A collective of plant-based companies and groups has written an open letter to the European Commission, urging it to set aside funding explicitly dedicated to the development of plant-based foods.
In its latest open letter, written alongside Bridge2Food, the coalition has insisted the European Commission utilise a portion of the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research programme to improve the taste, sustainability, affordability, health benefits and uptake of plant-based foods.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation focussed on helping the bloc tackle the climate crisis, implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and boost its competitiveness.
The programme runs until 2027, with funding for each year planned in advance. The EAPF has requested the money for the year 2023-2024 be used exclusively on furthering the plant-based food sector.
Not only will doing so help the EU achieve its target of carbon neutrality by 2050, but the alliance also said the wide-ranging health benefits associated with an uptake in plant-based diets would help deliver on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.
Additionally, funding plant-based innovation could be an “important contributor to Europe’s food security” in the long-term.
“This is particularly urgent, considering the current geopolitical situation and its implications for food security, as well as the detrimental impacts of the EU’s dependency on imports of feedstock and specific food commodities,” the letter notes.
According to the EAPF, current funding for plant-based food research is too often combined under the wider umbrella of alternative proteins.
“The clustering of different alt-protein alternatives in research projects not only dilutes the allocated R&I funding, but also hampers the development of sector-specific solutions and innovations – at both consumer and producer levels – that are necessary to make the needed sector-specific progress, allowing to effectively move towards more sustainable food systems,” says the letter.
Dedicated funding for plant-based foods isn’t new for the Horizon programme. In 2020, The Smart Protein Project was one of several initiatives to receive support and the output of this project “clearly illustrates the need for further dedicated in-depth research on plant-based foods,” states the collective.
There are several areas within the plant-based sector which require urgent attention and funding, the EAPF said. Among the top priorities are taste and nutrition.
The former is “a key factor in consumers’ purchase decisions”, the letter says, and while the sector has advanced considerably in recent years, more work is still needed to better align with consumer requirements. The latter, it added, could be a driving force in people taking up flexitarian diets.
Another area is price. Around the world, there is a drive to achieve price parity between meat and plant-based alternatives. Albert Heijn, the Netherlands’ largest supermarket chain, made news last month by promising to go majority plant-based by 2030, adding that alternatives would be sold at the same price point as their animal-derived counterparts.
Beyond specific problem areas, the EAPF said more focus was needed to improve the understanding of plant-based innovation.
“The role of food technology is often misunderstood, and aspects – such as food processing – are frequently antagonised in the public and policy debate,” the letter states.
“As such, the Commission should consider (plant-based) foods in a holistic manner, accounting for different levels of processing, and undertake additional efforts to educate the general public about the importance and added value of food technology to achieve sustainable food systems, prevent misperceptions and increase acceptance.”
Moving forward, the EAPF called on the European Commission to launch more tailored calls for proposals for plant-based foods. Signatories Siska Pottie, Secretary General of the EAPF, and Gerard Klein Essink, CEO of Bridge2Food confirmed the EAPF would be “eager to support” this mission.
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