Brussels, 25 July 2003
Improving food quality and safety: EU to fund 24 new research projects and networks
24 food quality and safety research projects and 12 support actions have been awarded an initial EU contribution of €166 million in the first year of the EU 6th Research Framework Programme (FP6). They are the first projects of this kind to receive FP6 funding, totalling close to €20 billion over 4 years (2003-2006). The projects and networks, some of which will receive up to €17 million each, will tackle consumer-oriented issues such as food-related diseases and allergies, the impact of food on health, environmentally-friendly production methods, and environmental health risks, making extensive use of the new approaches offered by FP6. Most of these major new research initiatives will contribute to the implementation of relevant EU policies with sound scientific data and recommendations.
Announcing the new research projects European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: “In Europe, we are proud of the quality food we produce. I am encouraged by the great response we get from our researchers across Europe to work together to increase our knowledge about our food and to make it even better and safer. Through our European research programmes, we give our top scientists and companies the necessary resources to improve the food we eat and its effects on our health and well-being.”
The EU 6th Research Framework Programme
FP6 started on January 1st 2003, with a first crop of calls for proposals published on December 17th, 2002. FP6 has a budget of close to €20 billion, to be allocated on the basis of evaluations following calls for proposals over 4 years. For Priority 5 - Food Quality and Safety - the initial budget is €685 million. On the basis of the evaluation of research proposals by independent experts, the best proposals have been short-listed by the Commission to receive EU funding. Following approval by the Commission and a review by the programme committee(1), contract negotiations will be initiated with project co-ordinators.
Projects to be funded
Following the closure of the call in April, 200 proposals, representing almost €1.4 billion, were evaluated by independent experts under the supervision of the Commission. The experts' shortlists form the basis of the funding decisions of the European Commission. Subject to budgetary constraints, up to 36 proposals, representing an initial EU contribution of €166 million, are expected to receive funding (see table).
Due to the overwhelming number of high quality proposals and a limited budget a number of topics could not be covered and some of these might be re-introduced into the work programme for 2004.
Overview of submitted proposals and shortlist of projects
FP6 foresees two new funding instruments: integrated projects and networks of excellence. These new instruments are designed to give EU activities a bigger impact and bring about better co-ordination of research conducted in Europe. A high proportion of the newly-funded projects use the new instruments of FP6 to tackle some of the major and growing concerns of scientists, public authorities and consumers. These comprise 6 integrated projects, with an average recommended EU contribution of €13.6 million, and 6 networks of excellence, with an average recommended EU contribution of €14.4 million. The number and scale of these projects reflect the will of European scientists to structure the European Research Area. These ambitious projects will investigate issues such as low input and organic production systems; prevention, control and management of prion diseases; improved strategies in animal welfare for improved food quality; and allergy and asthma. See Annex for short descriptions of these.
A further 12 projects use traditional instruments: one is a co-ordinated Action on the influence of nutrition on healthy ageing and 11 are specific targeted research projects (STREP) with an average recommended EU contribution of €2.6 million. The STREPs include projects on pathogen-free production systems; health risks from heat-treated foods; biological crop protection systems; and antibiotic resistance in animals, plants and humans. The Annex provides a full list of targeted and funded topics.
In addition to the research projects, 12 specific support actions are short-listed for funding for a total EU contribution of €6.9 million. Several of these target training and networking researchers and technology transfer, particularly in candidate countries, while other actions aim at disseminating results, sharing good practice stemming from research and helping international discussions in the light of technical progress.
Overall 17% of participants in the shortlist are from outside the 15 Member States (MS). For traditional instruments out of 162 participants, 134 are from MS, 16 (10%) from candidate countries (CC) and 11 from other countries associated with FP6, such as Norway and Israel, or third countries(2): Russia and China. For the new instruments, out of 403 participants, 334 are from MS, 26 (6.5%) are from CC, 33 from other associated countries, such as Iceland, and 10 from third countries such as Australia, Canada, China, Cuba and the USA. For SSA, 50% of participants are from non-MS.
The overall level of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) participation is 103 out of 666 participants (15%). However, the figure is substantially lower in terms of proposed EU contribution, indicating that additional efforts are needed to reach the target of 15% of the budget. Several among the selected consortia foresee open calls to extend their partnership towards the inclusion of SMEs as opportunity arises through progress in their research.
Highlights of the first Integrated projects and networks of excellence to be funded following the first call for proposals for Priority 5
Food from low input and organic production systems: Ensuring the safety and improving quality along the whole chain
This integrated project (33 participants) aims to lead to new technologies and systems for organic and low input production systems. One of its major strengths is a matrix structure whereby the research will consider the whole food chain from fork to farm for a number of sectors including protected crops (tomato), field vegetables (lettuce), fruit (apple), cereal (wheat), pork, dairy and poultry.
It addresses consumer attitudes and expectations, impact of organic foods on nutritional, sensory, microbiological and toxicological quality/safety of foods, development of new technologies and identification of socio-economic, environmental and sustainability impacts of innovations.
This project has the scientific rigour to provide the meaningful information that is lacking on the extent to which differences in production systems affect nutritional value, taste and safety of food. It is expected to make a significant impact on increasing the competitiveness of the organic industry in a number of sectors to the benefit of the European consumers.
Prevention, control and management of prion diseases
This network of excellence (29 participants) is expected to provide European researchers with an effective communication strategy with the public, with policy makers and between themselves, allowing the sharing of prior, current and future knowledge.
It is expected to provide better value for money from European and nationally funded research, allow the better exploitation of knowledge and promote a concerted European response to issues or future TSE crises.
Improved strategies in animal welfare for improved food quality
This integrated project (48 participants) addresses these objectives and importantly, it pays particular heed to the “farm-to-fork” 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 proposal bring 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.
Allergy and asthma
This network of excellence (27 participants) will study allergy and asthma across the course of life, including intrauterine life and foeto-maternal interface, interaction between genetic and environmental factors in early life and development of allergies via existing and new birth cohorts. It will establish an international network of European centres of excellence that will conduct specific integrated multidisciplinary research programmes on issues relating to environment (including outdoor and indoor pollution), nutrition, lifestyle (including occupation), infections and genetic susceptibility.
Genetic and epidemiological studies will address gene-environment interactions that might underpin the dramatic increase in allergy rates in the EU in the last few decades. The work also encompasses, through region-specific epidemiological studies, the impact of nutritional status on allergic disposition.
The project considers the dissemination of information and translation of research results to patients and public, as a fundamental task to reduce the socio-economic burden of allergy and asthma.
Table 1: Food quality and afety topics funded in 2003
(1)The programme committee was held on 11 July 2003. It is made up of representatives of all Member States and countries associated with FP6, including candidate countries.
(2)Third countries: countries that are not Member States and are not formally associated with the FP.