Support at national level
Food processing research funding varies greatly from country to country, with higher levels of it in west Europe and less in the east. There is very little evidence of joint specific funding for this topic anywhere in Europe. Food processing research appears reasonably well funded at EU level, although within larger Food and Health projects. There are research facilities and infrastructure in both western and eastern European countries, with significant facilities in both regions, although these are ageing in the eastern countries. In almost all countries, the industry has projects on food technology diagnostic methods, whereas enforcement programmes are planned by public entities, universities and public research institutes and sometime endorsed by private actors.
The country reports indicated little research on food and health regulation. Some countries had no strategies or national policies for food and health, while others with strategies did not build on the results of food and health policy research - for example, national reports on the health status of the population did not indicate an impact on food and health policies. Governmental and public institutions with an important role in food and health policy were mostly not linked to policy research, and there are very few foresight studies and programmes, which would serve as a good basis for policy planning. In the area of consumers, existing food and health research is mainly in the older EU member states: capacity and capability building is particularly required in Eastern Europe. Research into consumer behaviour and health insufficiently addresses other potential determinants of consumer decision-making (including economic factors, sustainable production, environmental factors and ethical concerns). There is a substantial volume of research relevant to obesity currently being conducted in most countries, and some research on obesity control was related to policy. Six (Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland) of nineteen country reports indicated European collaborative work: five countries are collaborating on an international scale, and four acknowledged plans to do so, or the importance of this type of collaboration.
The majority of countries are undertaking lifestyle and prevention research, or community and population studies and programmes. Finland, Romania, Switzerland and the UK appear to be leaders in the former category, with Lithuania at the forefront in the latter, and the Netherlands and Italy as big players in both. Prospective epidemiological studies and projects are being carried out in most European countries, particularly UK, Germany, Italy and France, but not in Turkey or Romania. Countries with a high level of molecular research such as nutrigenomics included Switzerland, Netherlands, Lithuania, Ireland, France, Finland, Denmark, UK and Czech Republic. Eight of these are involved in the Joint Programming Initiative and together have many research programmes.
Collaborative research in food and health has been supported by the European Commission within various programmes since the Fourth Research Framework Programme (1994-1998). On the food side, the 2011 programme includes calls for research in fields including satiety control, processed foods with lower salt, fat and sugar content, and food labelling. There has also been much research on food safety, both microbiological and chemical. A large Network of Excellence MoniQA is aiming at validation of methods and standards to analyse foods and food products for safety and quality, while FRISBEE is concerned with food refrigeration innovations for safety (FP7 €8 million). Consumer research is also included in FP7 calls, in projects funded by the Commission's Health Programme, and in foresight work by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.
In general, research on industry regulation and policy is lacking. However, studies of health promotion are supported by DG Health (e.g. PRO GREENS - Promotion of fruit and vegetable consumption among schoolchildren in Europe), while the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) leads a study jointly with the USA on standards for marketing foods and beverages to children funded through the European External Action Service's Pilot Projects programme.
Europe has led important prospective epidemiological studies linking nutrition, lifestyle and environment, in children, adolescents and older people. Obesity in adults is addressed by EURO-PREVOB and HOPE projects while interventions in children include ENERGY, TOYBOX and EPODE projects. Population-level monitoring research has included European food consumption validation, and the European Nutrition and Health Report providing comparisons of nutritional indicators and health determinants. Child obesity monitoring is being undertaken by a network of countries coordinated by the regional office of the World Health Organization and co-funded by the European Commission. Clinical research on food-related diseases has included intervention studies of single nutrients for diseases including coeliac disease, diabetes and allergies; and using a 'whole-food' approach to address specific disease groups - coeliac disease again, Alzheimers' disease and mental health. Collaborative biomedical research is investigating the foetal origin of degenerative diseases, biological effects of the 'Mediterranean diet', and links between nutrition and genomics.
Major researcher groups and networks
Food processing technology research is normally concentrated in one or two food research institutes and universities in each country, whereas there are many university departments addressing food safety, (food microbiology and chemical contaminants). An unusual network is PAN Europe, bringing together NGO campaigning organisations working on hazardous chemicals and including consumer, public health, and environmental organisations, trade unions, women's groups and farmer associations, and the SAFE consortium coordinates institutes for science-based food safety policy-setting and regulation. Consumer research appears strongest in the Scandinavian countries, UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and is represented at European level through BEUC (European Consumers Organisation).
Regulation has been a major concern of the European Food Standards Authority, and equivalent national bodies, it is not a primary research interest. DG Health is concerned with foodstuffs regulation, but mainly animal and plant health, rather than human health. While the European Commission's Directorate for Health and Consumers coordinates a High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity, with representatives from member state governments, and the European Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, bringing together industry and policy stakeholders, there is no committee or network focusing on European food and health policy research.
