Norwich is hungry to take in food agency

June 13, 1997

Low participation meets blue-chip research: Phil Baty reports on the East in the latest of our regional focuses

The University of East Anglia is appealing to the Government to bring its promised new Food Standards Agency to Norwich Research Park, enhancing the East Anglian capital's reputation as the UK capital of food research.

The park is home to the Institute of Food Research, the John Innes Centre, the Sainsbury Laboratory, the British Sugar Technical Centre and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's Science Laboratory. The park accommodates 600 UEA graduate students, and 250 postdoctoral workers.

"There is nowhere else in the country or Europe of the size and quality, covering the totality of this food chain," said UEA pro-vice chancellor Richard Johns. "It makes so much sense for the Government to set up camp here."

Since the mid-1980s when privatisation of the Cambridge-based Plant Breeding Institute initiated a major transfer of research support to Norwich, UEA food research has been one area where the university revels in squaring up to Cambridge University in the quest for excellence.

"There is no major inter-institutional conflict with Cambridge but at the same time there is no significant institutional collaboration," said Dr Johns. "It is nice when things happening in Cambridge start happening more successfully here, but I don't think we were ever really seen as the little upstart in the remote East Anglian wilderness, setting up in competition with its older and bigger sister down the road."

Cambridge still lays claim to a degree of research excellence in food, with its allied Dunn Nutrition Lab, the remainder of the Plant Breeding Institute and the Institute of Public Health, and a new Pounds 1.5-million Marks and Spencer-sponsored professorship, as well as its specialists in biology and chemical engineering. But it seems to have lost the initiative, said Dr Johns.

Cambridge concedes UEA's strength. "Our research in food is still significant, but there has been a radical shift around Cambridge into the telecommunications and high-tech areas," said a spokeswoman.

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