First Biotech Food Approved in UK & US
by Brenda Watson
Member of the Guild of Food Writers

The first genetically red food has gone on sale in British shops - making biotechnology big news and, potentially, big business. The first commercially available product, tomato puree, has been developed by a bit biotechnology team from Zeneca using a specially researched slow-ripening tomato.

This tomato puree/paste is the first product to gain approval for food use in both the United Kingdom and the United States. And it claims to be cheaper than the equivalent made from conventional tomatoes.

Supermarket Labelling
The UK Government's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) and the Food Advisory Committee (FAC) have both approved its use without any special labelling requirements, However, supermarkets selling the new tomato products are voluntarily using the labelling "produced with genetically modified tomatoes ''as a way of providing consumer information. So far, the genetically modified (GM) tomatoes have not yet been approved for sale in Britain.

British scientists are also claiming to have made the world's first beer produced gene technology. This has been approved for sale but it is not yet being Produced in sufficient quantities. The beer, Nutfield Lyte, is a low-calorie product that contains about 1% more alcohol (by volume) than beer made with unmodified yeast. Produced by the Brewing Research Foundation International, it uses a GM brewer's yeast that carries an extra gene that helps break down the large sugar molecules (dextrins), which natural yeast cannot degrade, releasing glucose that the yeast ferments into alcohol. Brewers are considering whether to invest in commercial production.

The first approval of a GM food product: anywhere in the world was Gist-brocades' baker's yeast that was cleared for food use in the UK in March 1990. This yeast produces carbon dioxide more quickly than conventional baker's yeast by using genes from a sister strain, resulting in production of around 30% more carbon dioxide during dough fermentation than normal.

Gist-brocades' two UK sites are in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and Aintree, Liverpool. The former, which produces both cream and compressed yeast, is the only UK site and one of just three in the world that makes baker's yeast. Specialist bread and confectionery ingredients are supplied from Liverpool.

'Genetic' Oils
Approval has also been granted in Britain for use of oils made from GM oil seed rapes and GM soya and for the replacement of the cattle-based enzyme, chymosin, in cheese production. Inevitably there is controversy over new and untried food ingredients but time and money has been invested worldwide in the quest for techniques that produce items quicker and enable more people to eat at reasonable cost.

In Britain, Zeneca is responsible for a new food ingredient that has already gained considerable success. Its subsidiary, Marlow Foods, manufactures and markets Quorn myco-protein, a food that is high in protein and low in fat.

Quorn comes from a plant . In its initial development considerable expertise was required to create the right controlled environment to grow Quorn quickly. This was provided by Zeneca, working in conjunction with Rank Hovis McDougall (which had the original idea 25 years ago to develop a protein food grown from cereal).

Adaptable Quorn
Officially approved for sale in 1985, Quorn is vegetable in origin and has a light savoury taste that blends easily with the f1avours of herbs, spices and sauces it is cooked with. This makes it suitable for use in many varieties of dishes from classic casseroles and spicy curries, to stir-fries and traditional favourites like shepherd's pie.

In the last five years, more than 60 million has been invested in the production of Quorn. In the UK and Europe it is available chilled and frozen in a number of variants; a new generation of Quorn based further-processed foods includes burgers, sausages, kievs, stir-fry meat-style products, and frozen crispy and crunchy fillets (coated grills).

Cleverly anticipated consumer demand for healthy/vegetarian/convenience foods led to the development of Quorn and it was a similar use of forward thinking and technology that created another British success story. The century-old malting company, Edme, has now become an exporter of malted food ingredients to the food, bakery, and drinks industries in over 35 different countries worldwide.

Having increased exports by around 400% in the past decade it is now expanding into the wider markets of North America, Canada, the former USSR and South-East Asia. The company processes not only barley, but wheat, rye and oats into natural and healthy high-performance ingredients targeted to specific industry requirements.

Malty Flavours
Examples of its expertise in food ingredients, which satisfy the demands of today's market place, include the extracts of Clarimalt, Flavymalt, and Clearmalt - that add a natural and healthy image to a wide spectrum of foods - and malt flours that add flavour and colour with low diastasic (enzyme) activity.

Ryamax and Crystone were introduced in 1995. The former is used at 1%-3% of flour weight for rye and specialty breads to enhance flavour and texture; the latter for brown and wholemeal baked goods at up to 5% of flour weight to provide excellent malty flavour with moderate colour.

Allied Mills' famous Castleford Mill has now become the largest stonegrinding mill in the world producing 100% stoneground flour. Its new bakery flours, Allinson Wholemeal and Allinson Barleymill, were launched in 1995. A selection of bread, rolls and scones made with Allinson Barleymill flour from Allied Mills, UK is pictured above.

Allied is also one of Britain's leading manufacturers of premixes. This range includes a brand-new Continental Specialty Mix - suitable for specialty doughs including brioche, panettone, and Danish pastries - and Erin's Pride Irish Wholemeal Soda Bread Mix.

With governments promoting the value of staple foods such as bread, bakery companies are one of the food industry's most innovative sectors today.

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