The availability of safe, nutritious, affordable and healthy food has taken on a new and pressing dimension in the face of an ever growing global population and increasing environmental and sustainability concerns.
We see intensified competition for land use and shifting dietary patterns across the world, which include significant increases in meat consumption, and which are rapidly creating new supply/demand scenarios.
In the globalised food markets that we see today, food safety issues are viewed from a much more international perspective and more and more emphasis is being placed on reducing wastage, energy and water consumption at all stages of the food supply chain.
The obvious links between food quality, human health, and the capacity of ecosystems to provide goods and services must be explored in view of optimizing the food systems, making them safe, resilient and efficient, and keeping the competitiveness of a strategic segment of our industries, the food-industry, in a changing world.
By investing in research and innovation, the European Union aims to find effective and integrated solutions to all of these issues, from developing better ways of assuring microbiological and chemical food safety, to identifying alternative sources of protein or developing innovative new processes to economise on energy, water and packaging.
Within FP7, Activity 2.2 Fork to farm: ‘Food (including seafood), health and well-being’ addresses the growing demand for safer, healthier, higher quality food and the sustainable use and production of renewable bio-resources, taking account of animal welfare and rural and coastal contexts while responding to the specific dietary needs of consumers.
Innovationactions target not only products and processes, but also organisational structures. They are aimed at setting up efficient technology transfer networks that will enable the European Food Industry to remain competitive in world markets and stimulate growth and jobs.
Activity 2.2 actively contributes to a wide range of European policies developed by the Directorates General for Health & Consumers (DG SANCO), Environment (DG ENV), Enterprise and Industry (DG ENTR) and Information, Society and Media (DG INFSO), inter alia through identifying and funding targeted policy-related research.
The main and key areas addressed in the Research Programme are:
Health and Consumers
In order to remain competitive, the food industry must respond effectively to changing consumer behaviour and preferences. At the same time, the impact of food choices on the health and well-being of European citizens has far-reaching implications. In this area DG Research & Innovation continues to support research into complex socio-economic and cultural issues surrounding consumers’ perception of and attitudes towards food, including traditional foods, societal and cultural trends and other factors related to food choice and consumer access to food. The results of this research will improve our understanding about food, food choices and the impacts of those choices for example on health, on society, on the environment and on competitiveness and sustainability. They will also improve our awareness of the impact on consumer behaviour of social and environmental influences such as family, social networks, culture and the physical environment. Such research also contributes to the development and implementation of food-related policy and the provision of information on food and nutrition to consumers, for example the EU Consumer Policy Strategy 2007-2013 .
The aim of food labelling is to ensure that consumers have access to complete information on the content, composition, provenance and nutritional value of the foods they purchase and can thus make informed choices that protect their health and interests. The information provided may also describe a particular aspect of a product, such as its production method. Some foodstuffs, such as genetically modified organisms, foods containing allergens, foods intended for infants or various beverages, are also subject to specific regulations. Research funded under Activity 2.2 of FP7 is helping to develop new ways of informing the public about healthy dietary choices and any potential risks that may be associated with specific food intake. Specific target groups, such as children, are also being carefully considered, taking into account also the results of projects funded under previous framework programmes. Research funded in this area also supports DG SANCO’s actions on labelling policy while taking account of the broader context of communicating with consumers.
More information on Labelling & Nutrition
Food research under Activity 2.2 of FP7 is focused on improving our understanding of both the beneficial and harmful effects of dietary choices and the causes and occurrences of diet-related diseases and disorders including obesity and allergies. This involves the investigation of new dietary strategies, the development and application of nutrigenomics and systems biology, and the study of the interactions between nutrition and physiological and psychological factors. Novel approaches to the reformulation of processed foods are also being sought together with the development of novel foods and ingredients, dietetic foods and foods with enhanced nutritional properties. Research into traditional, local and seasonal foods and diets is also helping to determine the impact of certain foods and diets on health. The development of integrated food guidance approaches will help maintain a healthy and active population while providing safe and nutritious food for all European citizens.
Obesity is one of the most serious public health issues worldwide. More than 300 million people are clinically obese in the world today and approximately 1.5 billion are overweight in both developed and developing countries (Source:WHO).
The health consequences of obesity and excessive weight are manifold, ranging from physiological or psychological disorders and decreased quality of life to an increased risk of premature death and increasingly heavy burdens on healthcare systems worldwide. Obesity is a highly complex disorder resulting from a combination of many factors and needs a multilevel and synergistic approach. Obesity in children is also of increasing concern, particularly because the long-term effects are still poorly understood, and the effectiveness of current interventions in terms of providing a sound basis for policy has to be carefully considered (Source: WHO - Regional Office for Europe).
