Vieillefosse: 'Food has become too much a matter of crisis and not of opportunity'

"Food has become too much a matter of crisis and not of opportunity," says Michel Vieillefosse, head of the EUREKA Secretariat, writing in the latest edition of EUREKA News magazine, which focuses on food technologies and safety and will be launched at the Anuga FoodTec event in Cologne, Germany, next 4 April 2006.

"The agriculture and food sectors are vitally important to the European economy as a whole. The food industry is a leading sector in the EU, with the highest annual production in the world at close to 600 billion euro, or about 15% of the total for the processing industry as a whole. It is the third largest industrial employer, with over 2.6 million workers, 30% in small and medium-sized businesses. The agricultural sector has a total production of about 220 billion euro and provides the equivalent of 7.5 million full-time jobs," adds Vieillefosse.

Playing a vital part in the development of food technologies

Vieillefosse recalls how the sophistication of technologies in providing safe, high quality produce has grown over the last decade following a spate of contamination scares in the nineties and a crisis of consumer confidence. EUREKA, he says, has played a vital part in enabling monitoring and control technologies to be swiftly developed and out on the market to meet the growing demands in quality control throughout the food chain, from detecting GM matter in baby food or safely and cost effectively disposing of BSE contaminated waste.

The challenges presented in the field of food go beyond monitoring and quality control. EUREKA projects span horticulture and crop production technology; animal selection, production and husbandry, genetic engineering, packaging, transportation and distribution, microbiology, and biocontrol.

"EUREKA's successes stem from projects initiated by innovators, both large and small, in tackling the challenges together," he says. In the agri-food sector these include projects under the EUROAGRI+ Umbrella and with giants such as Nestlé and Danone teaming with SMEs to develop effective food testing systems and manufacturing and packaging solutions. European produce: quality over quantity?

"There is a fear in Europe about GM foods that doesn't exist elsewhere," Vieillefosse adds, stating that the legislative climate outside of Europe better nurtures innovative ideas that are close to market. "Our large companies and networks are absconding from Europe to take advantage of this climate. Yet European products – including food – have a USP: Quality. And the European social model is the envy of US and Far Eastern citizens where good wages, healthcare and social security have been sacrificed to some degree to maintain the high volumes and low costs that can render these countries' products so competitive." Safeguarding and developing Europe's market share

Biotechnology has opened a vast new field of exploration into new modes of agricultural production and foods with a health benefit in addition to the physiological value of the nutrients they contain. Vieillefosse claims that the commercial success that EUREKA has seen in developing close-to-market research and bringing the results to market is based on the quick start of its projects and in marrying the commercial and managerial know-how of large companies with the brains of smaller SMEs. "We must continue to provide a favourable basis for large companies to stay in Europe to safeguard and further develop Europe's market share in the agricultural and food industry," he insists.

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