At population level, EuroFIR (European Food Information Resource) Network is a European Network of Excellence on food composition databanks involving universities, research institutes and SMEs. Significant concern for dietary policies is made by European health groups including the European Heart Network (EHN), and the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO). There is growing engagement of molecular scientists, geneticists and chemists into biomedical fields, including metabolomics and nutrigenetics/nutrigenomics. They seek to increase understanding through research and education, of professionals and the general public, of the role of genetic variation and dietary response, and the role of nutrients in gene expression. Other groupings include the Federation of European Nutrition Societies (FENS), and the industry-funded ILSI (Europe, International Life Sciences Institute) which coordinates the EURRECA Network of Excellence on micronutrient requirements in Europe.
In the private sector, three global companies have strong European research presence: Danone, with 500 staff at Wageningen, The Netherlands and Palaiseau, France; Unilever, with 2500 staff at Port Sunlight, UK, Colworth, UK and Vlaardingen, the Netherlands; and Nestlé at Lausanne, Switzerland. The European Food Information Council (EUFIC), representing both processing and retail industries provides information on food safety and health for the public and professionals with an interest in food.
Research systems at national levels
ERAWATCH country research profiles describe national research systems, policies, policy support measures, research organisations and key research indicators. European research is predominantly planned and financed by Ministries of Science and/or Education, or equivalent central body. There is often a policy-making council, sometimes in coordination with sectoral ministries, and ministries may also hold research funds directly. Third tier organisations often administer and implement. The research performers are the universities and public research institutes, with the private sector providing a relatively small proportion. Many member states are restructuring the research sector, with smaller Member States expanding the numbers of new universities, and larger states regrouping and consolidating the sector.
Modernisation of the research system in several eastern member states, particularly the larger ones, remains a challenge. However, the EU Structural Funds include substantial funding for research (and innovation), with an emphasis on supporting industry research as well as the public sector. Broadly, the European Regional Development Fund can support capital investments (science parks, laboratories), and the European Social Fund supports people (higher training programmes, exchange).
National agricultural research has been mapped by the Standing Committee for Agricultural Research . FAHRE has reported structures for food and health research in Europe . Structures for funding health research are presented on the web-page of STEPS (Strengthening Engagement in Public Health Research) .
Research and innovation in food processing should be both fundamental and consumer-oriented and address the need for food products that promote healthy eating, including the growing older population, and migrants. The food industry is devoting many millions of Euros to laboratory searches for new 'functional' ingredients in foods, often present at very low concentrations. RTD issues for food processing include effective extraction systems, how to place the 'functional' ingredients in food, and methods for keeping them intact through the processing and distribution process. However, there is no lack of nutrients across the population in general, and the value of these products is not supported by evidence. More research is needed to understand what population groups are consuming such products, how overall dietary intakes are affected, and therefore what public health benefits these products are achieving.
Food safety research addresses food pathogens, control of virulence and chemical contaminants, and seeks to develop new systems and methods for control. Current themes include new technical methods of heating and non-thermal microbial inactivation methods (e.g. ohmic heating, pulse electric field, high pressure): non-thermal mechanism better retain nutrients (e.g. vitamins in fruit juices). Much needed safety research is biological, or technical (new food processing and preservation technologies) rather than health research. There should also be more research on human perception of risks and risk communication.
There has been a concerted research effort by the health sector, and the commercial sector with health care interests (including medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and treatment solutions), to create products effective for managing obesity, but with limited success. This has led researchers to turn their attention towards non medical approaches, including food-related health behaviour and the environment (physical, financial, social, educational, regulatory etc). However, while there are several examples of national policy interventions on food marketing and food composition to improve public health in European countries - including the Danish increase in tax on sugared beverages, the French ban on vending machines in schools, Norwegian subsidies given for the distribution of fruit and vegetables, the Finnish Allergy programme with children on specific diets, the UK ban on TV advertising of unhealthy foods to children and the Swiss legal limit on trans-fatty acids in vegetable oils - there has been little evaluative research relating regulation to effects, for example through population surveillance and health impact assessments.
There is increasing research on food-related behaviour, including experimental interventions (for example, information, or community based programmes targeting improved dietary choice): the interaction between biological, psychological and socio-cultural factors is important for dietary choice. Current consumer research tends to relate to a single outcome, such as health, sustainable consumption, or production acceptance: simultaneous comparison of several domains, for example including the risks and benefits to health, the environment, socio-economic factors, and ethical concerns, would be a relevant future research field.
Targets are needed for national food-based dietary guidelines, with interventions at public and industry levels to promote healthy eating. Population studies are of crucial value. There should be evaluation of biomarkers in relation to dietary data, along with studies in nutrigenomics. Better measures are also needed in, for example, quality of life measures which incorporate peoples' experience of life as well as clinical assessments, or the impact of a specific food-related disease on the economic functioning of the individual, the household, and health care services.
