The Food 2030 conference: Green and Resilient Food Systems will contribute to feeding the dialogue about the transition towards sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems for the benefit of the environment and economy.
It is organized by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission.
The event will take place in Brussels and will be web-streamed on 4 and 5 December 2023.
Registrations for in-person and online participation will open mid-September.

The first European Food Safety Forum will take place in Brussels on the 28 and 29 November 2023 in Brussels @ La Tricoterie.

The Forum will be organized as periodic appointment for gathering together Food Safety System actors in order to share knowledge and best practices, to discuss the Food Safety hot issues, to propose collaborations for improving the efficacy of the Food Safety policies and research in Europe. It will be held in Brussels every year, usually jointly with a European Commission event. The first edition of the Forum will present the platform and the results of the FSOLabs.

Strategies, roadmaps and recommendations delivered by the project will be then validated at institutional level ensuring their alignment with EU Food Safety policies, and enhancing the harmonization of Horizon 2020 Associated Countries and neighbor countries policies with the European ones. The organization of the European Food Safety Forum will take into account the best innovative models of breakout sessions to make the participatory process more effective

To discuss different angles within the complex topic of Food safety, the European Commission funded project FoodSafety4EU has set up four so-called food safety operational labs (FSOlabs). In these labs relevant actors from the food safety system exchanged and collaboratively came up with innovative actions to be implemented in four different priority fields of the food safety sector: i) Harmonization of enforcement practices with emphasis on unregulated hazard and emerging issues; ii) Aligning research programmes and funding opportunities at national and EU level; iii) Food Safety Strategic and Innovation Agenda; iv) Innovative approaches and models to inform civil society about food safety research and risk assessment.

An approach based on the social lab methodology

In general, social labs offer room for social experiments to address complex topics on a systemic level – in our case food safety related topics. The FSOlab process was structured as permanent working groups for the project’s duration. In a series of three workshops planned within one and a half years, the lab teams established ideas for actions, tested and evaluated them, and finally critically discussed them with a broader audience. This allowed for continuous learning cycles within the lab processes.

The learning cycles were organised along the workshops of the labs, namely: Workshop 1 was dedicated to ideation, co-creation and selection of ideas for specific actions according to relevant diagnosis aspects. Workshop 2 was dedicated to discussing, improving, and adapting the actions according to feedback and gained experiences. And Workshop 3 was dedicated to evaluating actions, discussing options for further development, and finally exploitations and recommendations.

The lab teams gathered for one-and-a-half or two-days workshops (initially planned f2f but finally online). Workshop methods and techniques were applied to enforce creative processes, support participants, tackle group dynamics and offer networking opportunities. To support co-creation processes a mix of many different formats, such as world café, design-thinking, fishbowl conversations, speed-dating sessions, or other Innovative workshop techniques were chosen. But of course also the intervals between the workshops were used to keep the lab process alive.

Positive feedback from participants All four labs came up with interesting solutions and products on their topics with which the lab participants were very satisfied. In general, there was a clear “thumb up” from the lab participants who were asked about their participation in the lab. They liked the methods and structure of the workshops, the composition of the groups and the interaction among them. Although some disadvantages could be found in the online format, many advantages were formulated, especially the easy participation at low cost. Also, many positive effects on their working environments could be noted. When asked whether they would ever participate in a lab again or recommend participation to others, the participants gave a clear yes. We have gladly incorporated their ideas for improving the labs for the next time

Going through eight months of piloting, it is time for giving a brief update on the progress and implementation of the pilot activity in FSOLab 2.

As a reminder, FSOLab 2 targeted to foster better exchange between different funding entities within Europe and to raise awareness on the relevance of food safety issues as well as the need for more efficient research funding in this area. With a view to better orchestrating and directing the practical implementation of the pilot action within the FSOLab 2, a Steering Committee as a managerial unit was established within the team. Members of the Steering Committee met on a regular basis to discuss individual working steps during the piloting phase, to express needs for directional change, and to oversee and drive progress throughout the process.

At this point, a few more details about the main activities conducted during the FSOLab 2 piloting: In order to gain a better understanding of (research) activities supported by funding agencies in general and in the food safety area in particular, and to explore major challenges and problems viewed from the perspective of funders, a customized questionnaire was developed as part of the pilot action.

