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 The IMPACT of EU Food Research

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Because of its potential in food safety and human health, the EU has funded various projects in food research under FP4’s FAIR programme. Under FP5, the ‘Impact’ project was selected to evaluate the added value generated by FAIR and identify factors that have favoured or hindered its impact. The project brings to light some important results culminating in numerous publications, new technologies for the food industry, and new or improved food products. It shows that FAIR has stimulated the emergence of centres of excellence, attracted industry interest and sponsorship, triggered consumer interaction, and contributed to the development of regulations, standards, and industrial codes of practice. The impact-enhancing factors include scientific success, networking between academics and industry, and growing awareness of the need for a European Research Area.

Why do these research projects need public funding?
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Public agencies do not wish to fund research projects simply for the pleasure of doing some basic research or of adding small gems of wisdom to the already huge edifice of science. The political will, in fact, is aiming to create added value through research. This value can be identified, for instance, as the generation of basic strategic knowledge, more patent and trade mark applications, better training of young scientists, preparing for the development of new products, or indicating a new way to solve old problems. Only highly visible added value can be ‘sold’ to the public as the result of successful research and is, therefore, judged to be worth funding.
This, of course, also applies to food research, which has an obvious contribution to make to human well-being and health.

The FAIR programme
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The EU has funded food research projects through various programmes under the Fourth Framework Programme, such as FAIR (1994-98). In total, €728 million were allocated, including training grants and accompanying measures.
FAIR covered the following areas:

  • Integrated production and processing chains (€64 M);
  • Scaling-up and processing methodologies (€30 M);
  • Generic science and advanced technologies for nutritious foods (€68 M);
  • Agriculture, forestry and rural development (€157 M);
  • Fisheries and aquaculture (€72 M);
  • Objectives addressed by concertation (€34 M).

Furthermore, three categories of horizontal activities ran across these areas: demonstration activities; ethical, legal and social aspects; and specific measures in support of SMEs.
What has been achieved?

The Impact exploration study
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Two experienced assessors received support to undertake an evaluation of the impact to date of the FAIR projects. This study was carried out as an accompanying measure supported by the Quality of Life part of the Fifth Framework Programme, under Key Action 1: Food, Nutrition and Health
(contract n° QLK1-2000-30013).
Their tasks were to assess, the impact on:

  • EU policy-making in areas such as food safety, the environment, and diet and health;
  • Consumer attitudes toward food and food processing;
  • Encouraging greater interdisciplinarity and collaboration within the scientific community;
  • Benefiting young scientists through training as Marie Curie Fellows within FAIR and by other means (e.g. food industry hosting fellows);
  • Contributing to the development of networking which led to new centres of excellence within European universities and research centres;
  • Facilitating mutual and complementary support from Member State research programmes;
  • Local management expertise improved through participation in EU schemes.
Some results from Impact
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The survey was carried out in two stages: self-assessment by project co-ordinators, and identification of factors that facilitate or hinder impact.
The self-assessment involved 350 contractors on 118 FAIR projects. The following findings were important:

  • Development of new technologies (e.g. genomics, proteomics) for application in the food sector;
  • Numerous publications in international journals and presentations at conferences;
  • EU legislators took an interest and used the knowledge for the updating of current, or preparation of new regulations;
  • Development of new and the improvement of existing food products and processes;
  • Attracting industry interest and sponsorship;
  • Attracting media interest (e.g. TV);
  • Triggering strong consumer interaction; and
  • Several trainees and post-docs found employment within the industry.

The second stage of the survey also yielded some important results, as follows:

  • Scientific success is necessary but not sufficient;
  • Impact is multidimensional;
  • Evolution of ongoing networks between academics and industry is highly regarded;
  • US research communities are impressed, and interested in collaborating;
  • The challenge of the European Research Area creates apprehension, but the need is recognised;
  • Emerging centres of excellence are a major stimulus to networks;
  • Strong contribution to the development of written standards and industrial codes of practice.
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CO-ORDINATOR
Prof. Peter Richmond
EPM Associates
7 Softley Drive, Cringleford
NR4 7SE, Norwich
Tel: +44 1603250730
Mobile: +44 778 9935 886
E-mail: peter@richmond.clara.co.uk

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