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Canadian industrial and university dairy research in a global context

Canadian industrial and university dairy research in a global context

Food Research International 26 (1993) 151-155 FORUM Food Research International welcomes material concerned with issues raised by published articles ...

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Food Research International 26 (1993) 151-155

FORUM Food Research International welcomes material concerned with issues raised by published articles or by recent developments in food sciences. Material should usually be supported by reference to published work

Canadian industrial and university dairy research in a global context* P. Jelen Department of Food Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2PS

INTRODUCTION

STATE OF INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH

The objectives of this presentation were not to evaluate the quality of the Canadian dairy research and compare it to some ideal international standards; nor was it to lament the lack of research spending in Canada in comparison to the rest of the industrialized world; and certainly not to argue the case of underfunding of Canadian universities in general and for dairy research in particular. The last two points are notoriously popular subjects of various presentations and studies concerning almost any research field in Canada, while attempts to evaluate research quality can be a futile exercise of personal egos. Thus, the aim was to share with the audience some perhaps unorthodox views regarding contributions of Canadian universities to the industrial research capability in Canada and to offer a few perhaps unorthodox alternatives to the usual cries for more money from the government. The focus of the discussion was not the academictype research per se, but rather the processing-type research, relevant to industrial exploitation for development of new products, ingredients or processes. For comparison, several randomly selected international examples were used, based on recent personal experience.

It is no secret that research carried out by the dairy industry in Canada is very limited. In the last edition of the Inventory of Cun~dian Agricultural Research (ICAR, 1990) the figure for research carried out by ‘Private industries/mstitutions’ in the area of food/human nutrition is given as 13.2% in comparison to 50.1% for universities and about 37% for the Government sector. This is comparable to figures from other disciplines (data not shown) and to the average for all agricultural disciplines as shown in Table 1. Given that the nature of the university, as well as the basic government research is usually not oriented to practical and immediate industrial needs, it should not come as a great surprise to find, in the conclusions from a 1989 study on ‘Dairy research in Canada’ by the Dairy Bureau of Canada (Mills, 1989) that ‘. . . Canada was well behind in dairy research and processing research . . .‘; that ‘. . . other countries were

Table 1. Canadian agricultural research activities as a percentage of total person years reported (source: ICAR, 1990) Function/ discipline

*Based on the Dairy Technology Group Symposium presentation during the CIFST Conference, Ottawa, Ontario, 3 June, 1992. Food Research International 0963-9969/93/$06.00 0 1993 Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology 151

Federal government incl. NRC

Provincial government

Universities

Private industries/ institutions

Engineering

20.4

8.8

45.1

25.7

Food/human nutrition

33.0

3.7

50.1

13.2

Average (all disciplines)

39.5

6.0

43.3

11.1

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P. Jelen

much more aggressive in product and processing research . . .’ and that ‘. . . there is need for more communication between researchers and the dairy industry . . .‘. In view of the frequency with which such laments are being heard, it is tempting to question the need for such a formal study; however, its very existence should now be useful as a basis for corrective action. The clear trend in the world is towards industrial research being done by the industry. This, of course, presumes that the industry is strong and well equipped for the research, both in terms of the research facilities and, perhaps more importantly, in terms of trained personnel. Some of the recent international developments illustrate this trend well: the closure of the Danish National Dairy Research Centre in Hillerod, due to the MD Company controlling about 70% of the Danish Dairy industry and possessing a significant capability for in-house research; the ongoing ‘raids’ on the experienced research personnel from the Dutch Dairy research organization NIZO by the more and more powerful Dutch dairy concerns such as the DMV Campina Melkunie; the process research capabilities of the Nestle concern with several of their RECOs (research companies) devoted to specific and systematic investigations into traditional or new dairy technologies (e.g. the Francereco in Lissieux, France, where dedicated pilot-scale process lines are devoted to research for optimization of fresh cheese and yogurt manufacture, or Koreco in Konolfingen, Switzerland, where a new packaging system for aseptic filling of liquids into glass bottles with aluminum-i foil has been developed and patented recently); or the significant expansion of the research groups in the Union Latiere Normande in France several years ago, in advanced anticipation of the new economic realities of the United Europe. Applied industrial research can even be done ‘on the go’ such as seen in the Valio concern in Finland where, in an experimental full-scale industrial cheese plant, each individual cheese-making trial is carried out with a research objective in mind, including starter strain testing, slight modifications in temperatures, process times, etc. Even smaller European processors comparable to Canadian-size firms (e.g. the Frischli company in Hannover, Germany) have at least one professional employed solely as the product and process development specialist. This person uses company facilities as well as contacts with available academic-type experts for developing new or improved products and processes within the company’s ‘strong suit’. In the case of Frischli this