This questionnaire formed the basis for a series of deep interviews, conducted with selected representatives of leading research funding agencies across six European countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Romania, Italy, Portugal and Finland). The results from the interviews were analyzed, summarized and discussed. To disseminate the interview results and to establish closer communication and exchange with the funders previously approached, a special workshop entitled “Funding for Food Safety – Workshop to Share Experiences” was organized.

The primary objective of this workshop was to jointly identify existing barriers and constraints relating to (Food Safety) research funding, drawing on collated interview results, and to elaborate approaches and recommendations for strategic solutions together with funders.

In a comprehensive report, the FSOLab 2 Steering Committee synthesized the outcomes of the workshop and formulated concrete recommendations for taking action directed largely at actors from politics, economy, public authorities & administration, which will shortly be published to read for everyone as an Opinion Paper in a scientific journal. The FSOLab2 pilot approach provides a practical proof of concept of how dialogue and liaison of various research funders from across Europe can be facilitated and encouraged, which may serve as a model for follow-up activities in additional Member States.

On 27 October 2022, the third and final FSOLab 2 workshop took place, in which the FSOLab 2 team collectively assessed the outcomes of its pilot action. It also focused on reviewing the overall piloting process and the range of impacts generated by the action, approaches to expand impact and exploitation of the innovation potential, in addition to ideation for a possible downstream pilot action.

The FSOLab 2 pilot action is gradually nearing its end, and the experience of working in a very diverse team on the highly complex topic of Food Safety research funding and research programmes has taught us a lot.

Although our Social Lab was of an experimental nature with uncertain outcomes, where the path from project design to pilot implementation was a learning process with many small steps for all of us, we have learned that we can achieve a lot if everyone pulls together and takes up the challenges arising on the horizon.

The results of our FSOLab 2 pilot action constitute an important milestone in drawing attention on existing shortcomings in the Food Safety research funding landscape, and therewith provide an important contribution to evoke and provoke valuable changes to established funding systems, with the transversal objective to achieve a sustained strengthening of the European Research and Innovation Area.

Last of all, we would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has helped us to get this pilot project off the ground!

On February 10 and 11, 2022, the FSOLab 2 kicked off the second round of workshops with its many outstanding participants. This time, we had the great pleasure to welcome on board some new high-level professionals, including an expert on research funding from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), specialists from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the coordinator of the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI). We are very grateful to them for their valuable support and guidance before and during the workshop, which was instrumental in moving the pilot action forward. At this point, a big thank you to everyone for all of the efforts and support, and to the entire FSOLab 2 team!

The main focus of the second FSOLab 2 workshop was to narrow down the three pilot ideas developed in the previous workshop into one pilot action for practical implementation. The addition of new experts to the FSOLab 2 team brought new viewpoints, ideas and perspectives to the discussions, with pros and cons debated, leading to the progressive emergence of a more concise vision for our pilot action.

In the course of the workshop, it took shape that the FSOLab 2 pilot will make use of a so-called ´Knowledge Network´. A Knowledge Network is an instrument that has been developed and previously field-tested by FACCE-JPI aiming to bring together a panel of diverse experts, such as research funding agencies, publicly funded research institutions and scientists, policy makers, food safety authorities, and food business operators, through a multi-stakeholder approach. The main objective of a Knowledge Network is to foster international collaboration, knowledge transfer, pooling of resources including the initiation of new funding and further development of thematic capacities, ultimately to address the grand societal challenges or concerns of food safety as a core element of FSOLab 2, respectively the overall FoodSafety4EU project.

The Knowledge Network structure provides also the opportunity to link the activities of two different FSOLabs, more specifically of FSOLab 2 and FSOLab 3, the latter under the leadership of our partners from the International Business Association (IBA) in Romania. Priority food safety issues and needs identified within FSOLab 3 as part of the elaboration of a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) will feed into the work of FSOLab 2. It is intended to bring located pressing food safety issues to the attention of selected national funding bodies in different countries and to demonstrate their need for action, for example by providing adequate research funding or by integrating hitherto unaddressed food safety issues into their national research programs.

The FSOLab 2 pilot mission is to promote better exchange between different funding entities and to raise awareness about relevant topical subjects through the organization of exploratory workshops and personal dialogue, thus enabling better alignment of transnational funding cycles and research priorities as a fundamental part of safe and sustainable food systems.

