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Increasing the transparency of EU food systems to boost health, sustainability and safety of products, processes and diets


Despite technological progress and the emergence of new approaches, solutions and methodologies, recent literature[[ E.g.]] highlights continuing challenges in increasing the uptake of transparency solutions among food system actors. These include concerns about connectivity, interoperability, privacy, cost-efficiency and low consumer confidence in the technologies being deployed. In addition, many point to the fragmentation and complexity of food systems, the high number of SMEs and micro-companies, and the cross-cutting and systemic nature of transparency innovations as important reasons for the slow deployment of the solutions.

Transparency (defined in supply chains as access to non-distorted, factual, relevant and timely information about supply chain products[[]]) is a critical component of modern food systems. Transparency of food production from farm to fork is crucial to inform consumers, authorities and food system actors on product characteristics such as origin, production method, ingredients and safety, and on sustainability and ethical aspects of products and processes. It is also a crucial factor in ensuring food traceability and authenticity.

Proposals should accelerate the deployment of transparency solutions in EU food systems, especially among micro-enterprises and SMEs, to boost health, sustainability and safety of products, processes and diets in the period to 2030, and drive climate action. In particular, proposals should facilitate innovations that increase transparency in support of six objectives:

  1. Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of traceability;
  2. Making it easier for people to adopt healthy and sustainable diets with a lower environmental and climate impact, by advancing innovations that provide and process transparency data across the food chain to support the implementation of the future EU framework for sustainability labelling;
  3. Making it easier for farmers and food businesses to increase the sustainability of their products and processes, and make them more nutrition-sensitive;
  4. Drastically improving the efficiency and effectiveness of food safety processes and procedures, within companies and beyond;
  5. Increasing the authenticity of products, and reducing food fraud; and
  6. Increasing the capacity of authorities and policymakers that deal with food safety, sustainability, nutrition and health to monitor the performance of different parts and processes of the food system.

Proposals should build a network of expertise that can act as an EU hub for knowledge sharing and the demonstration and piloting of systemic solutions relating to transparency. The network should be governed by a wide range of experts and stakeholders, including primary producers, processors, retailers, food service providers, consumers, public and private institutions (governmental institutions, civil society, including NGOs, and industry), investors, entrepreneurs and policymakers.

Proposals should create an inventory of validated technologies (such as IoT, blockchain, artificial intelligence, 5G/edge, and ‘big data’), open data, approaches and methodologies based on past research and emerging best practice. They should demonstrate the use of these technologies to address the above objectives using existing or emerging data infrastructures across the food chain. They should make a particular effort to valorise relevant past EU-funded research.

Proposals should consolidate the state of play as regards approaches for dealing effectively with cross-cutting challenges (e.g. connectivity, privacy, interoperability, consumer acceptance, cost-effectiveness, skills) and address the lack of such approaches where needed and in line with the relevant legal frameworks.

Proposals should widely disseminate and communicate expertise among primary producers, processors, retailers, food service providers, public and private institutions (governmental institutions, NGOs, industry), investors, entrepreneurs and policymakers. In this way, they should build awareness, education and skills on at European level in a way that supports solution development in practice in major food categories, by taking into account EU, national, regional and sectoral contexts and needs (health, food & nutrition policies, environmental, socioeconomic, cultural, gender-related, behavioural and dietary).

Proposals should develop methodologies, tools and approaches to enable the clients of the network of expertise to engage actively with end-users of transparency solutions (e.g. retailers, public authorities), a broad range of food system actors, technology and infrastructure providers and policymakers, to make sure that new transparency solutions are demand-driven, systemic, in line with the relevant legal frameworks, and cost-effective, and that they support the objectives of the EU farm to fork strategy, including the implementation of the future food sustainability labelling framework. Proposals are encouraged to assess the merits of existing and future citizen-science initiatives that can help build or uptake transparency solutions.

Proposals should help clients to apply systems thinking to identify challenges linked to the above objectives and possible innovative systemic solutions. They should help them understand and assess how transparency solutions will be used and how they will generate benefits and incentives for consumers and food businesses by enabling policy development (including the implementation of a future EU framework for sustainability labelling). They should stimulate mutual learning across parts of food systems, scientific disciplines, geographies and languages.

Proposals should perform these tasks using a business model that guarantees the functioning of the network and its services beyond the lifespan of the project.

In addition, proposals should develop and pilot cross-cutting and systemic solutions that improve transparency as regards one or more of the six objectives, while respecting the relevant legal frameworks and national competence in the area of diet and health, to complement and support the above tasks. The pilots should advance solutions that can benefit a wide range of micro-enterprises and SMEs. For the purpose of the pilots, proposals may involve financial support for third parties in the form of grants, typically in the order of EUR 100 000 to 300 000 per party. These amounts are deemed sufficient to ensure that solutions are demand-driven, systemic and cost-effective, and support the objectives of the EU farm to fork strategy and the EU Green Deal. Up to 20% of the EU funding requested by the proposal may be allocated to the purpose of financial support for third parties.

Proposals should explain and map how the pilots will achieve co-benefits relevant to the Food 2030 priorities (nutrition for sustainable healthy diets, climate and environment, circularity and resource efficiency, innovation and empowerment of communities).

Proposals should set out a clear plan on how they will collaborate with other projects selected under this and any other relevant topic, by participating in joint activities, and common communication and dissemination activities. Proposals are encouraged to link with relevant smart specialization platforms.

This topic should involve the effective contribution of SSH disciplines.