Food research strategy for Finland to promote health and sustainability

News, Press release

The time is now ripe for changes in the Finnish food system. VTT, the universities of Helsinki, Turku and Eastern Finland, the Natural Resources Institute Finland, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, and the Finnish Food Safety Authority set the direction for food research, which aims is to make Finland a key player in the transition to a healthy and sustainable global food system. At the same time, new opportunities for economic growth are being created in Finland.

The global food system is facing unprecedented challenges. Population growth, climate change, biodiversity loss and unsustainable food production methods are issues that need to be addressed through food research and innovation. 

Finland has the opportunity to take a pioneering role in the transition towards a healthy and sustainable global food system, and at the same time, benefit from the economic growth opportunities that will emerge during the changes. The future will be based on systematic research, genuine collaboration and new innovations.

"With the research organisations’ joint food research strategy, we are defining joint research entities that will lead to a sustainable food system in Finland by 2035," says Nesli Sözer, Research Professor at VTT, and head of the strategy working group. 

Finland’s food research missions for 2035:

  1. Healthy, safe, and sustainable diets are viable for all in Finland.
  2. Food and feed production in Finland is sustainable, competitive, and resilient.
  3. Resource efficiency and zero waste are key determinants in the Finnish food system.
  4. Finland is a forerunner and leading testbed for sustainable food system research and innovations.

The strategic plans include pathways for changes towards a healthy and sustainable food system, which leads to the well-being of society, economic growth, and offers growth opportunities for Finnish food producers and the food industry that are based on scientific knowledge and food innovations. There is a need to better combine the expertise of different scientific disciplines and to intensify cooperation between research organisations. Communication between the public administration and the research community also needs to be improved. 

Food research forum for Finland

The strategy working group proposes the establishment of the Finnish Food Research Forum to promote research and education to increase interdisciplinary discussion, to define common impact objectives and to create joint projects and research infrastructures. At the moment lack of a national research agenda, funding and interdisciplinary research have been recognized as weaknesses. It is important to emphasize trustful research communication and dialogue about role of policies and legislation in renewal of food system.

Furthermore, the forum would raise discussion about the importance of research and research coordination in changing the Finnish food system and to improve the dialogue among various actors. Innovations and new business are already being developed in the Food & Beyond Ecosystem, Viikki Food Innovation Lab, Ruokalaakso and Flavoria.

There are several ways towards sustainable food production

The transition to sustainable and climate-wise food production means, for example, the development and large-scale introduction of new cultivation methods and innovative primary production methods, as well as introduction of circular economy solutions.  

Strong nutrition and food technology competence are also defined strengths for Finland. By developing healthy and sustainable foods from Finnish protein sources, we create new export products and improve Finland's protein self-sufficiency. Examples of good sources of protein are roach fish, several arable plants, insects and microbially produced protein. 

Data and digital solutions are becoming increasingly important and can be used to monitor food safety, authenticity and traceability, and to meet the individual needs of consumers through food production. 

Verifying the sustainability and climate impact of foods and food processes will help consumers make more environmentally friendly and sustainable food choices. During the change phase, we need to understand the socio-economic impact of new production methods, i.e., how the changes will affect consumers, safety, the environment and business. 

Strategy working group members:

Nesli Sözer, VTT, Research Professor and leader of the strategy working group
Marina Heinonen, University of Helsinki, Professor 
Marjukka Kolehmainen, University of Eastern Finland, Professor
Liisa Maunuksela, Finnish Food Safety Authority, Research Director
Emilia Nordlund, VTT, Research Team Leader
Kaisa Poutanen, VTT, Senior Advisor
Mari Sandell, University of Helsinki, Professor
Johanna Vilkki, Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Research Professor
Suvi Virtanen, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, University of Tampere, Professor
Baoru Yang, University of Turku, Professor
Maria Åkerman, VTT, Principal Scientist

Food Research and Innovation Strategy for Finland 2021-2035

Sözer, N., Nordlund, E., Poutanen, K., Åkerman, M., Heinonen, M., Sandell, M., Kolehmainen, M., Maunuksela, L., Vilkki, J., Virtanen, S., & Yang, B. (2021). Food Research and Innovation Strategy for Finland 2021-2035. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

ISBN 978-951-38-8830-5

DOI: 10.32040/2021.978-951-38-8830-5 

Nesli Sözer
Nesli Sözer
Research Professor
Our vision beyond 2030

Demand for food is growing at the same rate as the world population. Food production needs to be both sufficiently efficient and less harmful for the environment than before. The challenge is massive, but big steps have already been taken in the right direction.