Now that all members of the FSOLab 2 team have approved the evolving strategy and operational plan, we are ready to start with the implementation of our pilot. Today, we are proud of this achievement and look expectantly to the route ahead, albeit not knowing which challenges we will have to face or which experiences we will gain. Working collaboratively as an FSOLab 2 team, we take on the challenge and bring the pilot experiment to the next level in a hands-on setting!

On July 2021, the Food Safety Operational Lab 2 (FSOLab 2) kicked off, involving 23 participants from 12 nations across different business sectors (e.g., research, industry/companies, academia, Food Safety Authorities, Consumer advocates, Action Networks, Technology & Communication Services) and covering a wide range of expertise.

The FSOLab 2 is under the management of Prof. Dr. Michael Rychlik & Dr. Tamara Stelzl, both from Technical University of Munich (TUM, Germany), supported by Dr. Claudia Iasillo from the Agency for Promotion of European Research (APRE, Italy) as Lab Moderator/Facilitator.

Starting with a 2-hours orientation session, FSOLab 2 participants were given an in-depth introduction to the topic of FSOLab 2, which revolves around research programs and funding opportunities in the EU Member States and Associated Countries. FSOLab 2 strives to better align national and transnational research programs by ensuring broad and balanced access to Food Safety funding across the EU Member States while identifying and addressing related challenges and gaps.

Why is the topic of FSOLab 2 of importance?

It is well known that there exist large differences and inequalities in the distribution of economic resources and research funds among individual countries, both within and outside the European Union. This can have major implications for a country’s performance in a particular discipline such as Food Safety. As well, it can have far-reaching effects on other countries and societies within Europe, potentially hindering scientific progress and innovation. Inadequate financial support for R&D activities is also recognized to weaken the overall quality and competitiveness of national research and to have a long-term negative impact on a country’s economy. Against this background, it is important to address existing problems related to research funding in order to move Europe forward, particularly in the area of Food Safety, and to strengthen public confidence and public health on a sustained level.

Like each of the four FSOLabs conducted within the framework of the FS4EU project, FSOLab 2 applies a “Social Lab” approach and targets a specific Food Safety issue, as described above. In general, Social Labs are aimed at addressing complex societal challenges with the involvement of various experts and stakeholders. FSOLabs provide space for practical experimentationin a real-world setting without following standardized planning guidelines and without knowing exactly how to proceed.Social Labs can be understood as a continuous process and a living system that habitually operate in learning cycles. In other words, based on the data collected during the execution of an experiment, called a “pilot action”, pilot ideas are tested, refined, and constantly progressed, to be tested over and over again.

On July 27th and 28th, 2021, the time had come to start the adventure of FSOLab 2 with great enthusiasm and also some curiosity. As a part of a two-day interactive workshop, the central theme of FSOLab 2 has been brought to life, by developing and drawing up concrete plans for possible pilot actions within the team of 23 FSOLab 2 participants. Everybody was very respectful of one another and highly committed. Opinions have been exchanged, viewpoints discussed, detailed pilot plans drafted “until heads were smoking”. Finally, a clear vision for piloting came into view. Under the umbrella theme Alignment of European Food Safety Research by simplification of funding processes”, the following three pilot actions have been identified and more precisely elaborated:

Pilot Action No. 1:

Development of an approach for matching the needs of different/two specific actors such as researchers & industry/funders (in a country or region) for selected Food Safety funding call topics.

Pilot Action No. 2:

Development of a set of recommendations (e.g., policy paper) based on a best practice analysis for more effective Food Safety research funding. As a baseline, countries with a “less mature” Food Safety funding system shall be compared to “more” developed countries allowing beneficial practices to be communicated and transferred from one country (or region) to another.

Pilot Action No. 3:

Drafting a hybrid public/private funding program, with the intention of setting up a new & innovative Food Safety funding program (e.g. crowdfunding) with multi-stakeholder interaction in selected countries.

As a next step, the proposed FSOLab 2 pilot actions undergo a peer review by external evaluators and experts and based on their feedback, one particular of the three pilot actions will be selected. In addition to the experts’ judgment, several other criteria such as feasibility, time and costs, etc., will be weighted into the final decision.

Even though FSOLab 2 is still at the very beginning of its pilot, the first workshop has brought us a bit closer to the overall FSOLab goal, leaving us eager to see where the journey will take us!

Tamara Stelzl, Technical University of Munich (TUM)