REC joins team of experts focused on food security

March 11, 2011

The REC is part of a 13-member consortium that will implement a new project focused on increasing the quality and impact of plant and food biosecurity training and research in Europe.

PlantFoodSec1With EUR 6 million in funding from the European Commission's Security Research programme, the five-year project brings together experts from eight countries to anticipate and deal with a complex array threats to the world's food-supply chain.

The 13-member consortium, officially titled the European Network of Excellence PLANTFOODSEC, "aims to establish a virtual Centre of Competence in plant and food biosecurity to enhance preparedness and response capability to prevent, to respond and to recover from a biological incident or deliberate activity threatening the European agrifood system," says the PLANTFOODSEC website.

The project commenced operations on February 1, but officially kicked off with an international media event media in Turin, Italy on February 24. Please see the press release from Turin, published below.


Europe, United States and Middle East join efforts to improve preparedness against possible use of plant pathogens against crops, feed and food

A 5 year Network of Excellence financed by the Security Research programme of the European Commission (7thFramework Programme for Research) to implement a virtual Center of Competence on increase the quality and impact of plant and food biosecurity training and research in Europe.

Five years duration, almost six million euros financed from the European Commission (DG ENTERPRISE and INDUTRY), within its Security Programme of the VII Framework Programme, 13 partners, 8 work packages, 3 continents involved: these are some of the numbers of the Network of Excellence (NoE) "Plant and food Biosecurity" started in February 2011, that aims to build a virtual Centre of Competence in order to increase the quality and impact of plant and food biosecurity training and research in Europe, thus enhancing preparedness and response capabilities to prevent, to respond and to recover from a possible use of plant pathogens against crops in the European agrifood system.

The main objectives of the project are:

  • To develop knowledge frameworks and appraisal tools to plan, counteract and respond to the possibility of introduction, outbreak and spread of the most threatening plant pathogens and pests.
  • To identify priorities for research and regulatory policy, and provide a baseline assessment of forensic capability to trace mycotoxins and human pathogens on plants (HPOP) enhancing the prevention, recognition, response, and recovery from foodborne illness due to the contamination of fresh produce.
  • To develop models of spatial-temporal risk, to improve planning of effective and efficient national and regional responses.
  • To improve disease surveillance and detection systems by facilitating international laboratory cooperation and by developing diagnostic tools.
  • To prevent the establishment and spread within EU countries of deliberately-introduced pathogens by delineating the steps and the course of measures to be executed at European level in each category of pest detection and by enhancing the available measures to respond.
  • To build up a strong culture of awareness and compliance with plant and food biosecurity for those with responsibilities in all sectors of agriculture and food production by harmonizing expertise across the network and by organizing regular trans-national and multi-sector training courses..

Plant and food biosecurity is a relatively recent field of research in Europe. The majority of work has been done in the United States, New Zealand and Australia where many agencies and entities within the government, State and local government, the private sector and universities are actively engaged in protecting agricultural resources from intentional or unintentional introduction of pathogens.

Starting from the experience gained in previous projects (see box), this new project will focus on biological threats that have the capacity to affect and damage agriculture, ecosytems and ultimately compromise food and feed security at any stage in the food supply chain.

The Network of Excellence will renew and reinforce already established partnership, enlarge it by including new countries, institutions and topics, also including food biosecurity, with the aim of establishing a virtual Centre of Competence able to deal with the issues of crop and food biosecurity, and to become a Centre of reference at the European level, so as to provide sustainability to an already well organized partnership.

The Consortium involves thirteen partners: University of Torino, Center of Competence for the innovation in the agro-environmental field (AGROINNOVA), also Project coordinator and Spin-To from Italy; National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and London Imperial College from United Kingdom; Institute for crop sciences and resource conservation, University of Bonn (UNIBONN) from Germany; Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) from France; Regional Environmental Center (REC) fro Hungary, Middle East Technical University (METU) from Turkey United Nations Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) from United Nations, Agricultural Research Organisation (ARO) from Israel; National Institute for Microbial Forensics & Food and Agricultural biosecurity (NIMFFAB) of Oklahoma State University and Kansas State University from USA.

The end users of this work are expected to be the national and European level authorities responsible for plant health and for security; by using modelling and foresight approaches that have some common elements with conventional plant health risk analysis, whereas common understanding of the risks and management options should be identified.

Taking into account that policy options and decisions must be based on more solid scientific knowledge and a full and proper understanding of the economic and social aspects surrounding plant and food biosecurity, coordination with the policy-making process will ensure appropriate links to current research and management actions undertaken at national, European and international levels.

A more coherent implementation of national and European research activities and a closer relation among the various participants will permit to establish a common system of scientific and technical reference for the implementation of policies. The understanding of the concepts of risk based on environment, trade and securitization will highlight areas of convergence and difference, which will allow more relevant actions to be applied.

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Alessandro Bertin

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