Strengthening European food research
The food industry will face significant challenges in the future. However, an EU-funded project has created an international research network capable of confronting environmental threats as well as consumer demand for traceable, ethical ingredients.
© Sebastian Duda #34194658 source:stock.adobe.com 2020
Food has become central to some of our eras most divisive debates, from the role of agriculture in climate change to whether diet can help treat serious illness. Consumers are faced with huge amounts of conflicting information and misinformation leaving them confused about how to buy food that is healthy and affordable, ethically produced and environmentally friendly.
At the start of a new decade, the food sector is considering how it can adapt to changing consumer demands as well as looming environmental challenges. Difficult questions remain unanswered, such as how the industry can provide healthy food to a growing population while reducing water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
The team behind the EU-funded PRO-METROFOOD project believes the industry can only effectively evolve by working in close harmony with researchers in a system that is informed by better data. That is why the project has created an international network capable of confronting todays scientific challenges associated with food quality, safety and traceability.
The PRO-METROFOOD project designed a new system to allow research groups from various European countries to collaborate, says project coordinator Giovanna Zappa of research and development agency ENEA in Italy. As a result, around 2 500 researchers from 18 European countries are now working together.
To help the industry align its measurement technologies, the PRO-METROFOOD team has created three new prototype food reference materials or measurement standards. Reference materials are very useful because they allow labs to compare their results, says Zappa. These new measurement technologies and tools are vital for creating a transparent and traceable production chain, from field to fork.
Better data will enable consumers to tell what is in their food and where it comes from. For Zappa, it is important that this information is free and easily available to the public. Citizens are bombarded with messages that are often conflicting, she says. A shared data platform that includes reliable information about complex issues related to health, animal welfare, social issues and environmental sustainability will limit the spread of fake news.
PRO-METROFOOD has also united a variety of companies, associations and agencies within a stakeholder forum. We wanted to enable representatives of all four types of food users researchers, control agencies, producers, consumers to work together, says Zappa.
PRO-METROFOODs achievements have created a launchpad for a new European research infrastructure called METROFOOD-RI which will provide resources and services to foster scientific excellence within the food quality and safety community. The preparatory phase of this initiative METROFOOD PP is currently being deployed and will run until 2022.
In the coming years, METROFOOD-RI will develop many tools for the benefit of the research system, the inspection and control system, the production system and consumers, says Zappa. These tools will be realised both through the physical infrastructure for example, a network of analytical laboratories and through electronic infrastructure, including databases and other ICT facilitie for processing and sharing data.
METROFOOD-RIs future success will be traced back to the foundations laid by PRO-METROFOOD, a project that envisioned how food research could be made fit for the future. By enabling better research, we wanted to make it possible for companies to make their production more transparent so that citizens can make careful and informed choices about the food they eat, says Zappa.