrate side, by imposing a turbulent flow regime, unlike the classical filtration process....

Membranes now exist that can concentrate protein from whey, leaving the lactose. A finer grade of membrane can concentrate the lactose and leave the salt.

Gel filtration is a quite distinct process, competitive in some areas, complementary in others. It derives from the properties of cross-linked dextrans, which can be prepared in the form of a 3-dimensional mesh, with holes of a controlled size, such as to exclude large molecules and allow small ones in.

A gel filter consists of a cylinder packed with granules of this dextran material.... This does not act as a normal filter; it lets the large molecules through rapidly, as they are kept out of the gel-granules, and are only impeded by the large mesh constituted by the packed granules themselves. The small molecules of the solvent, on the other hand, spend a long time trickling through the interstices of the granules, and so are delayed relative to the large ones.

This device enables the various components of blood plasma to be separated without damage. It is a very powerful, efficient and mild method.... already widely applied in the pharmaceutical industry.

This system is on the verge of becoming economic, like reverse osmosis, for the large-scale treatment of products such as whey or skimmed milk; whence the importance in Ireland.

September 22 1971

....I want to mention some work which has been done in Professor Geoghegan's Department of Industrial Microbiology in UCD on various products which are obtainable from peat by various microbiological processes(7).....(eg) protein, enzymes, alcohol, actic acid, vitamins, citric acid, acetone etc, all starting with wet peat or milled peat as basic raw material.

The trouble is that the bridge between what is technically possible in the laboratory, and what is an economic production process, is somewhat rickety.

There is, however, a growing body of experience labelled 'microbiological engineering' which leads naturally from Professor Geoghegan's laboratory to the economic world. It is the analogue of Professor O'Donnell's Chemical Engineering Department. Something like it occurs in Cork, under the name 'Dairy Engineering'; the latter is now generalising itself towards food, dealing however with the technology of known food processes. It is not yet significantly involved in innovatory processes of the kind implied by the Geoghegan work......


There is an increasing need for a good food-science and food-technology centre in Ireland. The appearance of the first issue of an abstract periodical called 'Food Progress' is a step in the right direction; it is jointly published by AFT and IIRS as a bi-monthly for the industry.

However the provision of an abstracting service is no substitute for a good practical centre. In this, as in other branches of applied science, the publication is only the froth on the surface of the real work. It is a fair generalisation to say that in food science a publication is either (a) salesmanship for a product or a process already developed in secret, or (b) of academic interest only.

Thus the Moorepark symposium on reverse osmosis and gel filtration turned out to be a battle between the hardware manufacturers for the Irish equipment market.....

About half of the 55 participants were potential equipment-buyers from the dairy industry, who sat and listened, without opening their mouths. Professor Dunkley, of California, counselled the audience to beware of users' advice, as it is standard practice to give out wrong information in order to keep commercial advantage.

As well as being useful for upgrading whey, reverse osmosis is capable of concentrating skim to 35% solids prior to evaporation, thereby saving energy.

To get the best from this kind of know-how one needs a properly equipped development centre, to which the industry has access....under joint co-op or national control, with staff of an appropriate mix of disciplines..... and the correct attitude to publication, which is 'keep it dark until the client firm is making money and gives the OK'.

This sponsored research atmosphere is quite absent from AFT; a case could be made against the value of the latter body as a national investment, on the grounds that in most cases the researcher's prime goal is the publication of a paper and th ensuing invitation to an international conference. The information thus goes to firms which are the competitors of our national food exporting efforts.....

The AFT researchers have joined a Trade Union(8). It is easier for a trade unionist to get a better wage agreement if the activity he or she is engaged in is revenue-earning. If researchers were contracting to sell their projects to client co-ops or whatever, the State grant to AFT could be related to the value of the revenue earned, by a % subsidy procedure(9). Researchers would then be obliged to seek out and solve the problems of the agricultural community.

Those hooked on basic research (of whom there are many, doing distinguished work) could then develop a fertilising relationship with the universities, taking on students. The fraction of effort devoted to basic work is the main national science policy decision....

December 1 1971

...Farm and Food Research (published by AFT) is basically a raw-material producers' journal, covering (for example) in its September issue Brussels sprouts, deep ploughing, fertiliser use, molasses, mole drainage, growing-rooms in horticulture and animal slurries as fertilisers. The only bid to participate in the food processors' field is J K Donnelly's article based on the Moorepark symposium.

The joint AFT-IIRS newsheet 'Food Progress' has in its second issue (September-October) an introductory article on factory hygiene.....

..The establishment of an IIRS centre in Cork presents an opportunity to develop cross-links with the existing Cork food science interests (UCC and Moorepark)....building up a web of contacts capable of evolving towards a case for a recognised national food science centre.....


..I have received a copy of the report of the symposium 'Food and the Law' which took place on April 22-23 1970 under the auspices of the Republic of Ireland Branch of the UK Institute of Food Science and Technology.

Why the publishers of these symposium reports turn them out without any semblance of an index remains a mystery. Another, more recent, event, tendentiously entitled 'Into Europe: the Challenge to the Food Industry', was similarly published without an index.

(The food industry is among the most highly protected of Irish industries and has much to lose by EEC membership.)

