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Innovative solutions to prevent adulteration of food bearing quality labels: focus on organic food and geographical indications

 

Quality labelled food products, such as organic and GIs, are generally more expensive than their counterparts. Therefore, foods with such quality labels are particularly prone to fraud. Illegal practices can considerably harm the quality schemes, as they can undermine consumer confidence, thus damaging the farmers and food businesses who respect the rules. The main challenge is that it is difficult for consumers and operators across supply chains to visually distinguish genuine from false organic or GI products. Traditional methods of determining food quality are time consuming and usually require special laboratory analyses, which are often costly and may not be sufficient to guarantee a product’s authenticity and traceability. In addition, as organic and GI food supply chains become more complex, the need to ensure product traceability and transparency along the entire chain increases. Existing traceability and control systems help track products throughout the food supply chain and improve transparency. However, the organic and GI sectors rapidly change due to, for example, widespread use of e-commerce, and given the expected growth of these sectors, the risk of fraud may increase. Therefore, it is important to continuously innovate and upgrade the approaches to prevent fraudulent practices. Diverse new technologies and other innovative solutions (e.g. business models; participatory certification; local, short or mid-tier supply chains; etc.), are emerging to improve the authentication and traceability of quality labelled food products, in particular those with organic and GI labels, as well as to increase transparency of supply chains, thereby contributing to combating fraud. These innovative solutions need to be developed/improved, tested, demonstrated and deployed.

Proposals should investigate the current fraud practices affecting quality labelled food products, in particular organic and GI, and analyse the root causes/drivers of these practices and obstacles and ways to eradicate them. Based on these insights and building on the state-of-the-art in research and innovation, proposals should develop/improve, test, demonstrate and pilot promising innovative low-cost methods, tools and approaches to authenticate and/or trace quality labelled food products, especially organic and GIs, as well as to improve transparency of their supply chains from farm to fork. They should explore the potential of various technological and non-technological innovative solutions (e.g. digital (such as photonics, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, internet of things (IoT), machine learning, etc.), new business models (in particular involving and suitable for small-scale farmers and SMEs), suitable reference materials, rapid and field-deployable, non-destructive testing methods, technologies to improve cybersecurity, etc.), and their combinations. The heterogeneity of products and sectors, as well as the diversity of supply chains and contexts should be taken into account. Proposals should also investigate the barriers and incentives to scaling up the use of the innovative solutions as well as assess the positive and negative impacts on the different operations and actors in the organic and GI food value chains, particular attention should be paid to small-scale farmers, SMEs and consumers, as well as the control systems used in Member States and Associated Countries. Proposals should also develop a system to increase availability of and access to relevant data, promote data harmonisation and improve the ways in which data are stored. In addition, they should explore ways to advance the analysis, use, interoperability and security of data to enhance fair transparency and support better decision-making, to improve sustainability along organic and GI food supply chains.

The innovative solutions should be widely disseminated and recommendations for relevant actors in the public sector and business should be provided. Close involvement and consultation with project advisory board members is recommended. Projects should use the 'multi-actor approach', ensuring adequate involvement of all relevant actors, including input suppliers, farmers and SMEs. Proposals may build on existing research infrastructures, where relevant. Proposals are encouraged to build on past and ongoing EU-funded research and innovation projects, and are strongly encouraged to cluster with upcoming projects under the HORIZON-CL6-2021-FARM2FORK-01-10, HORIZON-CL6-2022-FARM2FORK-01-11 and HORIZON-CL6-2021-FARM2FORK-01-17 topics. They are also encouraged to cooperate with actors working on related initiatives, including the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality, which provides expertise in food science, authenticity and quality of food supplied in the EU. The possible participation/contribution of the JRC in the project would consist of ensuring that the project deliverables are compatible with and/or improve existing databases and tools used at the European Commission and fostering open access to project results via dissemination through the European Commission Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality.

This topic should involve the effective contribution of SSH disciplines. For this topic, the integration of the gender dimension (sex and gender analysis) in research and innovation content is not a mandatory requirement.