means yogurt-type drinks and other aseptically packaged ‘market niche’ fluid products. In a similar company in Bochum, Germany, it means aseptically packaged puddings, dessert dairy products, yogurttype products made from true buttermilk, etc. In Canada, the one dairy company known for their attention to industrial research is AULT Foods. Considering the small scale of their centre in London, Ontario in comparison to the European industrial research centres mentioned above, their recent success with several new products that made international headlines should be considered very significant. Research efforts of other Canadian dairy companies, such as some of the cheese manufacturers in Quebec (Saputo, Granby Coop) are supported on an ongoing basis by the excellent facilities and personnel at the Agriculture Canada Food Processing Development Centre at St Hyacinthe, Quebec; however, not too many companies have the lwrury of capitalizing on such afortuitous location. In Calgary, under the new ownership, Palm Dairies have installed a new laboratory indicating plans to expand their research activities. However, as illustrated by these examples, the scale of applied industrial research in Canada is indeed minuscule in the global context.

STATE OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH There is nothing wrong with the dairy-oriented research being carried out at Canadian universities. According to Emmons (1990) there appears to be - at least on the surface - plenty of dairy research activity at most of the Canadian universities with food-related departments. The main universities with ongoing dairy research programs are listed in Table 2, developed from Emmons’ Table 2. Canadian universities with sustained dairy research activity University

Established research areas

Alberta

BST, listeria, whey, lactose, membrane processes, protein allergenicity, quarg, whey protein

BC Guelph

Whey protein, Ca bioavailability Ice cream, dairy cultures, casein micelles, milk microbiology, UHT, whey protein Technological processes (microparticulation, homogenization, heating), butter fat, membrane processes, listeria, cheese ripening, Ca absorption, protein hydrolysis, immobilized cell cultures, cheese yields Casein extrusion, infra-red analysis, milk protein polymorphism

Lava1

McGill

Canadian industrial and university dairy research in a global context

summary by selecting only those with some continuity and sustained publication activity. The listing of topics includes most of the current ‘buzzwords’ of contemporary dairy research: dairy protein hydrolysis, technological modifications (i.e. effects of heating, homogenization or microparticulation), membrane processing, lactose hydrolysis, accelerated cheese ripening, listeria, listeria, lysteria . . . While the main research subjects may be easily identified in terms of expertise of specific individuals, the particular research projects currently being carried out are more and more difficult to define as the ‘go where the money is’ syndrome of the Canadian university research is becoming more prevalent. This of course is in direct response to the scarcity of continued research funding without which University researchers cannot fulfil one of the main objectives of their ‘raison d’etre’ - to educate the new generation of researchers while expanding personal expertise and contributing to general advancement of knowledge. Yet it is the specialized expertise acquired in long-term research programs (for which universities and government research centres are particularly suitable) that is most beneficial for industrial needs. As plainly expressed by a specialist from the second largest Swedish dairy company Skane mejerier during his recent professional factfinding mission in Canada (Nielsen, R., 1992, pers. comm.): ‘. . . we would like to be able to go to authorities in individual subjects that know more than we do . . .’ Specialized expertise, available in a government research centre or at a university, can be an important component of industrial research. In Germany, a relatively small company (Molkerei Nordheide near Bremen) has enjoyed a significant marketing success with their single-serving sterile coffee cream due to the ongoing collaboration with the German Federal Dairy Research Centre in Kiel, especially capitalizing on the work of Dr W. Buchheim, internationally renowned expert in electron microscopy and food structure. The study of microstructural effects on the particle size and configuration led to development of a technological process and a quality control procedure which resulted in a much longer functional shelf-life of the final product. This was about 5 years before the ‘processing by technological means’, i.e. without additives, became the trend. Why is it that in Canada, where we have an equally renowned expert in Ottawa in Dr Kalab, the industry does not seem to be interested in doing the same? Another example common in Europe is

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collaboration with university experts in terms of ongoing research projects installed and operated directly in a processing plant (e.g. Dr Puhan’s project in Switzerland regarding industrial utilization of UF permeate in a Camembert cheese factory), or joint doctoral research projects carried out by industrial researchers enrolled for postgraduate studies (e.g. doctoral dissertations produced by employees of large dairy companies in Germany, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and elsewhere).

RESEARCH TRAINING

To be able to sustain the large-scale industrial research activity, the need for properly trained personnel is obvious. This is the main area where Canada is lagging behind the world. In the absence of technical and vocational high schools and the whole apprenticeship system common in the traditional dairying countries of Europe, the main training centres for education of dairy professionals are the colleges and the universities. The trend towards the general Food Science education (rather than the traditional dairy orientation) is a concern that has been expressed often in the National Dairy Council (NDC) and the International ‘Dairy Federation (IDF) circles, but seldom - if ever - has anything been done about it. This does not necessarily mean advocating the need for a separate dairy science degree, but rather developing a properly focused dairy specialization within the framework of a standard BSc program in Food Science. The general level of knowledge of a Canadian graduate from a 4-year standard university program is lower in comparison to the European schools. A personal perception of the situation, expressing the generalized ‘level of knowledge’ relative to the length of study, is illustrated in Figure 1. Postgraduate doctoral students in Canada and the USA tend to acquire at least as much specialized

Fig. 1. Relative effectiveness of university training patterns.