From the 'Food Law' symposium it emerges that the UK food legislation is far in advance of the Irish, being criminal rather than civil; there is no need for the prosecution to prove intent. An offence can be punished by up to 3 months in jail. Ice-cream and sausage factories have to be registered with the local authority.

A synposium of this nature could usefully have had a comparative look at food law in the UK and the EEC countries. It could easily be the case that the UK law is in some cases in advance of that of the EEC...

I am inclined to doubt the value of these large symposia, where invited star-performers put their wares in the shop window before a captive audience. If any real information is to be absorbed, it is not by this means. A smaller conference, with full and equal discussion between people who know enough to be able to have an argument, is better.

July 26 1972

...There is a contrast between the bouyant optimism of the IIRS Five-Year Plan and the techno-economic reality, as reflected in a tiny news-item on July 17. The latter referred to a deputation of Carlow workers which met Mr Colley and Mr Lalor(10) to register a protest about increasing unemployment in the town, and to express concern at the reduction in the vegetable processing campaign from nine months to ten weeks..

The delegation was assured that negotiations were at an advanced stage for a new industry, of nature unspecified.

I find this news item hard to understand. Carlow has for decades been a centre of advanced agricultural technology. The agricultural engineering centre at Oakpark, the agricultural engineering section of the Sugar Co, the joint Erin Foods/Sugar Co research laboratories (Under Dr Tadhg Twomey) are all at Carlow; these have been joined by the Regional College of Technology, which is developing some food technology training experience. In Oakpark are concentrated all the crop husbandry and agricultural engineering knowhow of the Agricultural Institute.

Does this investment in technological infrastructure count for nothing, to the extent that the Minister can airily accept a decision to run down Erin Foods, replacing it with a hypothetical unspecified industry, the whole thing getting two column-inches?

If Erin Foods goes, so does a large fraction of the 'raison d'etre' for Oakpark and the Regional College. Where and when was the run-down decision made? What, if any, is the connection with the Heinz-Erin link-up? Do we, the Irish people, who presumably own Erin Foods, not have some claim to be let in on these decisions?

Against this background the IIRS Five-Year Plan presents a contrast. I quote: 'the food processing industries are and will continue to be a vital part of the Irish industrial economy. It needs no arguments or statistics, at this stage, to verify this statement'.

There is a clear contradiction here between the opinions and policies of the IIRS and Erin Foods. Explanations, I suggest, are due from the latter. Or does the IIRS need to start producing arguments and statistics to back up their optimism?

August 22 1973

An Foras Taluntais is sponsoring a scheme under which a graduate student will do research for a PhD taking a problem related to food technology.. The student is Owen McCarthy (BSc, Cork) and the problem is in the field of rheological and thermal characteristics of complex food liquids.. He will be working at the National College of Food Technology, Weybridge (University of Reading).

Rheology, by the way, means the behaviour of liquids, granules, solid/liquid slurries, gases or any fluids whatever, under conditions of flow. Food liquids, such as mayonnaise, can exhibit complex behaviour.

This implies that some effective structures, intimately connected with industry, must be in prospect....I have already suggested the need for a hived-off autonomous unit, bridging AFT and IIRS.... Such a unit could filter out the more basic food problems for treatment on an academic an MSc sponsorship procedure, while retaining a primary interest in industrial problem-solving. The AFT scholarship at Weybridge is a small step in this direction and is to be welcomed.

October 31 1973

The IIRS annual report was published on September 26..... (projects outlined included) one on the technology of production of bovine pepsin, a cheese-making enzyme, which has been sold to an Irish company, replacing 100,000 pounds worth of imports annually.

The idea originated with Professor Pat Fox of UCC, who first extracted bovine pepsin in the laboratory. The IIRS developed a means of maximising yield under lab conditions, and then designed a full-scale extraction plant.

Field-trials were carried out in in cheese factories, with the help of the Moorepark dairy technologists.....


Part 5 of the series 'Ireland: Products and Serrvices' has been produced... covering Food, Drink and Tobacco. There is a product index, a process index and company details (who's who, and what they know how to do). For example, there are three firms doing freeze-drying and one doing micro-wave cooking, these being the vanguard of the technology. There are still as many as 30 firms in milling; the traditional malting process, however, is practically monopolised, there being only one maltings independent of the Guinness group.....

The IIRS has become a member of the Campden Food Preservation Research Association in Britain; the services of that body are now available to Irish industry through the IIRS....


I have to hand a report from Dr Conor McGann of Moorepark, on an international seminar on dye-binding techniques for the estimation of protein in food. These techniques have been in use in Moorepark for ten years or more, being a valuable tool for the rapid determination of protein in milk. Unfortunately, payment is still on the basis of butter-fat, despite the strong signals coming from the 'butter-mountain'.

Ultimately, payment for milk will be based on protein... Dye-binding techniques will then come into their own, as they are rapid, and lend themselves easily to automation and on-line data-processing.

Also, the amount of dyestuff bound by protein is strongly related to the available protein of food value, rather than the 'total nitrogen' which includes the 'skin, hair and old boots'. In Denmark the available lysine content of fishmeal is being determined by dye-binding, on a routine basis. A service like this would be of great value to the animal-feed compounders, as fishmeal is of highly variable composition..

Dr McGann has recently published a series of technical reports describing techniques for process control of the protein-content in cheese manufacture, whey processing and skim-milk powder production.

