Danes and Swedes to lead bid for Horizon 2020 food research strand

Danish and Swedish universities are in the running to become world centres for food innovation when the first round of Horizon 2020 research programmes is announced.

After intense lobbying through the consortium Foodbest, coordinated by Copenhagen and Lund universities together with major food producers and research institutions in Europe, Food4Future (sustainable food supply chain) is set to be among the first three knowledge and innovation communities (KICs) to be announced in the first expansion round of the European Institute of Technology, or EIT, under Horizon 2020.

The European parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy is now discussing the new KICs for 2014, including Food4Future as one of the three proposals put forward by the EIT. And Foodbest is preparing a bid for this KIC, which will have a budget of €50 million to €100 million (US$66 to US$132 million).

In November, the Foodbest consortium wrote to European Union President José Barroso, copied to all EU commissioners, saying:

“We, the European food and drink industry, wish to firmly demonstrate our support for implementing a food KIC as soon as possible in order to address innovatively European societal challenges, secure and create European jobs, and contribute to European economic growth.

"As the biggest sector in Europe, we have the volume and geographical dispersion to make huge positive economic, environmental and structural impact in Europe.”

It said that as the world’s population has already reached seven billion and is expected to reach up to 10 billion within a generation, there is an urgent need to address the issue of food security and safety. A food KIC would “catalyse the development of new, sustainable ways of securing safe food for the increasing world population, thereby addressing global food safety and security issues”.

In its strategic plan for Horizon 2020, now to be discussed by the European parliament, EIT has proposed six new KICs for 2014-20, to be set up in two phases.

The first group, to be created in 2014, will have the following themes: innovation for healthy living and active ageing (improving the quality of life and well-being of citizens of all ages); Food4Future (sustainable food supply chain, from farm to fork); and raw materials (sustainable exploration, extraction, processing, recycling and substitution of raw materials).

The next wave of KICs, to be established in 2018, will focus on added-value manufacturing (developing more competitive, sustainable and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes); smart, secure societies (addressing Europe’s security gaps through the development and deployment of innovative ICT solutions); and urban mobility (delivering a greener, more inclusive, safer and smarter urban mobility system).

The EU Commission stated in a communication document to the European parliament that Food4Future is essential to European industry.

“The food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Europe and plays an essential role in Europe's wider economic development. Despite its relevant role, the competitiveness of the European food and drink industry is being challenged. Over the last decade, Europe's share of the global market has declined from 25% to 21% in the face of competition from emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil,” it said.

“Increasingly unable to compete on cost alone, the European food industry needs to be able to add value by creating healthier, more sustainable and resource-efficient products if it is to reverse this decline.”

A KIC is supposed to constitute a legal entity, and will have an annual budget of at least €50 million to €100 million, with 25% supported by EIT. It will have to last for seven years and set up five or six co-location centres. KICs will be required to have a lasting impact on education and knowledge use through innovation, notably through collaboration with industry, which will fund significant parts of KIC activity.

It first looked like Food4Future would not be included in the EIT strategic roadmap for six to eight new KICs during Horizon 2020, but then the consortium launched a major campaign aimed at the president of the EU Commission, all commissioners and representatives for food research last autumn.

Under a plan initiated from the Øresund region, representatives from the strongest food regions in Europe met in Lund in January, and endorsed the coordination of the preparation for bidding for the 2014 KIC.

Denmark, which currently holds the presidency of the EU, has made food production a major priority of its term, and this might enhance the work in the region for the ambition of establishing a world centre for food innovation across the Øresund.

Jerzy Langer, international secretary of Academia Europeae, and a former deputy minister of research in Poland, told University World News that he is worried that there is no representation from former Eastern European countries in the Foodbest consortium.

He said three questions must be asked: to what extent is this an academic-driven endeavour; who is in the consortium from new member states, since Poland is one of the major food producers in the EU; and will this be just another network, or a truly academic-driven KIC?

Erik Bisgaard Madsen, associate dean for private and public sector services at Copenhagen University, told University World News: “We see the planned virtual food research centre at Copenhagen University in collaboration with the Technological University of Denmark as an instrument for attracting more external funding, including from the EU.”

Anders Flodström, professor of material physics at The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, said that three important issues are on the agenda for EU decision-making bodies: the €3 billion budget for 2014-20, the balance in the budget between consolidating the three existing KICs and building up the new ones, and the KIC themes for the first (2014) and second (2018) waves.

He said the lobbying for Food4Future was impressive and shows that even "shy Scandinavians" can do their homework in trying to shape Europe’s innovation and science future.

“We must, however, remember that this is the first phase, where all European interests in food stand united,” Flodström said. “When it is time for submitting proposal for innovation, education and research within the food theme, I hope that there will be competing proposals.

“This is the main guarantee of the highest possible quality in innovation, education and research. And then we will see who formed the most excellent and innovative European network within the theme.”