European food safety research: An explorative study with funding experts’ consultation

Tamara Stelzl, Nastasia Belc, Nunzia Cito, Veronica M.T. Lattanzio, Celine Meerpoel, Sarah De Saeger, Hanna Leena Alakomi, Monika Tomaniova, Jana Hajslova, Sophie Scheibenzuber (Corresponding Author), Michael Rychlik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

The European research area exhibits considerable opacity and fragmentation in food safety research funding and organizational structures, impeding the exploitation of existing research potential across European countries. Given that food safety is inherently linked to the societal challenges of our time, identifying and removing existing barriers to research funding in this area is crucial. Towards investigating this matter, interviews were conducted with funding bodies from six European countries to assess key issues related to research funding in general and food safety in particular. Funding experts were then invited to a workshop to jointly discuss the challenges identified and explore strategies to address them. Evaluation of the food safety research funding situation in selected European countries revealed both convergences and significant differences among national funding bodies. Engaging with funding experts provided invaluable insights into the issues encountered with research funding, such as inadequate call management staff or insufficient research funds, culminating in a set of recommendations for action to remedy the situation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22979
Number of pages14
JournalHeliyon
Volume9
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Funding

The allocation of funding is usually directed towards previously identified target topics within individual funding entities. Research applications best satisfying the demands of funding providers are likely to get approval and financial support. This requires a certain amount of flexibility from researchers of always being at the leading edge of the relevant scientific topics available for funding. However, performing research and managing the underlying infrastructure planning processes are often very complex and time-consuming, especially with regard to research projects connected to the food safety field. Experience has demonstrated the demand for continuity and tenacity to develop target-oriented as well as activity-oriented approaches of tangible solutions. But still, the fast development of societal challenges and policy needs call for the rapid provision of scientific knowledge and approaches to solving existing problems. Political demands arising out of environmental, security and nutritional questions are changing today more quickly than scientists can respond to. By contrast, providing innovative solutions to the complex and pressing issues of our time makes it necessary to establish scientific knowledge resources and in developing creative, multidisciplinary and viable solutions, which require a certain run-up time. The current funding culture tends to be driven by a preference to fund quick, new, and sensational research results. Funding programmes for science should have some long-term stability and be developed with an eye to future developments and demands, rather than being subject to short-term political interests and dictates. Investment in food safety related research increases societies’ resilience towards crisis and prevents economical losses both within companies (e.g., food recalls) and society (e.g., foodborne diseases). In addition, consumer trust in the food value chain will increase. Applying a systemic approach, the SFS Partnership will address the following key issues related to the food systems environment: 1) Change the way we eat; 2) Change the way we process and supply food; 3) Change the way we connect with food systems; and 4) Change the way we govern food systems [ 8 ]. The preparation for the establishment of the SFS Partnership and its SRIA under the leadership of SCAR Food Systems is still ongoing [ 8 ], supported by the Horizon 2020 project FOODPathS ( https://www.foodpaths.eu ), among others. The expectations for the SFS Partnership are quite high, but at the same time, it will open up new opportunities to address and solve contemporary challenges in a way that individual EU-funded R&I projects or initiatives with limited scope, budget, and human resources, have not been able to do so far on a stand-alone basis and to the extent needed. Major benefits of the new SFS Partnership are certainly that it does not operate in isolation, nor is it limited to a specific number of participants, but is open to a wide range of actors and stakeholders, throughout its lifetime [ 19 ], while also building on existing knowledge and expertise to derive maximum synergy gains. This will not only foster innovation and advancements in research and development, but also increase the necessary clout and power needed to address existing and forthcoming societal challenges in a more strategic and eye-to-eye manner on an international scale. Due to its targeted mission and impact-oriented approach, the SFS Partnership will also serve to mobilize a critical mass in human and financial resources (public and private investment) in the longer term and to further develop a knowledge base and capacities at the national and trans-national level by building networks and collaborations with, for example, European research infrastructures, Innovation Hubs, or Cluster Initiatives [ 21 ]. This may well be a door-opener to accessing alternative instruments, (national) funding and/or investments needed to further enhance the potential of the SFS Partnership and increase research activities, performance and innovation capacities and thereby accelerating the transformation of the European food systems toward greater safety and sustainability. This work was funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme (H2020-EU.3.2.2.2. – Healthy and safe foods and diets for all) [grant number 101000613] as part of the FoodSafety4EU project (Call: H2020-FNR-2020-1).

Keywords

  • Food safety
  • FoodSafety4EU
  • Funding experts
  • Research funding
  • Social lab

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