March 6 1974

I have to hand a dossier prepared by the Carlow Workers' Action Committee on the future of the Erin Foods factory... It has been prepared at the request of, and presented to, the Minister for Finance Mr Ryan and the Minister of Industry and Commerce Mr Keating(11).

This is an impressive document, assembling contributions from a wide variety of sources, all of which support the contention of the CWAC that the Carlow region should be built up as a centre for industrial processing of locally-produced food, rather than run down. The Committee was set up over a year ago in response to a threat to close down the Erin Foods factory.

Although the task was originally taken up by the local ITGWU branch(12), which started by simply lobbying for alternative employment, the idea seems to have caught on that there was ample intellectual support on hand to help them to attack the principle of the run-down. The committee in producing this dossier was therefore able to draw on the work of the staff of the Regional College, AFT Oakpark, the Meteorological Office in Dublin, the local Vegetable Growers' Association, as well as that pf the County Education and Development Officers.

They were also able to draw on the support of the retired Chief Executive of the Sugar Co, Lt-Gen M J Costello, who had lectured in Waterford on October 1 1971 to a meeting of the Agricultural Science Association. The dossier contains a printed version of this lecture, which no doubt is still available from the General.

An appreciable amount of the assembled material shows evidence that staff members of the RTC and of Oakpark were prepared to give active support to the Committee, while not nominally being associated.

One of the key points in the Costello article is a comparison with the US, where each person on a farm gives employment to three others in processing. In the Irish case, the processing labour tends to be in Britain, for reasons which the General suggests originate within Ireland.

Also in the dossier is a long memorandum entitled 'Why the Carlow Factory is Needed'. This is unsigned, but from its style and content it is reasonable to assume that it is the work of the General. It shows signs of having been type-set from a manuscript and not adequately proof-read. It brings out several points supporting the Carlow site and the principle of synergy between vegatable and sugar processing.

These points include the use of otherwise idle capacity in phased peak operations; balanced employment as between men and women, sharing of sales overheads etc. The Heinz people are stated to admit that neither their Wigan nor London sites can compare with Carlow, and to appreciate the advantage of location near the Sugar Co R&D centre and AFT Oakpark.

Evidence is also produced in an attempt to discredit the myth of the alleged lack of sales success of the original independent (pre-Heinz) Erin sales operation. Most of the trouble is attributed to the virtual exclusion of Erin Foods from the home market, by directive of the Minister, in favour of firms which had no Irish scientific base and employed juvenile labour to pack, for the Irish home market, processed food from abroad. This constraint, of course, magnified the size of the first step into marketing foods by an Irish-based semi-State company.

Erin Foods was also prevented from canning, for the same reason.

The 'accelerated freeze drying' process was developed in Carlow in the early sixties, and applied to prawns. Markets were obtained on the Continent, and a supply was organised, nets of an appropriate guage being supplied to the fishermen. Again, a directive was issued from 'on high' prohibiting Erin Foods from buying fish from the fishermen.

Shortly afterwards, a consultant team headed by Dr Bill Murray(13) (now a Director of Roadstone ltd) reported that the Company's efforts to do what it was supposed to do were being frustrated in practice and in detail. The report was submitted to the Government, but no reply was received, and Dr Murray was refused an interview with the Minister for Finance.

After Erin Soups had been launched successfully, it was planned to associate soup sales with a small promotional give-away pack of Erin vegetables. On the opening day of the promotion, the Chairman summoned the General and said that the Government had heard that vegetables were being given away, and that this had got to stop. This cancellation was a mortal blow to such good-will as had been built up with the retail trade.

There is further material on the period of the abandonment of the independent Erin sales effort and the Heinz-Erin deal.

The General maintains stoutly that the allegation of inability to sell Erin Foods is unfair, because those concerned never got the chance. What is more, he points out that the bulk of Irish produce was committed by the Heinz deal to the 'residual' market: other factories who buy when short. This is a wildly-fluctuating, low-average-price situation.

He has a catalogue of 'suppressed facts': for example the cost per marginal job (up to 1966) for Erin Foods being half the State grant given per job at Shannon; the excision from the Arthur D Little Report of all material critical of the Department of Finance; the fact that the Sugar Co was not allowed to debit initial losses by Erin Foods against tax liability, and the fact that it was compelled to sell sugar to foreign companies at a loss in 1964 and 1965.

He ends up with a plea for development of the Sugar Co towards the food business under firm, independent management, with the necessary freedom of action.

One has to ask are these the ravings of a superannuated paranoiac, prematurely retired with a chip on his shoulder, or economic common-sense?

The Oakpark and Regional College people who contributed to this dossier no doubt have their views on this matter, as have the ITGWU people, who deserve credit for producing this document, despite their earlier negative experience of the General in the industrial relations field.

There is a prima facie case for a public enquiry into the circumstances of the Heinz-Erin deal. Rather than indulging in recrimination, however, all that is needed is an assured future for vegetable growing and processing in Carlow, and for the investment in human resources represented by the Carlow RTC, AFT Oakpark, the Sugar Co R&D laboratories, as well as the engineering and processing skills of the Carlow workers.

May 15 1974

I noted recently a letter by some students graduating from the College of Domestic the effect that many of them had to emigrate because of lack of employment opportunities in Ireland.

I suggest that in the Health Boards there is an objective need which is not yet translated into actual jobs. Such jobs would not only cover hospitals and institutions; they could extend into the area of social welfare and education, thus fulfilling an important role in preventive medecine.

