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European Technology Platform for the Agro-Food Sector: Food for Life

Final Report Summary - EUFOOD4LIFE (European Technology Platform for the Agro-Food Sector: Food for Life)

The European food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Europe. Despite its prominent position, globalisation has increased the pressure on all aspects of this sector. A competitive food and drink industry can and must play an important part in driving the EU towards becoming the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world. There are several ways in which the industry can generate growth and emphasise its position in world markets. One is to move up the value chain by producing higher value-added goods and putting more emphasis on innovative products. This requires a future knowledge base that must be connected to industry (96 % of which are SMEs and microenterprises) by effective knowledge transfer through a multi-disciplinary focus on the key determinants of change.

The EUFOOD4LIFE (please see online) supported by the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the European Union (CIAA) has brought together the principal stakeholders of the food chain to participate in an industry-led Europe-wide initiative to address the innovation challenge throughout the food chain - from fork to farm. Together, the stakeholders, including consumers (e.g. BEUC), food-related industries, the research community, regulators and policymakers prepared a shared Vision for 2020 and beyond which integrates strategically-focussed, trans-national research that delivers innovative processes, products and tools in line with the needs and expectations of the consumer.

The Vision for 2020 was launched on 5 July 2005. Following this, an industry-led board was formed and six expert working groups (WGs) reflecting the science-led themes of food and health, food quality and manufacturing, food and consumer, food safety, sustainable food production and food chain management and two facilitating WGs, communication, training and technology transfer and horizontal activities were established. Together these developed a draft stakeholder strategic research agenda (SSRA), which was the subject of an expert consultation on 2 February 2006. Following revision the SSRA was submitted to the EC in April 2006.

A crucial step in establishing a successful, widely accepted and supported platform with a co-ordinated research approach was the delivery of a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) in September 2007 and Implementation Action Plan (IAP) in June 2008. In order to ensure that the SRA reflected the needs and opportunities of the whole of Europe, a series of initial national, regional and web consultations were organised for the period April 2006 - January 2007.

The challenge of stimulating and promoting innovation in the food chain requires a combination of a formal research-led approach and a structured, infrastructure-led approach, which was developed and tailored to the needs of food companies and high-tech SMEs on the one hand and medium- and low-tech SMEs on the other hand. The interests all stakeholder sectors were addressed through the national consultations, the drafting of the SRA and IP and their subsequent dissemination.

The initiation of 30 National Technology Platforms (NTPs) Food for Life was an unexpected and successful achievement that facilitated stakeholder communication and interaction at national level, and strengthened contact and dialogue with the ETP Food for Life. The creation of NTPs was the first step that enabled the formation of a mirror group composed of national funding bodies.

The partners of this project (Unilever, IFR, WCFS and CIAA) but also all the ETP members involved in the board, operational committee and working groups contributed to achieve the objectives of the project.

Through the networks that the ETP has built up with European industry, universities and research institutions, consumer organisations and funding bodies in individual EU Member States, and the European Commission, it is envisaged that this momentum, developed from the Vision for 2020 and the SRA, will continue and grow. The ETP will continue to work to ensure that the research and policy issues that they have identified are discussed with, national and regional authorities, consumers and the public at large. Interactions and communication between these stakeholders and food manufacturers, including multinational European industries and SMEs and those engaged on national and European programmes of research, remains an essential function.

The ETP will investigate the possibilities of developing closer public-private partnerships such as a Joint Technology Initiative (JTI), which aims to achieve greater strategic focus by supporting common ambitious research agendas in areas that are crucial for competitiveness and growth. As much, they draw on all sources of R&D investment - public and private - and couple research tightly to innovation.