Horizon Europe supporting food research and innovation with funding boost

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

New European budget proposals will see increased investment for food research and innovation as the bloc looks to accelerate growth, increase competiveness and tackle global challenges.

Detailing plans under the new Horizon Europe programme, Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation, said that the Commission will spend €100bn on science and innovation between 2022 and 2027. This, the commissioner suggested, is the “biggest [budgetary] increase in absolute terms ever”​. 

The budget is split into three pillars: open research, global challenges and open innovation.

EC budget
Source: European Commission

A particular focus has been placed on converting scientific research into actionable innovations. The region accounts for 7% world’s population, 20% of global R&D investment and one-third of all high quality scientific publications. However, there is a concern that this has failed to translate into innovation and market competitiveness.

Speaking during a press conference in Brussels, Moedas said that the aim of Horizon Europe is to “do more of what we already do well”​ while improving innovation capabilities in Europe. “First, we have to [continue to] do fundamental science well, just increase the amount of money for fundamental science but do it as we normally would. Second, it was about these global challenges and industry competitiveness. We have to have a new way of thinking about it. Finally, it was about innovation – and innovation is radical change. We all understand what we are doing is not enough.”

Increased spending on food R&I

Investment in food falls under one of Horizon Europe’s five “global challenges”​ and the Commission has earmarked €10bn for this sector.

According to the proposal, this budget will be used to support the transition to sustainable consumption and production and restoring planetary health

Global Challenges and Industrial Competitiveness

Health, €7.7bn
Inclusive and secure societies, €2.8bn
Digital and industry, €15bn
Climate, energy and mobility, €15bn
Food and natural resources, €10bn

Moedas said that food is one of the key industries that he believes will be disrupted by digital innovation. As such, it is one of the areas that will benefit from the largest spending increases.

“Global challenges and industry leadership. The idea is to look at what are the challenges we have today and what can we do about [them]. There are [four] industries that will change with digital: food, water, health and energy. Those if you look at the numbers, if you look at where we have increased [the budget], they go along those lines. The biggest increases are in these four areas.”

‘Mission-based science’

Horizon Europe will take a “mission-based​” approach to science funding in order to allow European citizens to connect with scientific outcomes, the commissioner said.

“Mission driven science… explains to people in a very simple way the projects we do so people will understand,”​ he suggested.

“We will define with Parliament what are those missions,”​ Moedas revealed, adding that he expects to create “mission boards” comprised of experts and interested parties in early 2019.

Copa and Cogeca, the European farmer and cooperatives association, welcomed this approach. “We support a ‘missions-oriented’ approach to foster break-through solutions. This could especially be relevant to solve challenges linked to climate change and food security,”​ the organisation’s Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said.

But while Copa and Cogeca welcomed an “ambitious EU research and innovation programme”​ the organisation cautioned that too much red tape could act as a barrier to participation for smaller organisations and businesses.

“The level of administrative work required from project participants also remains too high. This acts as a major obstacle to engagement in research projects, especially for newcomers and small organisations. We need specific rules and procedures for small organisations as they are vital to further reduce administrative costs and to simplify participation,”​ Pesonen urged.

TP Organics, the European Technology Platform (ETP) for organic food & farming, called for the creation of a mission linking food production and the promotion of organic practices to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Eduardo Cuoco, Head of Secretariat of TP Organics, said: “The proposal links the objectives of ‘Food and Natural Resources‘ to the Sustainable Development Goals, but is not clear how these will be achieved. TP Organics calls for a Mission for Sustainable Food & Farming Systems guided by organic and agroecological principles. This means promoting circular systems, building on systemic interactions, using diverse crops and animals, relying on biological processes for soil fertility and controlling pests. It involves better integration of land, food and farming policies, setting up fair and transparent supply chains and promoting sustainable diets.”

In particular, the organisation said it is concerned that ‘global challenges’ and ‘industrial competitiveness’ have been placed together in a single pillar.

“The proposal for Horizon Europe suggests merging ’industrial competitiveness‘ and ’global challenges’ in the same pillar. Blurring both objectives risks limiting the already-scarce funding available for addressing societal challenges, and importantly may exclude research approaches that deliver public goods rather than private benefits. We call for a specific pillar for research and innovation that will help Europe to reach the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement,”​ Karin Ulmer, Steering Committee member of TP Organics, argued.

Food safety funding confirmed

A budget of €1.68bn was also confirmed for a new single market programme with includes a specific strand on food safety.

In the food area, the main objectives of the programme are:
1. Preventing and eradicating animal diseases and plant pests;
2. Supporting the improvement of the health and welfare of animals;
3. Pushing for sustainable food production and consumption, and
4. Improving the effectiveness, efficiency and reliability of official controls.
Source: European Commission

The programme will act as the EU’s primary financial instrument to maintain high levels of health for humans, plants and animals along the supply chain.

“Based on the achievements and lessons learned from the current food safety programme, with a focus on the protection of human, animal and plant health, the actions that will be implemented will cover a wide range of topics, including veterinary and phytosanitary emergency measures to tackle outbreaks (like African swine fever and Xylella), activities to improve animal welfare, training sessions to make sure that officials in charge of the EU's food security are fully knowledgeable and activities to prevent growing challenges like food fraud and food waste.” 

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, welcomed the food safety pillar being a main beneficiary of the programme.

“This is the recognition of the importance of securing the smooth functioning of the internal market in food products, by preventing and when necessary combating animal and plant diseases that can have major consequences for public health and the EU economy. It allows us to strengthen further our efforts in the areas of animal welfare, food waste and the fight against fraud."

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