It is a reflection on our society that there are plenty of jobs for animal nutritionists, and that considerable effort (amino-acid analysis, linear programming to get the least-cost food-mix etc) is invested into seeing that our pigs are correctly fed. A cursory glance at the average bus-queue on the other hand is enough to expose the average young Dubliner from the Corporation housing estates as a victim of chronic malnutrition, despite the fact that he or she probably gets 'enough to eat' in terms of volume.

Is it too much to hope that by judicious education, advertising and trend-setting by fashion-leaders a healthy approach to nutrition might be cultivated? Nuts and raisins instead of sweets, etc?

There are at present 70 members of the Nutrition Society of Ireland of whom 20 come from the North. They are mainly medical doctors, dieticians and agriculturalists. It is proposed to establish an all-Ireland Branch of the British-based body. As a stimulus to this, the Council of the Society have asked the Irish membership group to host a meeting of the Society as a whole in Dublin in 1975.

There is little opportunity for the medical scientists to discuss their work in this field with other nutrition scientists in Irelsnd at present. The formation of an Irish Branch, as proposed, with access to the scientific meetings of the British body, would provide this opportunity.

June 19 1974

The 1974 Willwood Lecture, organised by the Republic of Ireland branch of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, took place at UCD (Belfield) on May 16. The lecturer was Dr John Hawthorne, who is head of the Department of Food Science at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The topic was the supply of food in the world, with particular reference to manufacturing commodities.

This Willwood Lecture is one element in a broad programme of sponsorship of research operated by the firm of Williams and Woods ltd.

I quote the abstract: 'Man is a recent biological invention, civilisation is a recent human invention, science is a recent by-product of civilisation, and over-population an unwitting by-product of science. Throughout human history food supply has been uncertain. A stable food supply is now a possibility, but only in the context of a stable population.....the ultimate limit is set by energy availability.....(which)...sets an impregnable barrier through which civilisation cannot pass....'

The population increase can be expressed as a 'doubling time'. In the ancient civilisations this was 1500 years; now it is 35 years. Dr Hawthorne made an effort to balance the energy budget on solar energy alone; this amounts to 10 to the power of 18 kilocalories per annum. Taking into account the conversion efficiencies for energy to food via the photosynthetic process in the sea (0.3%) and on land (5%) this reduces the available energy by a factor of about 100(14). A human needs about a million Kcals per annum to survive. This gives a maximum equilibrium population of the globe of about 10 to the power of 10 people, or an uncomfortably close factor of three above the present level.

We are, of course, forging ahead rapidly up to and beyond this equilibrium level with the aid of fossil fuels. At a population of 16 billion (in the year 2030, on present trends) 22% of all arable land will be urbanised.

Dr Hawthorne made, in effect, an unanswerable case for (a) population control by conscious organised means (b) a strictly conservationist approach to the use of raw materials and energy. He outlined some principles such as waste recycling, long-lived durables (instead of built-in obsolescence), low-grade heat to fuel biological systems, nitrogen fixation adapted directly to cereals, etc.

He criticised on principle the attempt to obtain protein by fermentation of petroleum. It seems incredible that people should have been so short-sighted as to initiate work in this field(15) in the 'cheap oil' days, yet in fact considerable effort was devoted to this, producing animal-feed supplement. There is scope, however, for producing yeasts as protein sources from waste starch liquors, and various effluents which currently poison our rivers.

(A scholarship was offered to the student who submitted the best paper on a topic of relevance to the food industry; this would enable them to attend the World Congress in Madrid, on which they would have to report back......)

October 16 1974

The 20th European Meeting of Meat Research Workers took place on September 15-20 in Dublin....involving about 300 participants from 32 countries, including the USA, the USSR and the UK. It was a top-grade international event, with simultaneous translations into French, German and Russian.

...The rapporteur system was employed, the problem-areas being broadly mapped out and reviewed by a competent researcher in each of 16 cases; the actual papers were printed in proceedings which were available in the original languages, with abstracts in translation.

The principal organiser on the Irish side were Dr Robin Joseph and Dr T F Hood of AFT Dunsinea, and Dr J V McLoughlin of TCD.

The 16 rapportages were grouped into four main groupings: (a)the stress syndrome and meat quality (b)nitrites and nitrosamines in processes meats (c)packaging fresh and cured meat (d)refrigeration, freezing and thawing. Within these broad groupings, the rapporteurs dealt with more precise areas like muscle biochemistry (Professor McLoughlin) quality of chilled and frozen meat (Dr Joseph) and metabolism of meat in the package (Dr Hood). I pick out the Irish rapportages as indicative of the fact that as a result of the work of AFT we are not short of people who are eminent on the international network and who are listened to with respect.....

All three rapportages were closely related to the quality control question. It is however remarkable that although we are internationally eminent for quality control science in the meat field, we are distinguished by having the weakest quality control legislation of any European country....

....There is room for substantial spending on QC R&D; a 1% evy would raise 1.32M pounds; this if appropriately spend would go a long way towards giving Irish meat a pre-eminent world market position, and liberating it from its present absurd status as a major component of the intervention stockpile. The development of an effective R&D system to absorb funds on this scale is one key task for the new National Board for Science and Technology(16)....

