Minister Smith, Dr Cawley, Professor Boyle, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be with you today to officially open Teagasc’s Nutraceutical Research Facility in the Ashtown Food Research Centre.
To launch a high-tech, state-of-the-art research facility at this time demonstrates faith – faith in the future of the Irish agri-food sector and faith in Ireland’s talents in research and science as a springboard to growth and jobs.
It also demonstrates a keen understanding of the vital role that investment in research and innovation can play in tackling Europe’s economic problems. These wonderful new laboratories will help Teagasc realise its ambition to lead the agrifood sector into a central position in Ireland’s knowledge economy.
But these bricks and mortar, your scientists and researchers, contribute to an even bigger ambition - the construction of the Innovation Union that we need Europe to become.
In June this year, the Member States of the European Union endorsed the Europe 2020 Strategy, a very ambitious agenda to turn Europe into a smart, sustainable and socially-inclusive market economy.
At the heart of the Europe 2020 Strategy is the conviction that we need to innovate to get Europe out of the current economic crisis, to build long-term sustainable growth and an economically stable future.
The core ambition to make the European Union an Innovation Union is fleshed out in the Innovation Union Flagship Initiative that I launched on 6 October last in Brussels. Facing up to Europe's severe economic challenges, the Flagship proposes a bold and coherent set of actions with the aim of establishing a stable and successful innovation economy - the "i-conomy" as I like to call it. The Flagship is a major priority for the European Commission. President Barroso is personally very committed to the success of the Innovation Union and he will present the Flagship initiative to Member States at a meeting of the European Council early next year.
We need to be bold. We need to promote and apply Innovation in all walks of life, not just in the laboratory or the factory. Not just in the most prosperous regions, but in cities, towns and rural areas across the whole European Union. Not just in the largest companies, but in SMEs and start-ups in all sectors.
The Innovation Union intends to boost innovation at all levels, across all sectors of the economy. Innovation that is based on solid, excellent research. We need to reach the target of 3% of GDP spending on R&D that has been re-confirmed by Europe 2020. But we will not reach that important goal without the right economic and regulatory conditions. And reaching it will only make sense if, through innovation, we transform ideas into new products and services that people actually want, and into new jobs for Europeans.
The Innovation Union will have to use all relevant resources and policy instruments at its disposal, at local, regional, national and European level, across all relevant policy areas. We need such an approach to reach our targets. We must all be innovators now. The agri-food industry was at the cutting edge of innovation before the word 'innovation' became part of the language of economic recovery.
This is the sector that brought us plant sterols several years ago. I think it is fantastic that if I need to, I can reduce my 'bad' cholesterol levels through diet rather than having to take medication. I believe that this innovative agri-food industry will thrive and grow within the Innovation Union.
The Flagship promotes a particularly European approach to innovation, building upon and improving the Single Market, and making full use of the talents and ideas in both our private and public sectors. The Flagship promotes a broad concept of Innovation, including innovation in business models, management structures and processes, in design and marketing, as well as promoting social innovation. Europe is already strong in many of these areas, but we can, and we must do more.
Because Europe needs to become better at translating research into commercial products and services, the Flagship tables a full set of proposals to unblock the path from ideas to markets. These include access to finance, cheaper patents, the setting of inter-operable standards and better use of procurement to fuel innovation.
Besides the compelling economic reasons for championing Innovation in Europe, we also need Innovation to tackle the major challenges faced by our society now and in the coming decades, such as fighting climate change, healthy living for the growing number of older people in Europe, and using scarce resources more efficiently.
The solutions we need to these societal challenges also present huge commercial opportunities for European companies, such as new medicines and technologies to enable older people to live healthy, independent lives or greener technologies for our homes, cars and cities.
So, we intend to launch a small number of targeted Innovation Partnerships in areas where clear and measurable goals can be defined and with a direct link to a key societal challenge. The pilot Partnership on the theme of active and healthy ageing will be launched by early 2011. Its objective will be to extend the proportion of our lives in which we enjoy good health by two years.
More partnerships will follow in areas such as sustainable and productive agriculture, energy, "smart" cities and mobility, water efficiency and non-energy raw materials.
The food industry is a major force in the European economy and it is constantly innovating. Since nutrition is one of the basic factors in maintaining or improving health, the agri-food industry and nutraceutical research in particular will certainly have a key role to play in meeting the healthy ageing target of the pilot Partnership.
The future of functional foods will depend on continued advances in food science and developments of innovative technologies as well as improved consumer understanding of claims. Providing scientific evidence that substantiates the health benefits of these products will help to protect the consumers, encourage the innovation of new industrial products by food manufacturers wishing to use health or nutrition claims, and ensure transparency for the consumer. Research collaboration between different disciplines such as nutrition, food technology, cognitive and health sciences provides the scientific basis for successful development of functional foods.
In 2006, the European market for functional foods was worth around 6 billion Euro, the third largest after Japan and the United States. Experts predict that the global market for functional foods will grow in value from $78 billion in 2007 to $128 billion in 2013.
It will account for 10 per cent of the overall food and drink market. This represents enormous growth and huge potential for producers in this sector.
Functional foods, therefore, have the capacity to boost growth in the European food industry. They represent opportunities for industry to gain a competitive edge and can make a positive contribution to the diets of consumers wishing to pursue a healthy lifestyle. The broader European bio-economy, encompassing agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, chemicals and biofuels, is worth nearly two trillion Euro and provides around 22 million jobs in Europe, 12 million of these in agriculture alone.
The Irish food and agricultural sector is very well placed to capitalise on the immense opportunities available in this massive sector of the European economy. Ireland's agri-food industry has a major role to play in economic recovery – it is already responsible for just over half of the exports by indigenous manufacturing industries in 2008. And I am delighted to see that Teagasc and its partners are embracing these opportunities, and laying the foundations for real economic growth in this area.
We must ensure that research and innovation have the critical mass of resources needed to make a significant impact on the societal challenges. I am determined to ensure that the Framework Programme for Research will continue to provide much-needed investment in research, from which innovation can flow. Under the 6th and 7th Framework Programmes, the European Union has invested 260 million Euro in research on food and health issues alone, and I encourage Irish researchers and companies to explore the opportunities presented by the Research Framework Programme. Teagasc has proven to be a major player, participating in 51 projects with funding of around 10 million Euro from the 6th and 7th Research Framework Programmes. I urge you to not just maintain, but to grow this level of engagement.
In addition to providing financing at the European level, the Commission has encouraged Member States to pursue common visions and set up a strategic research agenda in the domain of food and health. To this end, the Joint Programming Initiative 'A healthy diet for healthy life' is currently developing a number of initiatives. I am delighted to say that Ireland is playing an active and strategic role in the work of this JPI.
I am confident that this nutraceutical facility will make a substantial contribution to efforts to improve human health, the quality of life of our European citizens and the competitiveness of the European food industry.
Here, researchers will work on new molecules with the potential to confer health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Your work will help create opportunities for Ireland’s food industry by contributing to the scientific needs of companies involved in developing ‘functional foods’. This is a fine example of the link between research, innovation and the market – of the economic potential of smoothing the path from lab to product. This, ladies and gentlemen is what the Innovation Union is all about.