Research will focus on epidemiological studies of the effect of diet, food composition and lifestyle factors as well as the influence of genetic variability on the health of specific population groups, using cutting-edge technologies such as nutrigenomics, bioinformatics and system biology. An innovative way to approach obesity is needed and research builds the bases for it.
Food research funded under FP7 contributes to the work of DG SANCO, for example, through the EU Platform for Action on Diet , Physical Activity and Health, the implementation of the Strategic Research Agenda of the EU Technology Platform 'Food for Life' and the the WHO Action Plan on Food and Nutrition Policy.
More information on:
- EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
- European Technology Platform Food for Life
Growing old healthily and the EIP on Active and Healthy Ageing
Research in this area focuses on how lifestyle factors and diets influence ageing and the appearance of chronic diseases. The main goal is to maintain an active and healthy population into old age, as ageing is one of the biggest challenges facing our society. Societal innovation plays an important role in achieving results in this area.
The Communication Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union foresees a pilot European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Active and Healthy Ageing. Its aim is to enable our citizens to live longer, independently and in good health by adding two years to the average number of healthy life years by 2020. This pilot EIP has been set up under the joint responsibility of DG SANCO and DG INFSO and aims to enable EU citizens to lead healthy, active and independent lives as they grow older, to improve the sustainability and efficiency of social and healthcare systems, and to boost the competitiveness of the markets for innovative products and services, responding to the ageing challenge at both EU and global level (Source: Eurostat Healthy life years statistics ).
More information on:
Food Processing and Packaging
In order to enhance the competitiveness of the European food industry it is essential that innovative technologies are developed and applied to both innovative and traditional foods. This includes tailored process technologies to improve the safety, functionality, quality and nutritional value of food, including organoleptic aspects. Focusing on actual processing methods, research in this area includes the development of novel equipment, the innovative combination of process stages, process kinetics, quality aspects, environmental issues (CO2 emissions, energy and water use, waste recycling), traceability, and supply chain management. Other research areas include minimal processing, novel processing, and re-evaluation of existing processes, as well as retail issues and food preparation in households, restaurants and institutions. Packaging research focuses on the improvement of conventional packaging, the design and development of novel renewable and bio-degradable packaging, minimising the use of non-renewable resources, waste reduction and the development of active and intelligent packaging and packaging systems. Research on process control comprises the development of overall systems for process design and control, sensing and imaging systems, robotics and decision support tools in food production. Research on tailor-made food products focuses on the final food products to be consumed. It comprises the general fields of functional foods, microstructure, bioavailability, sensory aspects, consumer-controlled product development and innovation, convenience food, traditional foods, and personal nutrition as well as specific food commodities.
More information on:
- Enterprise & Industry Online Magazine: Nurturing the competitiveness of the European food industry
- DG Environment News Alert on Reducing food losses through environmentally sound packaging
Resource efficiency and waste management
In the face of environmental pressures, climate change and rising energy costs there is a pressing need to improve resource efficiency (including reducing energy and water consumption and waste) at all levels of the food production process. DG Research & Innovation is funding a range of initiatives looking, for example, into the development of high-tech, eco-efficient processing and packaging systems and smart control applications geared to more efficient valorisation and management of by-products, wastes, water and energy. New research will also develop sustainable and novel technologies for animal feed production while ensuring safe feed processing formulations and feed quality control systems.
Food quality, safety and traceability
Food safety concerns, accentuated by recent crises, have undermined public confidence in the capacity of the food industry and public authorities to ensure that food is safe, and are therefore high on consumer, political and food industry agendas worldwide. The European Commission has identified food safety as one of its top priorities and, with Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on 28 January 2002, it laid down the general principles and requirements of food law.
Food safety research addresses dietary exposure to potentially harmful agents such as contaminants, pathogens and residues (e.g. from veterinary products, pesticides and food contact materials) as well as exposure to other substances such as food additives and food supplements. In order to ensure chemical and microbiological safety and high quality in Europe’s food supply, innovative detection methods, improved models addressing the integrity of the food chain and new approaches towards risk analysis and perception are being developed.
Improved food safety and quality will help to prevent food-borne diseases, improve risk management and communication and support science-based policy.
More information on DG Health and Consumers website:
Climate change impact on and from food and feed chains
Climate change is considered to be one of the most important global challenges that has to be addressed by international research cooperation. It is projected to have multiple impacts on primary food production and processing, populations, natural resource use and food markets. A comprehensive view of how the EU and global food systems may be affected by climate change in terms of security and safety is lacking. Moreover, challenges related to the impact of the food sector on climate change need to be fully addressed.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations Climate Change Convention has raised awareness of the world’s changing climate. Science and media efforts to communicate on this issue have contributed to public awareness, placing climate change high on the political agenda. The EU’s determination to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 20 % below 1990 levels by 2020 (and to at least 50 % by 2050) implies a major shift to a low-carbon economy that will test the food industry. Opportunities and risks arising from climate change are of prime importance to this main line of action.