...One possible model for such a system would be a centre based at Dunsinea which would stand in a similar relation to the meat industry as IIRS does to industry in general, providing standards, trouble-shooting and sponsored research in confidence to the sponsor. It should hive off its more basic work to the colleges, and should be funded in such a way as to make its own decisions what to put out (ie without NBST being involved as a third party in the sanctioning).

The colleges engaged in the meat research should be feeding graduates both into Dunsinea and into quality control in the meat factories. To complete the manpower flow, the Institute should be feeding senior people into management positions in industry. All this is beginning to happen, on a small scale. It needs to be speeded up and adequately financed.

To return to the meat conference: the typical composition of the national delegation was about 70% industry, 20% meat research institute and 10% university. The fact that the Irish participants conformed to this statistic is a positive sign; the industry is alive and prepared to come to conferences. The question now is whether it will be sufficiently impressed to want to accept an R and D levy.

As regards the content of the conference: I only witnessed about 15% of the proceedings, in particular the discussions on the stress syndrome. On stress in transport there seemed to be little agreement on whether a rest period at the end of the journey was a good thing or not. In the USSR, where the mean distance is over 1000 km, they have an obligatory rest-period of 24 hours. On the other hand, a lady from Denmark said that the longer you hold them, the worse they get. So there seems to be a need for some basic work on animal psychology(17).

Another interesting statistic which emerged was a 0.13% mortality rate for pigs in transport when not insured, compared to 0.46% when insured. Maybe it is human psychology we should be studying.

On the use of electricity for stunning animals before slaughter, there seemed to be as many practices as there were delegates. Some used DC, other used high-frequency AC, others again ordinary 50Hz AC. Experiments were reported which varied the frequency and measured various post-mortem qualities. No-one appeared to be worried about trifles like voltage or current. It seemed to me, as an outsider, that there was scope for research into the basics of what was going on, under controlled conditions, so as to get in behind the various recipes.

However, I do not want to give the impression that it was all a shambles; the proceedings show a considerable volume of good-quality work, and I regret that in a feature like this I cannot do it justice. ....The function of conferences is to expose and isolate the unknown areas, and in this case, due to the intelligent use of the rapporteur system, the conference succeeded admirably....

November 8 1974

My apologies to Dr M J Clancy, who headed the list of rapporteurs at the meat prominently that I did not see him. This brings to four the number of Irish-based rapporteurs at this important international event. Dr Clancy covered in his review paper a range of topics relating to the conversion of feed to meat. The paper is for specialists, but I bring out two points of general interest:

1. The observation of H M Gunn and A S Davis of the Edinburgh Veterinary School that the transverse area of the muscle 'longissimus dorsi' goes up with the 2/3 power of the weight. This suggests to me a rather basic physical law relating strength with surface area and volume(18).

2. Dr Clancy's own observation of the problems likely to be met with in intensive feed-lots. To develop healthy muscle requires excercise.

Muscle laid down under sedentary conditions tends to be different; in pigs there is evidence that stress due to conditions of rearing and transport gives rise to a meat quality known as 'pale, soft, exudative' (PSE).

I detect here the beginnings of a reaction against current intensive practices which stems from objective quality measures.


The 20th Conference of European Meat Researchers....was haunted by the irrationalities of the economic environment in which it took place. Let me dwell on this aspect, briefly....

The background to the problem is the increasing world food shortage. This is reflected, in the distorting mirror of the market, into a demand for various commodities. Humans require certain rather variable proportions of energy, protein and vitamins.

Most foods contain some proportion of each of these components, but industrial processing tampers with the the extent that bread, for example, once a good protein-source, is now practically devoid of that valuable commodity. The wheat germ, extracted at the mills, is fed to pigs, converting ultimately into pigmeat, though with some losses..

Ruminants (cattle, sheep, rabbits) can convert grass-protein into meat; the former is not digestible or palatible for humans, the latter is. Thus the pig is parasitic on food-sources which would be quite acceptable for humans, while ruminants increase the supply of food available by converting grass.

The problem is that in the wealthy countries dominated by the market economy, human food is fed to animals, including ruminants (powdered skim-milk is another commodity thus abused, by the way); these are fattened at high cost, to sell at an artificially maintained price that the consuming public can decreasingly afford to pay. The consequence of this is the 'meat mountain' in cold storage.......

There is one possible solution: let the EEC go over to free world trade in meat, keeping in existence the intervention principle to smooth out seasonal effects by intelligent trade-off between storage on the hoof and in the freezer. Fix the level of intervention such that it is economic to feed cattle on grass but not on grain. Give New Zealand and the Argentine a fair deal, along with Ireland.

This would represent the EEC analogue of the 'cheap food policy' adopted by Britain with the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1830s. The then level of British urbanisation was about what the overall EEC level is about now.

The question then arises how to subsidise agriculture. Given that volume-based subsidies on commodities are positively harmful (as the big producers rush in and generate 'mountains'), it is necessary to consider whether direct subsidies to agricultural marketing systems, or to farm management systems, or farm labour, or even farm family allowances, would not be more appropriate.

The world is going to have to learn to modify its nutrition patterns, eat more high-protein vegetable products, and to remain content with grass-fed beef. Why make soya-bean protein into unpalatable pseudo-meats? Why not just get people to eat more beans? And why feed grain to ruminants, who don't need it, rather than to people, who do?

