Speaking to FoodNavigator.com Beate Kettlitz, director food policy, science and R&D at FoodDrinkEurope (FDE), reckons, that with impact assessment still needed, any new novel food legislative proposals would be unlikely in early 2012. “This is of course very unfortunate, as this is fundamental piece of legislation having the potential to support innovation,” she said.
Back in April, the Commission had pledged to deliver new novel food and cloning proposals by December 2011.
Kettlitz was speaking following the trade group’s Innovation Day, which aims at bringing together industry, regulators and academia to spur R&D within the EU food and drink sector.
The FDE claims delays in the regulatory framework can impact very severely on the likely return on investment. For example, it can take more than 30 months before a novel food is approved which can reduce the rate of return by 30% or €4m per product.
“This is not to suggest that we should cut corners on risk assessment – safety is paramount to the industry – but we should minimise these delays to prevent ideas generated here from being developed more successfully by others elsewhere,” argues the trade group.
R&D investment in the food and drink industry
The FDE's event this week coincided with the first anniversary of the EC’s Innovation Union initiative under the EU 2020 Strategy, the goal of which is to reinvest 3% of Europe’s GDP in R&D by 2020.
Current R&D investment in the food and drink industry is low (0.37% of food and drink output in 2006), especially compared to other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, technology and automotive industries.
Coherent regulatory framework
Kettlitz estimates that one factor that will help boost R&D projects in the EU food industry is a more coherent regulatory framework. She stresses that for the quicker transfer of DG research project results, regulatory barriers should be minimised.
“Environment, health and consumer protection and agricultural policies should aim at comparable targets, [and] any contradictions should be prevented.
For example, in terms of advice in in relation to agricultural practices, minimum tillage is promoted by DG Environment as an environment and biodiversity friendly practice but this growing technique is contrary to the advice of DG Agriculture as it can lead to a highly undesirable increase of fusarium toxins,” notes Kettlitz.
With around 310,000 companies in the sector, 99% of which are SMEs, technology transfer is extremely challenging, and requires a more tailored approach, adds the trade group. "To benefit the industry as a whole, we need to pay special attention to optimising knowledge generation and sharing across national borders and between SMEs,” urges the FDE.
The industry body is calling for the establishment of clusters or networks to support the participation of SMEs in R&D activities, and to focus on training and education to minimise specific bottlenecks they face in becoming more proactive innovators.
The FDE also estimates that existing financial structures for innovation including. venture capital, loan guarantees and grants is fragmented and fails to mobilise private sector investment “as well as it could do.”
To overcome this, it is calling for the “current structures to be reinvented, for instance a European risk capital market could provide more funding and greater expertise.”