Around 4.000 participants joined the 2019 European Research and Innovation Days organised by the European Commission in Brussels. This large-scale event took place from 24. – 26. September with the purpose to shape and contribute to future research and innovation policy. Holger Gerdes, Senior Fellow at Ecologic Institute and project coordinator of BE-Rural, contributed to a panel discussion on the challenges and potentials of bio-based products.

Preparing Horizon Europe

The European Research & Innovation Days brought together researchers, scientists, innovators, policy-makers and featured three main elements: a high-level Policy Conference, the Innovative Europe Hub and the ‘Science is Wonderful’ exhibition of EU-funded projects. The event was part of the strategic planning process that sets the foundations for the first work programmes of Horizon Europe, the upcoming research and innovation framework programme of the EU for the period 2021 – 2028. Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, opened the event stating that “science and innovation in Europe is moving into a new era, with new leadership and new challenges.” Several parallel sessions followed the opening keynotes – among them talks about the innovation principle and sustainability, bioeconomy and plastics.

Bio-based economy – innovations in practice

The session “Bio-based economy – innovations in practice”, attracted around 65 bioeconomy stakeholders who discussed the main challenges and potentials of bio-based products and innovations. Holger Gerdes contributed to the session on potential implications of bioeconomy policies in the context of the EU’s Cohesion Policy, and on current limitations when assessing the environmental performance of bio-based products. “SME face difficulties when it comes to finding partners along new and adapted value chains”, commented the BE-Rural project leader, while “in regions where the bioeconomy is now picking up speed, public agencies are in place and take the role as a match-maker or facilitator”. This is positive for the regions where such agencies are in place, but has a negative impact on those that don’t as the gap between these regions increases – something that the EU Cohesion Policy tries to avoid. With regard to the environmental performance of bio-based products, Holger Gerdes highlighted that there is still a “lack of evidence” to base decisions on with regard to environmental superiority. According to Gerdes, this evidence creation could be part of the upcoming Horizon Europe programme. The video recordings from the session can be watched online.

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Session Speakers & Panelists:

  • Ignacio Martin, CIRCE Foundation
  • Holger Gerdes, Ecologic Institute
  • Malene Sand Jespersen, COWI
  • Riccardo Schiatti, Energochemica
  • Barna Kovács, BIOEAST Initiative, Permanent Representation of Hungary to the EU

The INSECTA conference continues to grow. More than 270 participants from 40 different countries met on 5 and 6 September in Potsdam to talk about meal- and buffaloworms, crickets, locusts and conspecifics. The experts from science and industry meet annually to discuss the latest technical, legal, economic, ecological and ethical developments in the production and use of insects as feed and food as well as for the non-food sector. This time the focus was on insect rearing and production, regulatory hurdles and aspects such as sustainability and economic viability. The INSECTA is being organised by the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomics (ATB) together with Pilot Pflanzenöltechnologie Magdeburg e.V. since 2015.

The insect industry is growing

Insects are increasingly regarded as the protein source of the future. “The hype surrounding the use of insects began around 2015 and has continued ever since,” said Dutch researcher Arnold van Huis. Large companies such as Hermetia from Germany, Proti-Farm from the Netherlands or the French company Ynsect are on a growth course. In addition, around 270 new start-ups have emerged worldwide in recent years. They want to conquer the market with insect burgers, energy bars or protein-rich pasta. And there is no end in sight to this trend: according to Van Huis, the insect industry is set to grow to 8 billion US dollars by 2030 and contribute to reducing meat consumption and thus CO2 emissions and land use, as well as enabling a protein-rich diet in developing countries. According to van Huis, they can also enrich the local diet: “Insects contain more antioxidants than orange juice or olive oil and chitin, which strengthens the immune system,” says the insect researcher.

Another field of application is the animal feed industry. Here, for example, the insect larvae of the black soldier fly could help to replace the environmentally harmful soya imports – of which Europe currently purchases around 30 million tons – in the long term. Katzbiotech is a pioneer in this field. For a long time, the medium-sized company concentrated mainly on wasps and flies for biological pest control – for some years now, they also have a breeding facility for soldier flies. And the approximately 300 tons of larvae feed meal that Katzbiotech currently produces are sought after on the market.

Legislation as a factor of uncertainty

Challenges for the sector are the regulatory hurdles and the slow speed with which the necessary laws are pushed forward. For many investors, legal certainty is cited as a basic prerequisite for further investment.

Several presentations at the INSECTA dealt with the regulatory landscape. Insects were mentioned for the first time in the EU Regulation on Novel Foods (EU) 2015/2283. Since 1 January 2018, they are considered novel foods and require authorisation. To avoid that the new Regulation leads to an interim ban on products, a transitional period of two years was granted to all products not considered novel under the old 1997 legislation. All potential applicants were invited to submit their request for authorisation to the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) by beginning of 2019 – first decisions are expected for early 2020.

