The EU Policy Lab made an appearance at the precursor to the FOOD 2030 conference that was held in Brussels from 12-13 October 2016. FOOD 2030 is an initiative launched by the DG Research and Innovation (DG RTD) to establish a single framework for research and innovation in addressing the future of Food and Nutrition Systems. Given the Policy Lab’s previous work on food-related topics, as well as our current project on Food Systems, we saw this as an interesting opportunity to work together with our colleagues in DG RTD in the organisation of a workshop that would set the tone for the rest of the conference.

The Food Visions 2030 workshop gathered conference panellists, other experts on food and nutrition and Commission colleagues interested in food systems, in order to discuss research and innovation needs for managing some of the major challenges and opportunities that are likely to arise by 2030. This workshop seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to try out the tool we are developing on using long-term trends in making sense of the future.

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In groups, participants analysed a set of 18 trends, or’ forces to be reckoned with’ that they had to map according to high and low impact on food systems by 2030 and whether they were well-understood, or misunderstood/underestimated. This will help the Policy Lab in gathering useful input for our Food Systems project as well as the FOR-KNOW project on megatrends.

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The participants then focused on the trends that they agreed were of high impact and/or were misunderstood. From these, opportunities and challenges for the food system were then derived. The conversations that took place during this exercise were extremely interesting and led to some new insights and different ways of thinking about the food system.

For example, one of the groups noted how the trend on changing employment patterns would impact the daily routine and the amount of time people are willing to spend on food preparation activities as well as the value that people give to food. This in turn could be both an opportunity and challenge in the context of improving health and nutrition – depending on whether flexible work patterns provided increased incentive for people to spend more time in the growing, purchasing and/or preparing of food, as opposed to opting for convenience foods.

Another group made clusters according to the interactions among trends. For example, the trend of shifting economic power to the East and South, combined with competing values and lifestyles and the rise of the consumer class in developing countries, could significantly alter the dynamics around food demand (and ultimately therefore, food production). If food choice is indeed governed in large part by culture preferences, the combination of the above trends could pose a serious challenge to Europe’s role in the global food system. Ultimately the group favoured more localised food systems that placed value on the nutritional status of food, rather than pure caloric intake, while stressing the importance of culture and the environment as determinants of food availability and choice.

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Following on from the identified opportunities and challenges the groups then proceeded to detailing out the research and innovation interventions. This will assist DG RTD in drafting their plans for the alignment of research and innovation practices and policies on future sustainable food systems.

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