More information on the Directorate-General for Climate Action
The goal is to increase understanding of the viability and resilience of Europe’s food production and supply system in the face of climate change and the globalisation of food and feed markets, and to improve consumer perception and attitudes regarding climate change and desired changes in food production and consumption habits.
Sustainable food production and supply management
Food production systems in Europe have been developed with a focus on security of supply and affordable consumer prices. A number of factors, however, contribute to the low sustainability of the existing food production and supply systems. The transition towards a higher degree of sustainability should reconcile economic viability, environmental protection and social responsibility concerns.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tools are extensively used to measure the environmental impacts of food systems. Comprehensive food systems research requires, however, a combination of bio-physical and socio-economic tools and methods of investigation to address the environmental, economic and social aspects of the sustainability triangle. A better understanding of the sustainability of the European and global food chains will lead to the identification, testing and development of sustainability indicators and allow for the detection of shortcomings and identification of technological and management solutions to enhance sustainability.
The development of dynamic modelling tools to demonstrate the sustainability frontiers of various food chains is in demand. The environmental performance of food products and processes should be improved and some eco-efficient innovations by business and consumers promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns within the carrying capacity of ecosystems should be established. The requirements in respect of conservation and management of natural resources, inter alia by avoiding overexploitation and pollution of renewable natural resources such as water, air and soil as well as waste generation, should be fulfilled.
More information on Environmental Sustainability of the Food Chain
The key focus of research in this area is the protection of human health and the environment through a better understanding of the environmental impacts of food/feed chains. Assuring quality and integrity within the food chain requires new models for commodity chain analysis and total food chain management concepts, including consumer aspects. Projects funded under Activity 2.2 of FP7 include the study of food contaminants, the monitoring of environmental effects and the development of enhanced tools and methods for the assessment and management of impacts on food and feed chains and their resistance to global changes.
Food chain organisation and innovation
In order to cope with the many changes in the technological, commercial and policy environment, the food sector has to adapt continuously. This entails the need to innovate in organisational relationships to provide industry with the means to improve the sector’s competitiveness while remaining responsive and responsible towards the expectations of society and the consumer.
The performance of the food sector – the complex network of primary producers, suppliers, processors, manufacturers, retailers and consumers – depends on four major factors. These are the performance of individual enterprises, the degree of interaction between stakeholders in the value chain, the surrounding environment (socio-economic, cultural and institutional), and finally consumer behaviour. Research on food chain management ought to improve the sector’s performance and competitiveness by integrating scientific knowledge and innovation into the reality of food chain operations. It should increase food chain transparency resulting in advancements in chain governance, efficiency and building trust with the consumer. In the Communication on a better functioning food supply chain in Europe the Commission sets out a number of measures to address competitiveness in the food supply chain. The main objective of this Communication is to ensure that consumers, producers and distributors pay the right price for safe food and that the various chain links — like farmers, food producers and distributors — get fair returns for their activities. The emergence of dynamic and sustainable SME networks capable of promoting and sustaining innovation in the food sector has been identified as a means to fulfil the needs of the service sector – cost/benefit and economic performance analysis - and consumer needs for affordable food of quality and diversity.
The integration of development objectives is actively promoted in the EU research and technology programmes, and developing countries continue to be assisted in enhancing their domestic capacities. Research under FP7 addresses the specific problems facing developing countries on the basis of mutual interest and mutual benefit, moving away from traditional relationships to a real partnership characterised by equality and the pursuit of common objectives, building common responses to global challenges.
The European Commission is firmly committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The main areas where our research helps are food security and malnutrition, thereby contributing to MDGs 1 and 7 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; ensure environmental sustainability), and indirectly to MDGs 4, 6 and 8 (reduce the mortality rate of children; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; develop a global partnership for development).
European Research Area
Existing national structures responsible for research policies and funding are being mapped, and strategies to improve public funding schemes are being developed in order to mobilise new sources of funding and to coordinate existing funding programmes better at regional, national and European levels.
The creation of a European Research Area in ‘Activity 2.2: Fork to farm: Food (including seafood), health and well-being’ will overcome the fragmentation of research activities, programmes and policies across Europe and contribute to increasing innovation and competitiveness in the food sector.
It will make it possible to design better funding instruments, to improve mutual transparency, to ensure coherent development and closer cooperation between the various disciplines necessary for this complex field of research, and to combine efforts and build up critical mass in areas of strategic importance. It will reinforce Europe’s role as a world partner and increase the leverage of the EU and its Member States by reducing duplication in the ongoing food research efforts of the Member States and the Commission.