EUR 43 million for research projects to boost European agro-food research

February 3, 2004

Brussels, 2 February 2004

While visiting Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin is attending today an expert seminar on the trends affecting agriculture and food production. Agro-food research today has to respond to challenges, such as agriculture policy reform, enlargement of the European Union, international trade issues, new technologies and rapidly evolving consumer attitudes. On this occasion three major new projects are being launched in the agro-food area that the EU is to support with research funds totalling €43 million through the Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6). The projects launched are the first major FP6 activities which take the "farm-to-fork" approach. SAFE FOODS is an integrated project on risk analysis in food safety, which aims to improve consumer protection, NuGO is a network of excellence to integrate genomics, nutrition and health, and WELFARE QUALITY is an integrated project on animal welfare and food production (see annex).

"Meeting consumers' expectations for good and safe food, while at the same time ensuring sustainable agriculture and fostering a competitive industry, requires ambitious R&D efforts and strong cooperation at European level. Consumers increasingly demand to know where their food comes from and what it brings them. That is why we develop in the EU Sixth Research Framework Programme a new "farm to fork" approach, which opens new perspectives for producing food that responds to environmental, health and competitiveness objectives,"said Research Commissioner Busquin.

Taking up the new challenges

"We are now moving into an era of industrialised food production, processing and distribution where the focus of research changes. Science is producing challenging technologies; globalisation brings new risks as well as benefits; and concerns for ethical and environmental issues have moved high on the agenda," comments Prof. P. Cunningham of Trinity College, Dublin, leading expert in agro-food production and member of the European Group on Life Sciences (EGLS).

"Agricultural research has already started to react to some of these changes by re-orienting and adapting its research agenda... Perhaps the most important example is the change from a production- to a consumer-orientation and the importance attached now to food quality and safety," states Dr. M. Lückemeyer of EURAGRI and Director-General in the German Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture.

The European Commission has been working with EURAGRI since December 2000 to conceive a European Research Area for agriculture research. Dr. Aalt Dijkhuizen, president of Wageningen University and Research Centre, presents his organisation's approach to respond to these new challenges.

The seminar is followed by presentations of three of the twelve major new projects selected for funding in the area of "Food Quality and Safety" during the first round of FP6. Commissioner Busquin is visiting Wageningen University and Research Centre to see ongoing agro-food research and meet Marie Curie fellows and other young foreign researchers currently working at Wageningen UR.

Responding to current concerns, and anticipating future needs

Already a major drive to construct the European Research Area for agriculture and food research is supported through the Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6), which provides new research funding instruments. Thus, the thematic priority "Food quality and safety" supports EU research for the consumer with a novel "farm-to-fork" approach. It covers the total food chain with particular attention to food quality, food-related diseases and allergies, the impact of food on health, traceability, safer and environmentally-friendly production methods, and environmental health risks. In this area the research community has readily embraced the new concept as demonstrated by the 12 large "new instrument" projects short-listed for EU support in the first year of the programme with a total contribution approaching €200 million. These are complemented by 12 other research projects and 15 specific support actions.

Networks of Excellence have been established to tackle allergy problems; to prevent and control prion diseases; to link genomics to nutrition (NuGO); to assess risks from chemicals in food; and to study animal diseases.

Integrated projects are being launched to improve quality and safety in the organic and low input chain; to examine the impact of diet on health; to improve grain legumes in food and feed; on the quality, safety and health benefits of seafood; to improve food safety through integrated risk analysis (SAFE FOODS); and to integrate animal welfare in food quality (WELFARE QUALITY).

The second call for proposals in the food area, which closes on 5 February 2004, is designed to cover a number of additional critical issues including traceability of food (including GMOs in the context of coexistence); the creation of a food information database for Europe; gene-nutrient interactions and obesity; Nutritional and lifestyle habits of adolescents; the effects of early nutrition on long-term health; monitoring and preventing chemical contaminants in food products; using of plant biodiversity to reduce chemical use; environmental cancer risk and nutrition; improving the quality and safety of beef and of poultry.