April 8 1975

...The food industry is ...ill-served by science in Ireland. Its problems fall between the IIRS and AFT.

A Directory giving access to who knows about what, and in which of possible 16 locations, would help to bridge this gap(19). Five thousand pounds would be chickenfeed to an industry which is turning over hundreds of millions per annum.....

I referred recently (20) to the problem of winter milk supply, warning of the danger if scarcity, and coupling it with the problem of rancidity in butter. This is one example of an important sector of the food industry which is in serious danger because of the failute of science, technology and management to interact creatively.

On March 3 the Industrial and Services Catering Association sponsored a seminar on 'Nutrition in Modern Catering'; in this Mrs Marlene Proctor called upon the Minister for Industry and Commerce to follow up the Food Standards Act of 1974 with the necessary ministerial orders regulating food quality, composition, hygiene, labelling etc.

The nutritional problems in this allegedly well-fed island, due to ignorance of food composition and dietary principles, were outlined by Madeleine A McKenna, who is Secretary of the Irish Dietetic Association.

All the above are problem areas in the applied life sciences; all fall into the gap between the IIRS and AFT potentially covered by the Life Sciences Directory; none is significantly touched upon in the first edition. It will be interesting to see if the academics will rise to the problem, and if industry can be persuaded to believe in them to the extent of supplying some financial support.

May 27 1975

The March/April issue of Farm and Food Research, published by AFT, is to hand. I have for some time been critical of the apparent lack of national attention to the question of food quality and nutrition, with its division between the two main applied-research centres. FFR illustrates this: of nine features, only one relates to food quality from the angle of the industrial process.

This is on the development of electronic counting methods for bacterial colonies on agar plates, an important piece of work carried out jountly between the AFT Moorepark (Michael Fleming), Waterford Co-op and Orme Engineering(21). I have seen this instrument at work and feel it is likely to have a wide application throughout to food industry, wherever routine bacterial counts are done.

The 'front-end' of the instrument can be either a Foss Biomatic or a Fisher Automatic electronic optical scanning system. The 'back-end' as developed between Moorepark and Dungarvan, is a device for plating-out the samples automatically. The system, with either 'front-end', is superior to traditional hand plating followed by counting by an observer by eye. Both tasks are tedious and obvious candidates for automation.

How is the food industry supposed to know about this, if it is lost in a sea of genetics, pastures, animal-feed regimes, etc, as it is in FFR?

There is a gap here to be filled and the IIRS is not (yet) doing it.. I know from first-hand experience that the processing end of the dairy industry, if it is in trouble, feels it has nowhere to turn; the IIRS is all right if it is boiler trouble, and Moorepark is all right if it is at the farm level. The tendency is to turn to UCC, which turns out the dairy science graduates, but is not really geared up to provide the necessary industrial trouble-shooting service. I therefore welcome this Dungarvan-Moorepark development as a pointer to what is needed. But where do we go from here?

As regards the question of free fatty acids in milk, and the seasonality question, which I treated in some depth in this feature on March 25, there has since been a heavy silence. No-one has written in to say that I was talking rubbish, despite the provocative headline (not mine, by the way!): 'Rancid Butter and Rationed Milk?'(4).

June 6 1976

I listened to Barry Symington, a major New Zealand refrigeration engineering contractor, giving his point of view of the meat and dairying industry in New Zealand. The seminar was organised by Hall-Thermotank (Ireland) ltd, and chaired by the Managing Director, Liam Lalor.

The participants subsequently pulled the discussion away from the engineering and towards the biochemistry: factors making for meat quality in the process of killing and chilling. It could have been an Institute of Food Science and Technology seminar. This suggests to me that there is an unfulfilled demand for problem-solving in the general area of food quality, and that there ought to be more money spend on food R&D: 0.09% of turnover spent on R and D in the meat industry is a disastrous level, especially when associated with the complacent way in which the industry is prepared to produce and sell into intervention, without serious attempt at quality upgrading or marketing. The brewers spend 2.2% of turnover on R&D. (These figures are from Dr Downey's paper to the Institute of Food Science and Technology on May 5; see below.)

I would have preferred to see the post-seminar discussion referred to another place, and the attention concentrated on the energy question. Hall-Thermotank is an old-established firm in heat-pump technology. Despite the rising energy costs, it appears that they still design their installations to pump heat from the cold-store away into the atmosphere. This problem was touched upon in the discussion, cursorily. It should have been high on the agenda. A 300 HP heat-pump could generate close on a megawatt of low-grade heat, for which profitable applications can nearly always be found, ranging from pre-heating a boiler-feed to heating an acre of glasshouse.....

Returning now to the IFST seminar touched on above: there were a number of disquieting facts brought out in Dr Liam Downey's paper.

Although the volume output increase for dairy produce in the last decade has been spectacular, relative to the rest of agriculture, it is well behind the overall industrial aaverage. This increase is however dependent on the use of the EEC intervention system as if it were a market.

If political pressure from the urban consumers continues to mount, the days of CAP are numbered. Consumers and taxpayers will not stand for mountains of unconsumed meat and skim powder produced at their expense. France and Ireland between them account for 60% of the beef mountain, Ireland being no 2 in the league in absolute volume terms. The Irish contribution to intervention skim is only 5%, but this accounts for 45% of Irish production.

