Friday, December 1, 2023


TWO local scientists have been nominated for top awards in their industry. Dr Pamela King, of Castlewellan, and Dr Maeve Shannon, of Newcastle, both work as research scientists at Bia Analytical, a food testing laboratory based in Belfast. They and their company have all been nominated for awards being given out at the Food Integrity Global conference in London on Tuesday, 17 October.

The conference brings together “global key decision makers from laboratories and food and beverage manufacturers” from more than 80 countries, the conference’s website explained. This is the first time that awards are being given out at the event, so Dr King and Dr Shannon are the first ever nominees for ‘The Apples’, as the awards are known. “We wish to celebrate a wealth of excellence, innovation and responsible development in our industry and reward those particularly deserving of recognition,” a spokesperson for the awards said. Bia Analytical is a finalist in the category of Lab of the Year. This award will be given to “a food and beverage laboratory that has significantly contributed to the defence of our food system in 2022-2023”. Dr Shannon is a finalist in the Food Scientist of the Year category. This award is for “a scientist that has made a significant breakthrough or made a significant impact on the food and beverage industry in 2022-2023, whether that be food safety, health and nutrition, or food resilience.”

Dr Shannon said she was “absolutely delighted” to be one of the nominees for this award. “I was honoured to be nominated. I found out one Friday afternoon I had been shortlisted and was genuinely surprised as I know there would have been lots in the running for it,” she said. She has been working in the area of food safety and fraud for a decade and has published a number of peer reviewed papers on food safety and authenticity. “Our team have developed industry leading, cutting edge methods to aid in the fight against food fraud. “Alongside the company’s commercial testing work, I am currently working with several herb and spice companies to source materials and develop methods for herbs and spice authenticity by collecting and analysing hundreds of known authentic samples (and also many of their known potential adulterants) from around the world. “My work has helped support the business from research and development into commercial testing, fast becoming an invaluable tool for fighting food fraud in the food and beverage sector. “The methods developed by myself and the team at Bia Analytical have so far been well received by companies, who are keen to discover new ways of saving time and money in their fight against economically motivated food adulteration,” she said.

Dr Shannon credits her education during her time at Assumption Grammar School for her interest in science. “I am a born and bred Newcastle woman and proud to be from such a beautiful town. I attended Assumption Grammar School, where my passion for food science began through Home Economics and Science,” she said. “I am very passionate about my job in Bia Analytical and also my job as a mother. “I have a 13-year-old daughter who is now at Assumption Grammar also. I also have a 9-year-old stepson with my partner TJ.

We live in Newcastle with our very special pup Benji,” she said. When she has some free time, Dr Shannon enjoys watching her daughter play for the Bryansford U-14 team, going to the gym and taking walks around “beautiful” Newcastle. Her work colleague and friend, Dr Pamela King, is a finalist in the Food Defender of the Year category. This award is given to “an individual who embodies the spirit of food integrity and has consistently protected our food system, through one or more actions in 2022-2023”.

Pamela’s research has enabled Bia Analytical to develop portable testing tools to authenticate herbs and spices. She said she was “pleasantly surprised” to be nominated for the award. “I am excited for the company Bia Analytical as a whole for getting three nominations because I believe in the work carried out at the company to fight food fraud. It is great to get some recognition in the form of these awards for the hard work that is being done for food safety and integrity. “My PhD thesis on ‘The detection of economically motivated adulteration in the herb and spice industry’ has paved the way for my research and development work in the field of economically motivated food fraud,” she said. “This led me to being one of the founding members of Bia Analytical Ltd., a company formed out of research in the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast.

My research and development work has seen me work along with the Bia Analytical team to develop and perform tests for food authenticity and safety. “This work directly contributes to the protection of the food system by developing industry-leading, cutting-edge methods to detect food adulteration across supply chains and is the basis for my nomination for The Apples award of Food Defender of the Year,” Dr King said. She is originally from Barefield, County Clare, and earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of Limerick. “In 2011 I moved to Castlewellan and began working at Queen’s University Belfast in 2012,” she said. “In 2020 I graduated with my PhD from Queen’s University Belfast and began working at Bia Analytical.” She and her husband Charles, daughter and son live in Castlewellan. When she gets a free minute, she enjoys listening to music and talking walks in the park. Although Dr King will not be able to attend the ceremony, Dr Shannon will be hoping to bring back the awards from the ceremony for them both. “I am very much looking forward to it,” she said.

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