Conventionally, food has the role of providing individuals with the nutrients they need for their metabolism (nutritional function) and, through its taste, that of contributing to individual well-being (sensory or hedonistic function). Over the last years a new, potential role of food has emerged, that of fulfilling a specific "physiological" function. While food that fulfils this role ¿ called "functional" food ¿ is consumed as part of the usual diet, it provides health effects that go beyond traditional nutritional effects. As such it is closely related to ¿ but different from ¿ concepts such as food supplements or nutraceuticals.
The markets for this new type of food are more developed in the USA and, even more so, in Japan (where the concept of functional food emanated), than in the EU. So far a coherent regulatory framework for functional food had been lacking within the EU, but in December 2006 the European Parliament and the Council adopted a new Regulation (EC 1924/2006) on nutrition and health claims made on foods. In this context a comprehensive overview of functional foods in the EU is timely and necessary for any future evaluation of the impact of the new regulation ¿ for instance, in the light of the Lisbon Strategy, to assess the potential contribution of functional food to the EU's economic competitiveness. Similarly, providing an overview of functional foods is also a pertinent exercise to build a basis for analysing the contribution of functional foods to key challenges of the revised Sustainable Development Strategy, like public health or sustainable consumption.
Within its mandate to work on technology foresight for early identification of newly emerging issues and of elements that need a policy response in the field of agriculture, food and health, and following the call issued by the Barcelona European Council to support investment in research and technological development to close the gap with Europe¿s main competitors, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), an institute of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, had initiated a prospective study on the functional food sector within the EU.