Despite this, beef and milk production is being encouraged. No attention yet appears to be given to the need to adapt products to demand, to carry out proper quality control, new product development, market research etc. This can only be implemented if backed by an exhaustive programme in food R and D, together with the development of new products of high quality on the home market.

Gastronomy is an art to be cultivated, in this last reservoir of high-quality unadulterated food in Europe.

Annual EEC expenditure on food R&D is some 250M pounds. Irish expenditure, at 1% of this, is the lowest in the league, occupying only 50 full-time graduate staff, two-thirds of whom work in centres which by European standards are sub-viable. The expenditure on meat research, at 0.03M pounds, is derisory.

Professor Tom Allen, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has just completed a study(22) which he suggests that only 2% of the problem-solving contacts for Irish industry relate to the State research institutes (only 1% relate to the universities), while 79% of new ideas come from other firms and 63% from firms abroad.

Thus our industry is derivative and dependent to a disastrous extent, at a time when two staple exports are building intervention mountains with unmarketable material of dubious quality.

(There follows a summary of milk continuity of supply problem discussed at length in Chapter 4.4 (Agriculture) on March 25.)

Dr Downey calls for the establishment of food quality control units responsible to the consumer, and a campaign to develop a range of high-quality products to replace the export of carcase beef and skim powder which are feeding the intervention mountains. Perhaps if those in control of investment decisions take heed we can convert Ireland into the gastronomic capital of Europe. The alternative is to hand our land and assets over to those who will do it for us, to their advantage rather than ours.....

September 28 1976

...There are two publications which serve the needs of the industry with the results of such food R and D as exists: Farm and Food Research (FFR), published bi-monthly by AFT, and Food Progress (FP), also bi-monthly, published jointly by IIRS and AFT.

Taking first FFR, the two latest issues contain articles which may be classified as follows: 11 articles of interest to farmers outlining research results relating to production technology, 4 articles on marketing topics of interest to both farmers and food processors, and 1 article on meat-processing technology.

All articles were outputs from research done in Ireland.

In contrast, the two issues of FP in the corresponding period contained one article relating to indigenous research, one review article and one process technology script(23). The remainder was taken up with abstracts culled from the world literature.

FP would be of greater use to processors if all processor-orientated material were to be concentrated in it; at present the all-too-meagre food research output is split between the two periodicals.

The present format and frequency of FP would not however lend itself even to this modest degree of expansion.

In the meantime, the industry sees no strong centre of know-how to which it can turn, and is dependent to a large extent on copying its competitors innovations after an appropriate lag-time.....

November 2 1976

(I welcome the publication of) Technological Supports for the Food Industry, by Dr W K Downey and M J Brennan.... This is likely to be controversial, as it highlights the danger of being over dependent on the EEC intervention system for sale of inferior products of variable quality from a monoculture system.

The variability of the quality of the inputs to the productive system in Ireland should imply greater need for R&D than in the EEC; despite this, the expenditure is substantially less, and is especially low in meat. Brewing is the honourable exception.

There is a serious imbalance between expenditure on R&D in agricultural production and in food processing. In the latter area, the R and D is producer-orientated, to the extent that agricultural production priorities are adopted without reference to the needs of the consumer, the marketing system or the food industry.

An extreme example of this is the failure to tackle effectively the problem of continuity of supply and standardisation of quality of creamery milk, despite the fact that producers are receiving an EEC-dictated price-level which relates to a commodity which on the Continent and in Britain is supplied at only a slightly varying rate throughout the year.

The obsession of the Irish agricultural community with matching the supply of milk to the growth of grass rather than to the needs of the people has closed us off from the quality end of the dairy produce spectrum, and has also inflicted a highly seasonal pattern on the meat-producers. Dairy produce has become a disposal operation, feeding the EEC mountains, much of the skim powder ending up, criminally, as animal feed.

This publication should be a mine of material for those in the food-processing industry who see the future in terms of continuity of supply, and upgraded quality....

As a further example of lack of focus, let me refer to the August 1976 issue of the Irish Journal of Agricultural Research. Tucked away among single-suckled beef production, early grass growth using giberillic acid and eight other farmer-orientated reports are three industrial papers: shelf-life of vacuum-packed bacon, power demand variations in churning and preparation of dried casein samples for bacteriological analysis.

This type of stuff should be lifted out of the agricultural environment and put into an Irish Journal of Food Technology, where it belongs.

Perhaps the Downey-Brennan Report will help to get some strong focus for food science established, and to bring an end to inter-institutional dispersion of effort, accompanied by pseudo-cooperative rituals.

November 23 1976

On November 8 the Minister for Agriculture turned the first sod at AFT Dunsinea for the building to house the new Meat Research Unit, which will include capacity for slaughter, chilling, biopsy and surgery, as well as the means of evaluating various packaging systems.

In honour of the occasion, the September/October issue of FFR is devoted in its entirety to the task of summarising the current 'state of the art' in meat science and technology.....

Those who have wondered why an industry based on the preparation of pre-packaged cuts has not replaced the export of carcases will find in this the definitive summary of the technological problems attendant on such an excercise. This is not to say that the task is insurmountable, given an industry which is capable of applying the results of research, and managing the process at an appropriately high level of quality control.