With the new work programme for the years 2005 and 2006, the European Commission is presently preparing the focus for food quality and safety research within the second half of FP6. This period will take into account research activities not covered in the first 2 years of the programme as well as new issues, such as emerging diseases, new consumer trends, or newly revealed challenges in industrial food production.

The European Commission also recently announced the support of the "European Research Area - Plant Genomics" project to coordinate the national programmes in plant genomics area of ten EU member states and Norway, see IP/04/131 .

For further information on the media briefing in Wageningen (including the full programme) please see .

For the thematic priority on "food quality and safety" in FP6 see also: .

EURAGRI , the European Agricultural Research Initiative is the international (EU) platform for the political and executive organisations in the fields of Food and Agricultural Policy and Research, for details please see .

Wageningen University and Research Centre - Wageningen UR for short - is a centre of expertise in the domain of agro-food and environment which integrates Wageningen University, the DLO Foundation (i.e. the former Agricultural Research Organisation), the Applied Research Stations, the International Agricultural Centre (IAC), the International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), the International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC) and Van Hall Larenstein Polytechnic. .


Project summaries

    SAFE FOODS: Promoting food safety through a new integrated risk analysis approach for foods
This integrated project addresses the issue of how consumer confidence in consumer protection and risk analysis can be restored and strengthened. The proposed research attempts to improve current risk analysis practices for foods produced by different breeding approaches and production practices deploying high and low input systems. The research activities will result in designing new effective procedures for risk analysis underpinned by new scientific assessment methods, and embedded in a broad impact analysis of social, financial and economic consequences, and with high levels of transparency, active public engagement and improved risk communication.
    Co-ordinator: Dr. Harry Kuiper, RIKILT, Institute for Food Safety, Wageningen UR, NL
Budget*: total cost EUR 14.5 million, foreseen EU contribution: approx.EUR 11.4m.
    Consortium*: This project includes 32 partners from 17 countries
NuGO: European Nutrigenomics Organisation linking genomics, nutrition and health

This network of excellence aims to integrate and develop nutritional genomics in Europe. Nutrition and health research is focussed on the prevention of disease by optimising and maintaining cellular, tissue, organ and whole-body homeostasis. This requires understanding, and ultimately regulating, a multitude of nutrient-related interactions at the gene, protein and metabolic levels. This project will enable nutrition research to fully complement the biomedical and pharmacological research communities that are currently using genomics for the development of curative therapy. A key objective of the network will be the development, data warehousing and exploitation of nutrition and health-related bioinformatics for the benefit of European nutrition researchers, and for the community as a whole.

Co-ordinator: Dr. Ben Van Ommen, Centre for Human Nutrigenomics, Wageningen UR, NL

Budget*: foreseen EU contribution: approx. EUR 17.3 million

    Consortium*: This project includes 22 partners from 10 countries
WELFARE QUALITY: Integration of animal welfare in the food quality chain: From public concern to improved welfare and transparent quality

This integrated project addresses the objective of animal welfare for improved food quality and, importantly, pays particular attention to the "fork-to-farm" approach through establishing a strong society-science dialogue. In this context, appropriate and robust on-farm welfare assessment methodologies will be developed together with information frameworks and an array of targeted, high priority welfare improvements. The project brings together many important European players in a well-structured project that offers a real possibility for Europe to cement its position as a leader in farm animal welfare research.

Co-ordinator: Dr. Harry Blokhuis, Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen UR, NL

Budget*: foreseen EU contribution: EUR 14.4 million, total cost: approx. EUR 20 million

    Consortium*: This project includes 43 partners from 14 countries
*note: the projects are in the final stages of contract negotiation, so all aspects may not yet be finalised

DN: IP/04/138 Date: 02/02/2004

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