2.1 Executive Summary
The agrifood industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Europe. According to the European Technology Platform Food for Life “the agricultural sector employs over 11 million people (2.3% of the population of the enlarged EU)” and “the food and drink industry had a turnover of 810 billion euro in 2004, transforming over 70% of the EU’s agricultural raw materials and employing over 4 million people, the majority within the SMEs sector.”
There are a number of issues facing the industry:
- Shifting demands (and their articulation) from fork to farm: In the past the agrifood industry was driven by improvements to mass production and supply. However, increasing consumer interest and concerns over how and where food is produced and processed, means that this situation is becoming reversed as consumer requirements play a larger role (at least in the developed world). An increase in consumer choice through production of a variety of options, as well as catering for (an ever increasing number of) niche markets, means a more diverse and complex agrifood industry.
- Adaptive supply chains from farm to fork: There is a shift from stable supply chain relations to more flexible and agile relationships with shifts and reorientations based on the needs of the value chain. This means suppliers need to remain aware of the dynamics of the value chain and adapt meaning a constantly co-evolving situation between supply and value chains.
- Environmental sustainability and Agricultural management: As with all industries, agrifood needs to be environmentally sustainable. This encompasses new legislation affecting the number of pesticides which can be used; decreasing agricultural waste (or finding novel uses for it), for example Europe's fruit and vegetable industries generate about 30 million tonnes of waste a year[i]; and reducing the amount of waste at the end point (e.g. packaging).
- Decline in food scientists: With fewer students enrolling in food science programmes in universities, there could be a real shortage of trained personnel within the next decade. This would hamper development of new technologies and process innovations, at a time when there will be a greater pressure to deliver on the issues mentioned above namely environmental sustainability, more adaptive supply chains and shifting consumer demands.
Regarding nanotechnology, many different national and regional programmes dedicated to agrifood are already underway or under development. For example the EU finances a number of industrial collaborative projects through the Framework Programmes, and national programmes include Japan (CSTP Strategic S&T Priorities in Nanotech. & Materials)[ii], US (“Nanoscale Science and Engineering for Agriculture and Food Systems”, a part of the National Research Initiative (NRI)), Nano4Vitality in the Netherlands (€12M over 4 years).
Estimates vary for the number of companies involved in nanotechnology and agrifood global markets. For example, Cientifica estimates that 400 companies are applying nanotechnology to food at present, but points to difficulties in measuring the full scale of development because many companies regard their nanotech R&D products as sensitive, and the Helmut Kaiser Consultancy estimates that the global nanofood market will be worth 20.4 billion USD in 2010.
This report divides nanotechnology in agrifood into three subsectors: agricultural production; food processing and functional food; and food packaging and distribution.
Agricultural production: this section describes the processes to produce materials from plant cultivation and raising domesticated animals, including foodstuffs, fuel, and raw materials for other industries such as the pharmaceutical, textile, and construction industries. It covers novel sensors and diagnostic devices, delivery systems for pesticides and nutrients, and describes how nanomaterials are now being manufactured from agricultural waste and through biological processes.
Food processing and functional food: this section describes the processes and equipment involved in turning agricultural produce into consumer products. It also includes the mechanisms in place to ensure quality control, one of the key areas in industrialised food production. It covers mechanisms for quality control including sensors such as electronic tongue and noses; equipment coatings and filtration systems based on nanotechnology that could bring efficiency gains for food processing; and the manipulation of the nanostructure of foodstuffs to engineer novel sensations and to improve the nutritional quality of processed food. It also describes functional foods, and the growing field of nutraceuticals.
Food packaging and distribution: this section describes materials used to preserve and protect fresh and processed foods, and the procedures and systems in place to monitor supply chains and authenticate items. It covers nanocomposite materials used to improve the barrier and mechanical properties of plastics; new bionanocomposites that can be compostable and promise solutions to waste management issues and sustainability; active and smart packaging that currently provides visual indicators to a foods’ freshness, and promises advanced innovationsthrough active intreractionof packaging with the internal environment and the food itself, through encapsulation technologies.
 Supply chain is taken as the provision of an element to a food product (such as wheat, barley, bioplastics for packaging ertc.) and value chain is the chain of developments from rw materials to end product in the grocers, on the shelves of supermarkets or for sale directly from source. Thus the value chain is a complex interlinking of many supply chains, requiring a great deal of management and coordination. ICT is playing a large role in this adaptive supply chain management but is beyond the scope of this report ( for more information on advanced supply chain management see Ivanov Sokolov and Kaeschel (2009). A multi-structural framework for adaptive supply chain planning and operations control with structure dynamics considerations. Journal of Production, Manufacturing and Logistics)
[i] from GRUB S UP (Recycling and upgrading wastes from food production for use within the food chain). FP6-funded project http://www.ist-world.org/ProjectDetails.aspx?ProjectId=6e1a2be91dcc4543bab4f0af1a13416f&SourceDatabaseId=7cff9226e582440894200b751bab883f
[ii] In particular, the strategic priority “Developing nano-particle processing technologies and nano-scale evaluation technologies for domestic farm products in order to develop safer and higher quality food”
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