Professor Dolores O’Riordan
Director, UCD Institute of Food and Health
Leading scientists in Ireland are behind food research that helps industry, promotes better health and wellness, protects the environment and boosts food security and safety.
The food sector is facing a perfect storm. Demand for food is rising, yet we live in a world of finite resources with major issues including climate change and food waste. More sustainable, healthy diets are needed if we are to protect our environment, health and wellbeing; but with costs spiralling, consumers resort to buying less nutritious food with all of its related health implications.
Ongoing food research in Ireland to secure future health
The UCD Institute of Food and Health — based in University College Dublin — is dedicated to finding answers to these seemingly insurmountable problems by delivering scientific research that informs national and international policy, improves health and helps future-proof the global food systems.
The university’s experts — ranging from food scientists, nutritionists and food engineers to social scientists, mathematicians and computer scientists — also work with the food industry, enabling companies in the sector to be more competitive. Plus, the Institute trains researchers, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to secure food systems for the future.
Research that keeps the consumer at its heart
“In many ways, the challenges we face make this the most exciting time to be working in the field of food and health research,” says Professor Dolores O’Riordan, Director of the UCD Institute of Food and Health.
“We always remember to keep the consumer at the heart of our research by answering key questions: How do we keep society healthy and food-secure? How can we ensure economic viability for all of society, while protecting the environment?”
In all of its investigations, the Institute takes a holistic view of the food chain. It considers activities from farm to fork — the production of food, through to its processing, distribution and consumption — while considering the implication of food waste at each stage.
“The integration of actors involved in the food chain is complex,” admits Professor O’Riordan. “However, our experts have a deep understanding of every part of the food chain.” Connecting all of this expertise has the power to deliver first-class scientific solutions.
Finding solutions to global problems
means reaching out to global partners.
Healthier diets that fit consumer preferences
Part of the Institute’s vision is to make scientific discoveries that ensure food and nutrition security. “It’s not enough to ensure people have food,” says Professor O’Riordan. “It must also meet their dietary needs; and it has to be safe, nutritious and fit their food preferences.’’
The developed world is in a good position in terms of safe and sufficient food. One of the problems we face in Western society is the overconsumption of food, leading to obesity and all of its associated health issues.” To counter this, the Institute is involved with a range of projects, including one that promotes the development of oats as a healthy food product and a climate-resistant crop in Wales and Ireland.
Opportunities for change along the food chain
A pressing challenge in the developing world — alongside consistent food supply — is a lack of good quality protein and micronutrients. “As a university, we collaborate on issues like these with universities from all over the world because there are important learnings we can take from each other,” says Professor O’Riordan. “Finding solutions to global problems means reaching out to global partners.”
The pandemic made us more aware of the importance of food security and healthy eating. “This provides an opportunity for behavioural change along the food chain,” says Professor O’Riordan. “Farmers need to adapt their practices to ensure they are more environmentally friendly and encourage biodiversity. Processors need to be more energy-efficient and offer nutritious foods. Consumers must also adopt more sustainable diets to look after their health and wellbeing. Meanwhile, the Institute will do all it can to support change by continuing to produce science that can be translated into real-world impact.”