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Driving competitivity in Europe's food industry

03-Feb-2004

Millions of euros will be poured into three major 'farm-to-fork?research projects, the Commission said yesterday, to reinforce R&D co-operation at a European level and bring a monetary boost to the increasingly complex food industry of today.

Attending a seminar on Monday at Wageningen university in the Netherlands, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said that a total of €43million had been earmarked to filter through the Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6).

 

The projects launched are the first major FP6 activities which take the "farm-to-fork" approach. SAFE FOODS is an integrated project on risk analysis in food safety, which aims to improve consumer protection, NuGO is a 'network of excellence?to integrate genomics, nutrition and health, and WELFARE QUALITY, an integrated project on animal welfare and food production.

 

Challenges facing the European food industry today including rising to competition from foreign markets, meeting consumer expectations, rising to labelling demands, imminent European enlargement in April and a raft of food safety issues.

 

"We are now moving into an era of industrialised food production, processing and distribution where the focus of research changes. Science is producing challenging technologies; globalisation brings new risks as well as benefits; and concerns for ethical and environmental issues have moved high on the agenda," said Prof. P. Cunningham at Trinity College, Dublin, who met with Commissioner Busquin on Monday.

 

Perhaps the most important example is the change from a production- to a consumer-orientation and the importance attached now to food quality and safety, added Dr. M. L?kemeyer of EURAGRI .The European Commission has been working with EURAGRI ?an EU platform for political and executive organisations in the fields of food and agricultural policy and research, since December 2000 to design a European Research Area for agriculture research.

 

In a bid to drive the research area forward the Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6) ?in its first year ?has short-listed 12 new projects for EU support from a budget of €200 million.

 

Linked to the structure are 'Networks of Excellence?established to tackle allergy problems, to prevent and control prion diseases, to link genomics to nutrition (NuGO), to assess risks from chemicals in food, and to study animal diseases.

 

Integrated projects are currently in the pipeline to improve quality and safety in the organic and low input chain, to examine the impact of diet on health, to improve grain legumes in food and feed, and on the quality, safety and health benefits of seafood. In addition, the projects will aim to improve food safety through integrated risk analysis (SAFE FOODS), and finally, to integrate animal welfare in food quality (WELFARE QUALITY).

 

SAFE FOODS, co-ordinated by Dr. Harry Kuiper, from the Institute for Food Safety in Wageningen, addresses the issue of how consumer confidence in consumer protection and risk analysis can be restored and strengthened. The proposed research with a budget of €14.5 million will aim to improve current risk analysis practices for foods produced by different breeding approaches and production practices deploying high and low input systems.

 

With the EU footing €17.3 million the NuGO project organised by Dr. Ben Van Ommen at the Centre for Human Nutrigenomics in Wageningen aims to link genomics, nutrition and health, an issue that could hold massive potential for the food industry as rising health concerns guide the consumer to food and nutrition for solutions.

 

The WELFARE QUALITY project will take a look at the integration of animal welfare in the food quality chain, from public concern to improved welfare and transparent quality. Dr. Harry Blokhuis at the Animal Sciences Group in Wageningen will co-ordinate 43 partners from 14 countries involved in the project that has an EU contribution of €14.4million, out of a total of €20million.

 

'The project brings together many important European players in a well-structured project that offers a real possibility for Europe to cement its position as a leader in farm animal welfare research,?/i> said the Commission on Monday. The second call for proposals in the food area, which closes on 5 February 2004, is designed to cover a number of additional critical issues including traceability of food (GMOs in the context of coexistence), the creation of a food information database for Europe, and gene-nutrient interactions and obesity.