There is also slow progress in the animal feed sector. To date, insects have only been approved as feed for pets and fish – there is no approval yet for cows, pigs or poultry. A political challenge here is that although there is a European umbrella organisation – the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) – not every European country has a national association that represents and promotes the interests of companies. According to Nicolas Carbonelle of Bird & Bird, who has been monitoring the legal situation in Brussels for years, the situation is “far from being simple”, although “a lot has happened in the past two years”.

Crucial point: economic viability

Another factor of uncertainty is profitability. While there are already some studies on the sustainability and health benefits, economic success will also depend on whether insect products appeal to consumers and whether the market for animal feed can be opened up. There are still some hurdles to overcome: upscaling the production could reduce prices and increase competitiveness – but this requires investment and legal certainty. The rearing of insects is environmentally friendly and economically sensible if waste, for example by-products from supply chains for cereals, fruit, vegetables and local food processing can be fed. This is not yet permitted – a decision is expected for early 2020.

When the INSECTA experts get together again on 10./11. September 2020 in Magdeburg, decisions on the European level will most likely have altered the legal environment. While it remains to be seen whether the sector can continue its dynamic growth, the experts will definitively have plenty to discuss.

The transition towards a new, bio-based regional economy needs the active involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders as well as the sustainable use of agricultural, forest and marine ecosystems. BE-Rural will support five innovation regions to realise the potential of their regional and local bio-based economies and to create bioeconomy strategies and roadmaps.

Engagement is critical

To achieve the project objectives, engagement with and of the local and regional stakeholders is crucial. BE-Rural will combine the living lab concept with an ‘open innovation platform’ approach. This means that the team will bring people together in a co-creation process and initiate new networks in which value and innovation will be created. This process will be open, inclusive and transparent – the project team will encourage representatives of government, business, academia and civil society to participate. A comprehensive documentation will ensure that interested stakeholders can join also at later stages of the process. Sustainability – social, environmental and economic – will be in the focus of the strategy design process.

Environment takes centre stage

BE-Rural takes a Quintuple Helix Approach which combines knowledge and innovation generated by key stakeholders from policy, business, academia and civil society within the frame of the environment. This approach is favourable to solve inter- and transdisciplinary challenges as the stakeholders involved have backgrounds in the field of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities etc. To ensure that the environment takes centre stage, BE-Rural will first analyse the regional framework conditions and make sure that new bio-based business models function within the environmental boundaries. Further, BE-Rural’s ambition is to foster the local implementation of the Agenda 2030, in particular SDG2 (zero hunger), SDG8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG13 (climate action), SDG14 (life below water), SDG15 (life on land).

Action Research

Action research focuses on working out concrete solutions to problems and building practical ‘how to’ knowledge. It is structured in the form of continuous feedback loops, with researchers involved at all stages of activity. BE-Rural will follow the Action Research scheme and go from planning, to action, to description and evaluation, to reflection, and then to planning and action once more.

The basis we are building on – BE-Rural conceptual framework

The BE-Rural conceptual framework adopts and builds upon the Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (RIS3), which states that national and regional authorities are required to design and implement Smart Specialisation Strategies to stimulate and support innovation, drawing on the European Structural & Investment Funds and national/regional resources (European Commission, 2012). According to Carayannis and Rakhmatullin (2014), “smart specialisation strategies mainly build on strengthening pre-existing specialisations at the regional level with the aim of reaching the European 2020 goals in research and innovation”. BE-Rural complements the RIS3 process and where RIS3 already exists, the project will engage with its structures, networks and stakeholders. The table in the Conceptual Framework deliverable (D1.1) illustrates how RIS3 assessment steps can be linked to BE-Rural.

Please take a look at the deliverable “Sustainability and Participation in the Bioeconomy: A Conceptual Framework for BE-Rural” here.

Focus on: Italy

The updated Italian Bioeconomy Strategy or – in short – BIT was published in May 2019 and is the newest member to the family of European bioeconomy strategies. With this strategy, Italy aims to achieve a truly integrated Italian bioeconomy ecosystem comprising different sectors, systems, actors and institutions. Taking a closer look at the strategy, the Italian bioeconomy includes all major sectors of primary production – agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. It includes the sectors that are processing biological resources, such as food and drink, pulp and paper industries and parts of the chemical, biotechnological, energy, marine and maritime industries. All in all, the Italian bioeconomy currently makes about EUR 330 billion turnover per year and is responsible for approximately 2 million jobs. Until 2030 the country aims to achieve an increase of 15% of the current performance. The strategy also includes a chapter on bioeconomy in everyday life, which describes what range of bio-based products have already entered the Italian market (BIT 2019).
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Welcome to our brand-new website! Here, you will be able to stay up to date on what we do, our news, activities and at a later stage also our results. You can learn about our concepts and objectives, the consortium and the experts advising us. In the section on “Innovation Regions” you can discover on which regions the BE-Rural partners will focus to jointly develop regional bio-based strategies. In the “Background” section you can find a multimedia overview about the bioeconomy – its definition, goals and objectives. If you want to stay on top of what is happening in the project, please register for our newsletter. You can always get in touch with us via the contact section or by writing e-mails to individual partners (see “consortium”). BE-Rural started in April 2019 and will be running until end of March 2022.
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