Collection of data needs to be maintained over time to monitor changes both in foods and eating habits. Research can investigate food-based interventions for diseases: (a) to promote good function e.g. gut absorption, brain function (b) prevention of disease, e.g. Alzheimer's disease, some cancers, and metabolic syndrome, and (c) improving prognosis during disease, e.g. cardiovascular disease. Bringing about behavioural change is challenging. Health care professionals have used 'motivational interviewing', financial incentives in dieting plans, and cardiovascular genetic risk profiles. However, communicating the results of genetic tests does not appear to result in behaviour change, and weight loss is difficult to maintain.
Biomedical research at molecular-level research has focused on micronutrients, both at individual country level and also cross-European and international levels. But while epidemiological studies always find a link between cardiovascular disease and fruit and vegetable intake, randomised controlled trials with vitamin supplements and with fruit and vegetables have shown no effect on cardiovascular disease. The focus has therefore shifted away from micronutrients towards whole diets/whole foods, for example macronutrients and different dietary patterns such as Mediterranean and Nordic diets.
Support at European Union level
The European Technology Platform (ETP) "Food for Life" is an industry-led, public/private partnership supported by the European Commission DG Research . Its Strategic Research Agenda in 2007, and Implementation Action Plan, in 2008, proposing proposed "new processes, products and tools that: Improve health, well-being and longevity, build consumer trust in the food chain, and derive from sustainable and ethical production." The ETP is developing a new workprogramme from 2011.
The Seventh Framework Programme Agriculture research theme has included a section "Fork to farm; health and well-being", with topic subjects including
Consumer, behavioural, societal and cognitive sciences related to food and feed;
Nutrition and diet-related diseases, including obesity;
Improved quality and safety, both chemical and microbiological, of food, beverage and feed.
Following a process of consultation, in 2010 the European Commission invited Member States to launch Joint Programming Initiatives in three areas . For 'A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life', a temporary secretariat has been established in the Netherlands. The permanent governance structure and secretariat is planned from September/October 2011.
The Sixth Framework Research Programme (2002-2006) focused medical research within 'Life Sciences', and gave particularly strong funding to genomics. Broader public health research was put into the 'eighth' Policy strand. The Health call for the Seventh Framework Programme has three pillars, covering basic sciences, applied (clinical) research and public health/health systems. The programmes have covered major disease areas such as cancer, respiratory and neurological diseases as well as cross-specialty themes such as lifecourse, equity and ageing. Food-related diseases are not addressed directly, but food and nutrition are included in research proposals both on the causes and management of diseases, in studies of the determinants of health and in population health interventions.
The European Commission's Directorate for Health and Consumers' EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health seeks 'to pool Europe's knowledge on what works - and what does not - and to disseminate best practice across the European Union' . The composition of the Platform has included officials, industry and civil society organisations. Five fields for action identified by the Platform members are: Consumer information, including labelling; Education; Physical activity promotion; Marketing and advertising; Composition of foods, availability of healthy food options and portion sizes.
The European Commission calculates that financial support for research on diet, dietary habits and genetic factors totalled about €101 million for five years (1998-2002) in FP5, approximately €178 million for five years (2002-2006) in FP6 and approximately €81 million in the first four years (2007-2010) of FP7 . In FP6 and FP7 approximately €36 million were allocated to projects on allergies, €81 million to prevention of obesity, of which about half was for prevention of obesity in children, and approximately €66 million to identification of bioactive compounds in food and of the mechanisms governing the way they act and to related improved processing. The nutritional needs of an ageing population received €22 million under FP5. €17 million were invested in research projects on consumer needs and behaviour, in FP6 €21 million and in FP7 so far €11 million. The 2010 workplan is addressing production of food for the low-income population.
Other relevant arrangements for European research include:
The EUREKA programme provides co-funding for research by large companies, and (in the EUREKA Eurostars Programme) by SMEs. EUREKA Umbrellas support research and development in thematic networks, including Euro-Agri in fields of biotechnology, genomics, proteomics and food technology, as well as quality, safety and traceability.
COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) enables coordination of nationally-funded research on a European level. It supports national facilities, institutes, universities and private industry to work jointly on Research and Development in the nine domains, including (but separately) Biomedicine and Molecular Biosciences; Food and Agriculture; and Individuals, Societies, Cultures and Health.
Research Infrastructures are facilities, resources or services, including, equipment, computing, software and communications, which support the research community in conducting research. An advisory group, the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) advises on priorities, and there RIs in the health field include networks of clinical research centres and high security laboratories.
The European Science Foundation (ESF) provides cooperation and collaboration in European research and development, European science policy and science strategy. Its Biological and Medical Sciences Roadmap Working Group has proposed research infrastructures for food and health research.
SCAR, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Research, established by the European Commission Directorate, reported on 'health' as one of eight 'driving forces' for agriculture in Europe, focused on food security .