The 1975 Annual Report of AFT is now available. The trend is into closer association with the productive and marketing State bodies, as well as the Universities. One example of this process is the Bord Bainne product development laboratory which is situated at Moorepark, although the emphasis in the latter AFT centre is still on making the best of the highly seasonal and variable quality supply of milk, and converting it into an acceptable product that can be stored, rather than tackling the premium product market.

There appears to be an increasing interest in off-flavours (free fatty acids etc). There are those who hold (myself among them) that there is a case for revising this policy and looking at the question from another angle: what do we need to do to establish Irish milk, butter, cheese etc as premium products available fresh on the European market throughout the year?

Would there be enough financial gain in such a policy to finance the maintenance of continuity of supply, introducing a proportion of October calving specialists, and conserving more fodder....?

The present conventional wisdom gives 'no' for the answer. There is a growing body of opinion that thinks otherwise, predicting disaster for the traditional policy, which condemns a high proportion of dairy produce to intervention status, with ultimate disposal for animal feed, a disgraceful nlot on the record of the European 'rich man's club' in a situation of increasing world food shortage.

The increasing preoccupation of AFT Moorepark with free fatty acids may be a sign of recognition of the problem, though at the level of seeking a 'technological fix' that will postpone the day of reckoning.....


1. An independent attempt to develop a market for Erin Foods (the Irish Sugar Company food subsidiary) abroad ran into difficulties, so that it was considered safer to do a deal with Heinz, thus gaining access to a ready-made marketing system. But see below (6/3/74).

2. There is a reference to this on 5/8/70 in Chapter 1.1 (Science, Technology and the State).

3. See Chapter 3.2 (Chemistry and Process Engineering) on 30/9/70.

4. This problem, and several consequential ones, is examined in greater depth in Chapter 4.4 (Agriculture) on 25/3/75.

5. The process for the preservation of pigmeat as bacon and ham is an Irish invention of the late 18th century. We should make this an important component of the projected upgrading of our gastronomic image. There is a hint of this beginning, with 'Limerick Ham' explicit on top-grade hotel menus.

6. The problem of developing a mastery of independent scientific technology in 3rd-world countries is only beginning to be recognised. Most aspects have been experienced by the Irish. Here we see the problem from another angle: an old-established Irish firm, now a multinational, engaged in doing R and D for a 3rd-world subsidiary in the laboratories of the Irish parent-firm. The Irish scientific community rightly complain of this type of policy on the part of multinationals in general; it is a major factor in retarding technological independence.

7. Professor Geoghegan holds the UCD Chair of Industrial Microbiology, which is supported by Bord na Mona (the Peat Development Board).

8. The Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS) has organisational continuity with the old Association of Scientific Workers, founded in the 1930s by J D Bernal, C F Powell and others, in the classical tradition of left-wing political trade-unionism. The Scientific Staffs Branch of ASTMS in Ireland includes the staffs of AFT, IIRS and DIAS.

9. At this time the lore among the AFT staff was that if one became dependent on industrial revenue, State support would be cut in proportion. The development of this attitude was based on valid negative experience of the Civil Service decision-process, which lacked any effective 'science policy' component.

10. The Ministers for Finance and Industry/Commerce in the then Fianna Fail government. See below (6/3/74) for further echoes.

11. The corresponding Ministers in the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

12. The writer was instrumental in introducing the ITGWU branch secretary to several key concerned members of the staffs of AFT Oakpark and the Regional College of Technology.

13. Dr Murray in 1982 was with the Business Studies Department of the University of Dublin (Trinity College).

14. I think these figures are somewhat optimistic; the energy crop people talk of 3% as the target of a breeding programme.

15. This work has after all proved useful, in that it is in principle possible to produce animal feed from residual oil, on the return journey of oil tankers with fresh-water ballast, the latter being then available for irrigation of the desert.

16. This in the end did not get set up until 1978!

17. I can't help thinking that there are lessons to be learned from the way that the Jews were persuaded quietly to go into the gas chambers, thinking that they were showers; the thought makes me contemplate the vegetarian philosophy with a degree of interest. In any case, in these times of increasing world protein scarcity, we should be only converting to meat those vegetable proteins which are not directly consumable by humans. This philosophy would rule out the modern industrially-produced pig, which animal would then revert to its traditional role as scavenger. We would, however, be left our beef, but reduced in quantity, as cattle would be confined to land which was not arable, or if blended into an arable area would be in a proportion such as to maximise the overall production efficiency of the mixture; there would probable be a draft component in the output of the cattle population, as energy costs from fossil fuels rise.

18. This, together with the previous remarks on electricity as a stunning agent, reinforce my feeling (outlined in Chapter 5.3) that there is a role here for the physicist.

19. See Chapter 5.2 (Scientific and Technological Information) on this date for remarks on the Life Sciences Directory, to which the following comments also relate.

20. See Chapter 4.4 (Agriculture) on March 25 of this year. 21. This small firm was started by an innovative mechanical engineer who resigned from a 'safe' job to develop the enterprise. It subsequently went into effluent monitoring systems, using an ultrasonic level-detecting device developed in Trinity College. However it lacked the resources to develop and maintain an innovative system in the field, and the firm subsequently foundered. Its history would make a good case-study for identifying the factors inhibiting innovation in Ireland; see Chapter 3.3.

22. Most of the comment on the Allen material is to be found in Chapter 1.2 (Structures and Institutions).

23. Quality of washed lamb carcases, sweeteners and retorts (respectively).

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1998