On 11 October 2001, Research Commissioner
Busquin toured industrial and academic facilities in the heart of the
high-tech agricultural centre of southern Belgium. Also on hand were representatives
of the local and national agro-food industry, academic institutions and
journalists. The day included presentations on topical food-related research,
including three EU-funded projects. In the wake of high-profile incidents
such as the BSE and dioxin crises, the STRATFEED, MEDEO and SPELT projects,
ranging in scope from the detection of animal tissue and the replacement
of bone meal in feedingstuffs to the detection of adulteration of cooking
oils, are critically important both in the establishment of higher food
safety standards and in reassuring the public as to the quality of European
fruit of our labours: the Commissioner with Mr R. Biston, Director
of the ARCG'
Speaking to a large audience including students at
the Agricultural University of Gembloux, Mr Busquin said, "Since
the Second World War, European agriculture has become increasingly competitive,
sophisticated and specialised. Today, agriculture represents an annual
production of €220 billion at Community level, and provides 7.5 million
jobs, while agro-food activities represent €600 billion and are the
third largest source of industrial employment with 2.6 million jobs. More
and more, however, our agricultural practices are being re-examined, given
the obvious and importance concerns about quality, consumer safety, ethical
practices and the ecology. It is up to us therefore not only to continue
our research but to optimise it to meet these difficult challenges."
||Quality and safety:
a closer look
The day began at
Science Park in Gembloux where much of the work initiated at
nearby academic facilities is further developed for industrial application.
The Commissioner and selected guests got a first-hand look at a
number of ongoing projects aimed at improving food quality in the
agro-food and bio-industrial fields. From there, the group was shown
to the nearby Agricultural
Research Centre of Gembloux (ARCG) where a number of ongoing
quality- and safety-related projects were presented. Among them
(cordis site) and STRATFEED
(cordis site), two European-funded projects.
"With the MEDEO
project, we are developing techniques for detecting hazelnut
oil in fraudulently labelled olive oil," explained ARCG's Vincent
Baeten. "Olive oil production is a basic source of income for
around 2 million families in southern Europe, but uncontrolled adulteration
is still a problem."
Meanwhile, in the wake of the BSE or 'mad
cow' crisis, the STRATFEED
project is looking at new tools and methods for detecting and
quantifying meat and bone meal in feedingstuffs destined for ruminants.
According to Pierre Dardenne, Head of the ARCG's Quality Department,
"The project includes the establishment of a sample bank of
animal-derived ingredients and feed samples, as well as new measuring
techniques and new European databases."
Finally, another project known as SPELT
is carrying out a comprehensive investigation of a minor but potentially
very important traditional European crop known as spelt. This hulled
cereal has shown great potential as high-protein meat a bone meal
replacement for livestock feedingstuffs.
For more information on the MEDEO, STRATFEED and SPELT projects
as well as other European-funded related projects, see the feature
article on food fraud .
|| Agenda 2000:
the lack of European investment in agricultural research compared
to the United States and Japan has been aggravated by a lack of
coherence among our research programmes," said Busquin. "Now,
we are encouraging the development of more links through international
co-operation among academic and industrial researchers, contributing
to the foundation of the European
Research Area ."
"In December 2000 at Versailles, the EURAGRI conference established
three critical priorities for European agriculture. First, research
must respond to societal needs, including transparency. Research
and research results must be accessible to both agriculturists and
the public at large. Second, agriculture must be multifunctional.
That is, it must be competitive, environmentally responsible, and
it must produce sufficient amounts of safe and affordable food.
Thirdly and finally, the scientific basis of our agricultural research
must be strong, especially in the biotechnologies."
"The application of biotechnology in agriculture in increasingly
seen with suspicion among the general public," said Busquin.
"The debate over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is a
good example. I have recently launched a round table on the safety
of GMOs to help in putting forward an objective and scientific point
of view and to provide a forum for a permanent discussion of risks
||Forward: a New
'Exchange of ideas with a member of the Bioindustry Unit'
"The proposed New
Framework Programme (2002-2006) has retained a number of opportunities
for agricultural research," said Busquin. "in areas including
'food safety', 'genomics and biotechnology for health' and 'sustainable
development and global change' as well as under 'support for the
coherent development of policies' and 'anticipating the European
Union's scientific and technological needs'."
In closing, the Commissioner stressed the challenges facing the
agriculture sector. "The challenges are real," he said.
"In the countries of the Union, our excellent agricultural
research centres, institutions and enterprises have everything to
win by coming together. The Commission wants to encourage this sort
of common and co-operative action. Now is the time to set ourselves
to the task of fruitful co-operation, removing old barriers on our
way to a true European
Research on food safety and the fight against
adulteration are supported under the Measurements
and testing generic activity of the Growth Programme.
MEDEO - Development and
assessment of methods for the detection of adulteration of olive
oil with hazlenut oil;
STRATFEED - Strategies and methods to
detect and quantify mammalian tissues in feedingstuffs;
SPELT - A protein-rich cereal for animal
feed and health foods.