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Conference EURAGRI: `Science for Society - Science with Society`

20.09.2002


How can research on food an agriculture in Europe better respond to citizens expectations and demands ?



The concerns:

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A number of crises regarding food safety (eg: BSE, Dioxine, FMD) and concerns about environmental impact have decreased the trust of European citizens in the correct functioning of the agricultural and food production sectors and related policies. This distrust is now shared within aspects of the knowledge base ( eg: food and agriculture research). Agriculture and food production continue to be intrinsic and indispensable elements of society, and these sectors and related knowledge systems need to emerge from these crises with a renewed societal functionality.

A new context:

Agriculture and food production should be multifunctional and multifaceted, and encompass general societal and civil concerns in addition to merely the production of food. Consequently, the outlook and objectives of the agricultural knowledge systems should be more broadly oriented to society while at the same time supporting the food-industry, agricultural production and rural economy. Scientific progress in the life sciences and -technologies makes itself immediately felt through applications in the food and agriculture sectors and consequently governments, industries, farmers and citizens have difficulties understanding the impact, assessing the risks, and controlling the consequences of their activities. Therefore the agricultural sciences ( and their institutions and scientists) are challenged to adopt a mission of addressing the objectives, expectations and concerns of citizens, governments and industry in a general societal and scientific context.

It is clear that research institutes have to respond to different, sometimes conflicting incentives as they endeavour to serve the public interest independaently and impartially, and at the same time being sponsored by industrial companies or by their national government.

A new concept:

The renewed concept for an agricultural and food production knowledge system has to be based on the premise of responsibility in research for the public good. There needs to be a clear comprehension in the research system that high scientific standards need to be connected in these areas with distinct relevance. New and broader forms of setting the research agenda must be developed in which different stakeholders can participate. The incorporation of ethical issues with regard to priority setting and demands on performance is a distinct concern. The link to the day to day reality of people’s lives is often not made by scientists. Obviously this relationship is not easy to establish. However, in times when external justification for expensive research efforts is becoming more and more important for political decisions about the allocation of public research funds, public trust and confidence in agricultural and food production research is of growing importance.

Therefore this conference aims at:

-analysing the conflicts between goals and values in the European agricultural research system in its present state of organisation, in its relation with other groups of society as well as its orientation of programmes and priorities
-defining the new goals and new roles of such an agricultural and food production knowledge system including the establishing of new linkages to its stakeholders and beneficiaries within Europe.
-developing the building blocks of a new system of management, priority setting and programme function in a complex society.

The conference seeks to bring together at a European level the representatives of all stakeholders that form the new context of food and agriculture research with representatives of the agricultural research organisations ( EURAGRI members, Accession Countries and others). These include politicians, policy makers, industries, trade, farmers, consumers, international organisations, new EU member states, NGO’s, academia(notably disciplines outside the traditional agricultural sciences) and the media.

The conference aims to work between problem definition in plenary sessions, analysis and debate of solution options in break out groups, and drafting a way forward in a final plenary session. The conference will end with a general discussion with commissioner Busquin on how to design the evolution of the food and agriculture research system within the ERA and the Framework Programmes. The body of the conference is a set of three working sessions focussed on the three purposes of the conference as set out in the programme.

Fons Werrij | alfa

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