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Reading wins lead role in major EU food innovation project

EIT Food project

  • Scheme aims to transform food sector in Europe 
  • It aims to halve food waste and improve diets in Europe by 2030
  • UK companies and universities of Reading, Cambridge & Queen’s Belfast to play major role

University of Reading researchers have played a major role in winning a £340 million EU Innovation programme to change the way we eat, grow and distribute food. 

The project, called EIT Food, has ambitious aims to cut by half the amount of food waste in Europe within a decade, and reducing ill health caused by diet by 2030.

The University will play a lead role in the programme, funded with 400 million euros (£340m) of EU research cash, matched by 1.2 billion euros (£1 billion) of funding from industry and other sources over seven years.

The project is funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), and will have a regional headquarters in Reading, UK, to co-ordinate innovation, cutting edge education programmes and support start-ups in the ‘north west’ sector of Europe, covering the UK, Ireland and Iceland. 

The Europe-wide scheme was put together by a partnership of 50 food business and research organisations from within Europe’s food sector, which provides jobs for 44 million people.

The Reading centre will be one of five regional hubs across Europe. Already confirmed as core partners in the UK-based ‘co-location centre’ (CLC) are academic centres Matís, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Cambridge and the University of Reading, alongside business ABP Food Group, PepsiCo and The Nielsen Company. Further partners are expected to be announced in the next year.

Professor Christine Williams, Professor of Human Nutrition, who was part of the lead team for the successful submission to the EIT said: “This co-location centre will be the leading voice for a more integrated food system, with the consumer as both the driver and solution for more healthy sustainable food consumption.

“Involvement in innovation and education programmes in the areas of consumer behaviour, nutrition and health will be a key focus for this CLC, drawing on Reading’s expertise in the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development and the newly formed Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health.”

Professor Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research said: “Congratulations to the whole team responsible for winning the EIT Food bid. 

“This success shows how UK universities such as Reading are forging ahead with an international research agenda. Our food system is increasingly connected across borders, making close research collaborations essential to solving problems such as poor diet and health.”

EIT Food will set up four programmes to target broad societal challenges, including:

  • personalised healthy food
  • the digitalization of the food system 
  • consumer-driven supply chain development, customised products and new technology in farming, processing and retail 
  • resource-efficient processes, making food more sustainable by eliminating waste and recycling by-products throughout the food chain.  

EIT Food will also organize international entrepreneurship programmes for students, and develop a unique interdisciplinary EIT labelled Food System MSc for graduates. Thousands of students and food professionals will be trained via workshops, summer schools and online educational programmes like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and SPOCs (Specialized Private Online Courses).

Peter van Bladeren, Vice President Nestec, Global head Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for Nestlé and Chair of the Interim Supervisory Board of EIT Food: 

“EIT Food is committed to create the future curriculum for students and food professionals as a driving force for innovation and business creation; it will give the food manufacturing sector, which accounts for 44 million jobs in Europe, a unique competitive edge.”

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