Antonio di Giulio, Head of Unit for Food, Health, and Well-being & Timothy Hall, Head of Unit for Agriculture, Forestry Fisheries and Aquaculture
Continuing from our earlier interview with Maive Rute, Timothy Hall, Head of Unit for Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Aquaculture, along with Antonio di Giulio, Head of Unit for Food, Health and Well-being offer an insight into their role in the Knowledge Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) and how improvements in fisheries and aquaculture can benefit the European Union
Firstly, could each of the other two Heads of Units also explain their role and the main aims and objectives of the different Units?
Antonio di Giulio (AG): Within the context of the grand challenges that Director Rute outlined, my role is to ensure that sound EU research with high European added value is funded and managed, which will address the challenge of securing the availability of safe, nutritious and affordable food. As you will appreciate this challenge has taken on a new dimension in view of demographic changes, changing lifestyles, global demand, and environmental restrictions on agricultural production and intensified competition for land for feed, food and non-food production. Concerning the challenge for a socially inclusive and healthy Europe, our goal is to shift research policy to an approach that will assist in prevention of metabolic disorders and diseases through the innovative development of products with enhanced functionality.
Timothy Hall (TH): My role as head of the unit responsible for the management of agriculture, forestry fisheries and aquaculture production systems has a very wide scope. The main challenge however is to fund and manage research policies which will make these production systems more sustainable, efficient and competitive within the changing global scenarios of climate change, food security, population growth and finite natural resources. This kind of research also fulfils an important public role and responds to consumer concerns about the quality and integrity of our food. We also strive to generate knowledge gleaned from the latest technologies which will be used, not only in making industries which use biological raw materials more competitive, but in helping to shape important policy issues in public health, agriculture and fisheries. Within the bioeconomy context these production systems are the source material for a more diversified and better quality food supply, and will form the basis for the growing demand to replace fossil fuel-based feedstocks with sustainable bio-based products.
What role are innovative food and feed processing research and techniques taking in guaranteeing society’s well being?
AG: A number of research projects are foreseen in the coming years which will optimise innovation in the European food industry through the integration of advanced technologies into traditional food production including fermented foods and tailored processing technologies to enhance the functionality, quality and nutritional value of food including organoleptic aspects in food production and new foodstuffs. There are also a number of plans to develop and demonstrate high-tech, eco-efficient processing and packaging systems, smart control applications alongside more efficient valorisation and management of by-products, wastes, water and energy. New research will also develop sustainable and novel technologies for animal feed, including safe feed processing formulations and for feed quality control.
Agriculture and fisheries place substantial strain on the environment. What are your long-term goals for reducing this environmental impact in terms of deforestation, depletion of fish stocks, soil quality and CO2 emissions?
TH: The European Union and its Member States have supported policies on conservation and sustainable management of global forest resources for many years. Forest conservation has been a priority on the international political agenda for the past two decades and the EU has actively participated in all past and ongoing international processes to combat deforestation. With respect to our programme however the issue is of little concern as it is not an EU production system problem.
Concerning fish stock depletion, EU research has shown that collapsed and severely depleted fish stocks can recover and be rebuilt, although the process might be slower than previously thought, especially if ecosystem shifts have taken place in predator–prey relationships. Rebuilding the life history, age composition, stock structure, spatial distribution, and ecosystem functioning of a stock could take considerably longer than the recovery of the stock biomass to a level that allows sustainable exploitation. Aquaculture has been a crucial part of the framework programme this past twenty years and has resulted in the introduction of new species, the health and welfare of farmed fish, and improvements to the final product quality.
More than 16 per cent of EU land is affected by soil degradation and our research projects focus upon approaches to address the effects of urbanisation, climate change, pollution and poor farming practices on soil management and to increase the organic content.
Our focus with respect to reduction of CO2 emissions is based upon the particular production system on a case by case basis whereas other parts of the framework programme deal more with the overall global consequences. By definition, research to obtain sustainable production systems, which is the major goal of this programme, will have a positive impact on overall emission reduction in the long-term, and ways to quantify this reduction are being looked into.