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Page last update: 25/12/2008

The future of food

Recent years have seen major changes in the food industry. Globalisation has seen the spread of fast food outlets worldwide, while many consumers have responded with slow food movements. In the midst of all this, farmers and retailers have been trying to keep pace with advancements in technology as well as meeting changing consumer demand. The recent Perspectives for Food 2030 conference was convened to discuss these issues and to assess how industry and consumer demands may evolve in the future.

What sort of food will we be eating in 25 years' time? How will the food industry, agriculture and the needs of society change during this period? These crucial questions and more were debated during the Perspectives for Food 2030 conference of 17 - 18 April 2007.

Organised by the Directorate-General for Research of the European Commission, this two day conference examined the changing preferences of the consumer, the changing role of agriculture and new technologies such as nanotechnology and biotechnology. Also discussed were the potential benefits to be reaped by increasing investment in R&D and how the role of SMEs and regulatory bodies may change in the future. Those attending the conference were able to utilise this information to asses how the food industry and consumer demands may evolve over the next two to three decades.

A detailed report of the conference was recently published by the Commission Services. One trend it shows is that the current rising consumer preference for purchasing organic, sustainable and humanely produced food looks set to continue. What became quite apparent from the conference was that consumers are the driving force behind the food industry. As a result manufacturers, farmers and retailers must listen to them, be aware of new trends in food and health and be prepared to act upon them if they are to remain competitive. In order for the public to have a positive attitude towards new technologies such as biotechnologies and nanotechnology, which have the possibility to bring great benefits, they need to be better informed about them.

Also discussed at the conference was the effect that our increased knowledge of the genome will have. Already it is helping scientists to uncover more about the impact that diet can have on health. This type of research may lead to specific functional foods and personalised diets based on a person's genetic make-up, and this will be a whole new area for the food industry to develop. Furthermore, advances in science and technology may help to reconcile natural resource management and concern for the environment with more growth and employment.

The overall purpose of the conference was to anticipate research needs by 2030 and develop coherent actions in view of the diverse and increasingly important changes that the European food industry will have to face. New challenges induced by globalisation require a good understanding of the triggers of future changes, the inter-relationship between such triggers and their potential impact on major European sectors such as the food industry in order for Europe to remain competitive worldwide and to overcome emerging threats such as the recent devastation caused to the poultry industry by avian influenza.

The food industry represents the largest manufacturing sector in Europe and is continually facing diverse and increasingly important changes. These often relate to changing demographics from an ageing population and migration, diseases (increased diet-related diseases, cognitive decline, obesity, allergies), lifestyles (occupation, quality of life), and sectoral competition (competitive agricultural products) among others. In addition, consumers' demand for healthy, safe and ethically produced food is increasing, as are demands for increased environmental protection and sustainability and risk reduction for individuals rather than for the whole population (such as personalised nutrition).

Against this background, and at the outset of the new 'Food, agriculture and biotechnology' programme of FP7, this conference on 'Perspectives for Food 2030' provided the opportunity to assess how the food industry and consumer demand may evolve over the next 25 years and to consider what implications this may have for food, agriculture, fisheries and biotechnology research.

The conference brought together major actors from the fields of food technology, retailing, consumer science and behaviour, economists, etc. to gather visions of the future.

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Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top