From cutting-edge precision nutrition products to high-tech regional food hubs, the new Future Food Systems CRC is set to transform the way Australia produces, adds value to and delivers food worldwide.

Imagine a future in which premium produce can be grown efficiently and sustainably, no matter what the climate, turned into in-demand value-added products, and exported safely and speedily into lucrative global markets via smart, sustainable food hubs located conveniently close to key food  production areas.

The Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), which launched in 2019 with a $35 million investment from the Federal Government and almost $150 million in cash and in-kind support from participants, aims to make all this a reality for Australia — within the next decade.

And Western Australia is set to play a key role in this exciting collaborative effort.

The new CRC is a 70-strong national consortium that includes large and smaller growers; start-ups and industry bodies; federal, state and local government agencies; and prestigious research institutions. Peel Development Commission, Transform Peel and Murdoch University are among its contingent of WA partners.

Size of the prize

The new CRC aims to play a significant role in achieving the federal government’s goal of near-doubling Australia’s ag-sector revenue over the coming decade.

“Australia has huge potential to become an export leader for trusted fresh food and advanced nutritional goods,” notes UNSW’s Professor Cordelia Selomulya, Research and Commercialisation Director of the CRC.

“By some estimates, agricultural products will soon overtake mining as our biggest export income.

“The CRC is ambitious because we don’t just want to focus on one aspect of food; we want to look at, and vastly improve the efficiencies of, the whole system.”

David Eyre, CEO of the CRC, says that increased collaboration across the supply chain and between industry, government, community and research bodies is critical to building scale in premium export markets.

“The future food systems we envisage will be joined up from farm to consumer with a high degree of transparency and trust, with farmers, processors, logistics firms, government regulators, all collaborating to deliver world-best nutrition and quality,” he explains.

“Other leading food nations have demonstrated that smart regional specialisation is key to both brand and premium — our research will help Peel, and other participant food hubs around Australia, zero in on market categories and goods their regions can most sustainably produce and build high-value markets for.

“Growing the right thing is not enough. The whole system and the enabling environment — planning schemes, transport, sustainable water and energy infrastructure, and so on — need to be aligned in ways that remove barriers to investment and support progressive firms in working together.”

Murdoch University and the new CRC

Collaboration is the name of the game, and the CRC’s research team is drawn from six universities, including WA’s Murdoch and The George Institute for Global Health at UNSW.

A trio of cutting-edge institutes on the Murdoch campus — Food Futures Institute; Health Futures Institute; and The Harry Butler Institute — will articipate in CRC research.

“Together, these institutes provide a unified story around the critically important nexus of food, health and the environment,” explains Professor David Morrison, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation at the university.

“The CRC is about creating better future food systems. You can’t produce good food without a good environment, and you can’t be healthy without good food.

“One of the great things about this CRC is how complementary the skillsets of its research teams are,” says Morrison. “We’re keen to build new coalitions to help Australia achieve… a dramatic increase in food valueadding capability.”

CRC partners also stand to profit from Murdoch University’s relationship with key Chinese institutions, quarantine and biosecurity.

“We’re hopeful that these can benefit members of the CRC as we explore and develop new markets for Australian produce,” Morrison says.

Transforming Peel into a 21st-century food hub

An important objective of the CRC is the creation of high-tech regional ‘food hubs’ across Australia. As CRC participants, the Peel Development Commission and Transform Peel will work with local food producers, processors and hospitality providers, logistics and transport experts, and partner research institutions to develop a smart, connected food hub in the region.

“Murdoch Uni has a long and demonstrable commitment to the Peel region,” says Morrison. “Working with the PDC in delivering this positive outcome with the CRC, and marrying world-leading science with great industry partners … will make a tangible difference in the region.”

Murdoch trade expert David Doepel envisages the Peel as part of a thriving food tourism ecosystem showcasing the region’s fine produce, particularly to Asian visitors.

“Regarding the expansion of WA markets, we have to look north,” Doepel contends. “Our growth is in Asia, so understanding foods for the Asian palate is critical.

“As food is one of the hallmarks of any region, we’d hope that is a focus when tourists come to WA, as they are increasingly doing. Over the 10-year course of the CRC, we think the capacity for that will happen — which will make a real difference to the WA dining experience and can only benefit tourists’ experience of the state.”

Advancing personalised medicine and ‘precision nutrition’ A key focus of the new CRC is valueadding — and one way to do that is via the development of precision nutrition products for use in the lucrative emerging field of personalised medicine. The brand-new Australian National Phenome Centre  ANPC) at Murdoch University will be a big part of that effort.

Opened in October 2019 and dubbed “the most significant health research collaboration ever realised in WA”, ANPC is Australia’s first dedicated metabolic phenotyping laboratory and the most advanced lab of its type on the planet.

Helmed by world-leading phenomics pioneer Professor Jeremy Nicholson and an elite research team, the multi-million-dollar lab — which is linked with similar labs around the globe — houses the Southern Hemisphere’s largest collection of mass spectrometers. ANPC scientists will use these to analyse biological samples on a mass scale to pinpoint the causes of disease.

ANPC’s research is set to revolutionise our understanding of the world’s most significant health challenges, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and dementia, providing a roadmap for people seeking to live longer, healthier lives.

Professor Nicholson, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Future Health at Murdoch University and ANPC director, is passionate about its potential.

“The launch of the ANPC greatly expands what the university can do in terms of understanding the molecular nature of food, and its importance for human health,” he says.

“In particular, we’re interested in the relationship between food, the gut microbiome and human health. This is the new frontier of understanding nutrition, and the university can deliver world-leading science in this arena.”

ANPC’s collaboration with the CRC will enable it to turn research results into real-world applications.

With increasing interest in personalised medicine among Asia’s burgeoning elite and across the West, the market for precision nutrition food products is, potentially, huge, says Eyre.

“As consumers increasingly come to see food as medicine, Australia is very well placed to supply Asian markets for trusted goods in health-related categories.”

Categories targeted by CRC grower and manufacturing participants range from provenance-verified whole foods — ‘organic’ foods — to advanced precision-nutrition products, personalised to individual needs.

Whatever the product, smart, sustainable production systems, provenance protection and demonstrating the scientific validity of claims is critical to building the brand and commanding premium, says Eyre.

“The scientific, medical and engineering research capability we are bringing to the future food industry, coupled with the backing of our government partners in areas like planning, infrastructure and trade, we hope will help lay the foundations for significant economic growth and job creation in regional and peri-urban Australia.”

MORE INFORMATION

Contact Merran White, Future

Food Systems CRC, merran.white@futurefoodsystems.com.au or visit:

• Murdoch Uni institutes

www.murdoch.edu.au/research/institutes-centres

• Australian National Phenome Centre

www.murdoch.edu.au/research/institutes-centres/health-futuresinstitute/australian-nationalphenome-centre

This article was first published in the Peel Magazine, Spring/Summer – vol 5.2 – to read and download the full magazine, click here.