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The Challenge

The figures and trends described above and gathered by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union (CIAA Report, Data and Trends of the European Food and Drink Industry, 2007), clearly demonstrate a significant problem in the food and drink industry sector which, given the importance of this sector, represents a threat to the economy of the whole European Union. This situation was a primary reason for the initiation of the European Technology Platform (ETP) Food for Life, which seeks to stimulate and underpin innovation in the agro-food chain, in November, 2004.

The members of this consortium consider that this situation results from a number of competing effects:
• Food is a basic commodity and its industry has developed for hundreds of years – originating as a “craft” carried out in “backyard enlarged kitchens” using low technology. 
• Food Science and Technology is a relatively recent science (having developed in the last half century), and is much “younger” than many SMEs,which are often family-run.
• The food produced and consumer habits have great impact on public health and can affect Europe’s productivity and health-related costs.
• New food products are always required because the educated European consumer is aware of news in health and nutrition and is always looking for innovation.
• In the past 2 decades the European Union has enforced quality and safety control in the food chain, but in many countries there is no certification of professionals working in this area. When it comes to production or product development, there are not even guidelines on ethical issues or education/training requirements for personnel.
• As a result of the above points, an education in food science and technology or related disciplines is not valued by a great many SMEs, with the direct result that a career in food science and technology is seen as unattractive by young people, especially by those with high potential (students with exceptional secondary education, good academic records and/or exceptional interpersonal skills demonstrated by volunteering for youth work or for involvement in students councils, etc). 
• Lack of valorisation of qualified professionals within food and drink SMEs acts as a disincentive and so more qualified professionals to work in other sectors like government, multinational enterprises or academia.

In both the Vision Document and Strategic Research Agenda of ETP Food for Life published in July 2005 and September, 2007, respectively, training was given a high priority alongside communication and technology transfer. The FP6 Novel Processing Integrated Project, NovelQ, with Professor Dietrich Knorr (partner 13) responsible for overall scientific progress identified Training and Career Development as being necessary if young people are to make the contribution that is required in the European Research Area and in the food and drink industry.