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Microbes for healthy and sustainable food and diets

There is evidence that beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms can lead to a healthy animal and human gut microbiome, that microbiomes can improve food quality and safety (incl. tailored food) as well as the nutritional value of aliments/food, contributing to more sustainable food systems. The rupture of the human microbiome symbiotic relationship could also be associated to more health disorders and the cause of chronic diseases, and that food is an essential lever to maintain symbiosis by promoting optimal intestinal microbial diversity and restoring healthy microbiome profiles and functionality. An expected outcome of this topic is the further scientific underpinning, verification and elucidation of these investigative pathways through evidence driven research and innovation.

In this context food based on microbial fermentation needs further investigation as it currently accounts for 5 to 40% of our diet (country depending) yet we still know little of its role in the human digestive system after ingestion. Further research should provide sustainable dietary strategies based on microbe-fermented foods aiming to improve human health and sustainability of dietary patterns, and help in determining any possible role in metabolic disease control. Food fermented by microorganisms and food ingredients produced by them also have huge innovation potential, in particular for SMEs, for local development, and as a way of minimizing food waste from non-optimal raw material, waste products from food manufacturing, or seasonal overproduction.

Activities should develop applicable solutions, in particular for the food processing industry, and in the utilisation of fermentation potential. New products may seek EU market regulatory approval, thus proposals should consider and address relevant regulatory requirements as well as EFSA guidance documents for specific safety testing and risk assessment protocols.

Proposals are expected to address the following:

  • Understand the interaction of microbial biodiversity, mechanisms between fermented foods, different types of food microbiomes, and the human microbiomes in order to determine the role of fermented food in nutrition, health and diet diversification.
  • Develop applicable solutions for the food processing industry utilizing microbial potential in the production of food ingredients, and nutrients including formulation into food products.
  • Develop new tests to evaluate the condition of the symbiosis between humans and microbiotas used routinely in pro- and diagnostics.
  • Using microbes to reduce food packaging, food processing inputs (e.g.: energy, water), chemicals used in food (production), while ensuring the increased lifespan and safety of the products and the benefits to human and animal health.
  • Activate societal engagement with relevant stakeholders (e.g. farmers, civil society organisations, regulatory bodies, citizens and media outlets) in order to ensure product acceptability and labelling in compliance with the relevant legal framework.

Proposals should explain how they will deliver co-benefits to the four Food 2030 priorities: nutrition for sustainable healthy diets, climate and environment, circularity and resource efficiency, innovation and empowerment of communities as well as those relevant to different socio-economic and cultural groups.

Proposals must implement the multi-actor approach by involving a wide diversity of food system actors and conducting inter- and trans-disciplinary research engaging consumers, consumer organizations and civil society organisations and including local and indigenous knowledge of soils. Proposals are encouraged to build on past or ongoing EU-funded research, research infrastructures and collaborate with relevant initiatives, including the Horizon Europe Soil Health and Food Mission. International cooperation (such as the International Bioeconomy Forum) is highly recommended. Proposals should include a clear plan on how they will collaborate with other proposals selected under this and any other relevant topic, by participating in joint activities, workshops, as well as common communication and dissemination activities. Proposals should plan the necessary budget to cover these activities.

This topic should involve the effective contribution of SSH disciplines.