While programmes such as CSI Miami have led to a glut of forensic science graduates chasing very few jobs, he said there was a gaping skills shortage in the food and drink manufacturing sectors.
Speaking at a fringe event organised by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) at his Liberal Democrat party’s conference in Brighton, Heath said government, colleges and the industry had a role to play in promoting food jobs to youngsters.
“We certainly need to invest in food technologies,” he said. “There are very few people graduating as food scientists, while on the other hand there are lots of forensic science graduates and very few jobs for them. I often say I wish there was a programme called CSI Sainsbury’s to do for the food sciences what the CSI programmes did for forensics.”
After the event, he went on to tell FoodManufacture.co.uk: "There is no doubt that the skills shortage is a real challenge. We need to start by making people realise that jobs in food manufacturing aren't like the home economics lessons they had at school − and probably didn’t like − but they are highly skilled and rewarding careers."
The panel discussion also featured NFU president Peter Kendall, Lib Dem peer Baroness Parminter, FDF communications director Terry Jones and Lib Dem president Tim Farron MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.
Jones said it was vital to change the perception of the food industry in order to secure food supplies for the future and help meet the FDF’s and DEFRAs target of growing the industry by 20% by 2020.
‘Really in trouble’
“If we’ve not got the people to transform the raw materials into finished products, then we’re really in trouble,” he said.
“In terms of food security, from a manufacturing point of view, we need to attract investment to increase capacity which can then be used for exports.”
Later in the discussion, Parminter gave her support for taxes on less healthy foods.
Despite acknowledging “it was controversial”, she said fiscal measures had been employed to good effect in other European countries.
“Fiscal measures have encouraged more healthy eating in places like France and Denmark,” she added.
Jones, however, countered that Denmark recently announced plans to drop its tax on saturated fats – and shelved plans to introduce one on sugar in the New Year.
“We need a joined-up approach to tackle these issues,” he said, “not a fiscal policy hand grenade which we throw in and hope that it attacks the right areas. We need to look at this in a much smarter way to tackle what we all realise is a big issue.”