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knowledge as their European counterparts and often at a faster rate. This is where much of the Canadian university research is being carried out. However, these individuals usually do not end up being employed by the Canadian dairy industry. It is the MSc student and especially the graduating undergraduate that we should be concerned with in terms of providing at least some elementary aspects of research training. One of the clear deficiencies in our educational system is the lack of attention paid to undergraduate research experience. This is where many of the future industry managers could get their first - and sometimes the only - taste of independent research, finding out what research is all about. European educators confirm that independent graduation projects are considered by their students as a ‘second university’ in which they learn as much as in formal courses (Hostin, S., 1992, pers. comm.). In contrast, some Canadian university educators seem to consider undergraduate research to be ‘too demanding on time’, presumably not leaving enough for the academic-type research asked for - and rewarded - by the academic administrators as well as providers of research funds such as the NSERC. Why don’t we require a graduation project, thus giving all the graduating students a chance to do some independent research work (this does not necessarily mean laboratory research) and the industry a chance to submit problems that they would like to have considered? This could be one of the best avenues for increased university-industry cooperation that is clearly lacking in our dairy research; also, this could be a mechanism for getting additional research done without asking government for more money. Involving undergraduate students in industrial research training could include the international dimensions of IAESTE (International Association for Exchange of Students for Technical Experience), a mechanism that could be used also for the international dairy exchange proposed by the IDF. The recent guidelines for Food Science curricula formulated by the Institute of Food Technologists (which are followed by most Canadian Food Science programs) appear to be addressing this problem by including a ‘cap stone course’ as one of the program requirements.

CONCLUSIONS

With the rapidly changing economic realities of the world, communication between Canadian uni-

versities and the Canadian dairy industry must increase. The aims of a recent government study (Rennie, 1992) were to improve coordination of Canadian dairy research, facilitate linkages, foster more effective communication and maximize the use of resources. However, just talking alone will not solve the problem of the inertia in the industry which must become more aggressive in establishing research capabilities and/or seeking research partnerships to get the work done. Universities can provide technical support and personnel training, but they cannot make and sell the products. So what can we do to bring our industrial research to the world level? Here are a few suggestions that may not have been tried before: (1) We should stop talking to ourselves and start talking to administrators that can change things. We also should stop whining about the lack of government support because it won’t do us any good. Instead, we should try to convince the industry and/or the industrial organizations such as the Dairy Bureau of Canada (DBC) or the NDC or even the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) that funding of applied processing research is to the greater industrial benefit than trying to bamboozle the customer that cholesterol is good, bad or indifferent. (2) We should pay greater attention to the research training that is being provided by our universities for the future industrial leaders and we should find ways to communicate the needs to the university administrators. Maybe organizing a workshop-type meeting on the state of the Canadian Dairy Education would be a good way to start things moving. (3) We should have more dairy industry representatives on the NSERC and other committees making decisions about research funding. Alternatively - or in addition - we should find a way for establishing postgraduate scholarships specifically for dairy research. In this we should be realistic and pragmatic. The main portions of the research grants held by the University researchers are used for stipends for graduate students. Availability of meaningful annual scholarships (say $12 000 per year, rather than a $4000 one-shot award) would entice more Canadian students to do dairy research, irrespective of the success (or otherwise) of a professor in obtaining a research grant. This suggestion is directed particularly to the DBC and possibly Canadian National Committee of IDF.

Canadian

industrial and university

(4) While we should strive for long-term science-oriented research programs, we should not be ashamed of doing - and funding - applied, industrially relevant research at universities. This does not mean the quick product development-type projects with a few sensory trials and a paper at the end; it does mean, however, taking existing knowledge, perhaps expanding it, and applying it to solve problems hindering general industrial progress. There is something wrong with our system of research support when a request for continuation of an ongoing established program is criticized precisely on these grounds. It may be true, as the critique went on in this case, that ‘. . . few new scientific principles are likely to be established . . .‘. How-

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ever, at the present time, Canadian dairy industry needs pre-competitive research assistance or it may soon disappear, and then discoveries of new scientific principles will be of little help.

REFERENCES Emmons, D. B. (1990). Dairy research in Canada. Milchwissenschaft, 45, 555. ICAR (1990). Inventory of Canadian Agricultural Research. Agriculture Canada, Ottawa. Mills, B. L. (1989). Dairy research in Canada. Report for Dairy Bureau of Canada. Rennie, A. (1992). Strategy for dairy research and technology transfer in Canada. Discussion paper (draft). Agriculture Canada, Ottawa.