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Aligning food safety with local economic gain

Different visions for demand and supply of food in Central Europe can help the region pre-empt future needs and emerge as an agro-industrial powerhouse.
Aligning food safety with local economic gain
Central Europe has an important agro-food industry, but its potential has not been fully realised. The region's impact on future demand and supply thus remains uncertain. The EU-funded project 'Healthy and safe food for the future - A technology foresight project in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia' (Futurefood6) aimed to address this issue. It represented a foresight exercise that could estimate food demand and supply by 2020.

The project surveyed experts, authorities and other stakeholders from the countries involved using a new scientific approach to identify key technological, economic and social developments that shape demand and supply. Futurefood6 focused on food safety and security in the long term, mapping key technologies that have a bearing on health, economic growth, employment and food quality. It found that the region's food industry is lagging behind technologically, mapping out four long-term targets or 'future visions'.

The first of four visions calls for consumer preferences to drive consumption of regional products and specialty local products, minimising food transport, ensuring cultural diversity and supporting local economies. This vision must address high costs of production, distribution challenges and brand development to become a reality and to encourage exportation.

The second vision envisages strong traceability from farm to fork and high-tech development of the food industry, again driven by consumers and competition to yield healthy, safe, high quality food. Such a model must ensure that SME producers dominate food markets and address costly certification requirements.

The third vision involves national strategies for food research and development with a focus on functional food and socioeconomic issues. Lastly, the fourth vision proposes a trained workforce to run new knowledge-based farming systems that consider climate change and that are energy efficient. This vision requires tackling barriers such as underdevelopment of rural areas and deficiencies in the educational system.

If these proposals are heeded and the visions are realised, Eastern and Central Europe can emerge as a truly sustainable region in the food sector. Exports will also improve and the standard of living will be raised to meet that of Western European nations, harmonising food standards across the continent and boosting the agro-food industry.

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