Interview with Beate Kettlitz (ETP Food for Life), departing chair of the JPI HDHL Stakeholder Advisory Board

Since January 2013, Beate Kettlitz has been the chair and the representative of the member organisation ‘ETP Food for Life’ in the JPI HDHL Stakeholder Advisory Board (SHAB). Now, after a long career in the food policy and science area, she is retiring at the end of 2018. So before saying goodbye, we took the opportunity to interview her and look back on her career and her role in the JPI HDHL.

Can you describe your organisation?
The European Technology Platform (ETP) Food for Life, established in 2005 via an EC specific support action coordinated by FoodDrinkEurope, is a collaboration between academia and industry, with the aim to channel academic knowledge to the practical needs of the industry. It was initiated by industry, as they felt the need to keep talking with each other and to find common ground. In this context, they are always talking about pre-competitive research.

Beate actually works for FoodDrinkEurope, an organisation which represents Europe's food & drink manufacturing industry. Its mission is to facilitate the development of an environment in which all European food and drink companies, regardless of their size, can meet the needs of consumers and society, while still competing effectively for sustainable growth. FoodDrinkEurope’s contribution is based on sound scientific research, robust data management and effective communication, working within the regulatory framework to ensure that all food and drink issues are dealt with in a holistic manner.

The ETP Food for Life three-year project started with creating the structure of the ETP. The structure actually resembles a house, with the consumers in the middle, surrounded by pillars about food safety, nutrition and health, environment, etc.. A vision was developed, then a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) and an Implementation action Plan (IP), becoming the ETP Food for Life a very well recognised European Technology Platform. In general, the aim is to help consumers to make food contribute to a healthy diet. One of the ETP’s principle slogans is “add life to years”, pointing to the importance of making healthy choices as you age.

Since its establishment, ETP Food for Life connected with universities and SMEs and created 28 national platforms. Via these national platforms and their close contact with national funding bodies, the ETP tries to branch out to national needs while at a European level, the ETP tries to promote its ideas in the EC and give input to the research agendas.

What is your organisation’s interest in JPI HDHL? Which main drivers moved your organisation to be a SHAB member of JPI HDHL?
Actually, comparing an ETP with a JPI, both develop research agendas with topics which need to be addressed. But an ETP cannot fund research projects nor issue calls for proposals. In other words, ETP Food for Life finds extremely important to promote the research priorities that were identified by academia and industry together, and to get funding bodies interested in those priorities. Therefore, ETP Food for Life is very much interested in participating in the JPI HDHL, as it is a consortium of funders and there is the possibility to contribute to the JPI SRA and IP by offering the ETP’s topics via awareness of the JPI’s draft plans. ETP Food for Life with the topics it represents has chosen to go into two JPIs: HDHL and FACCE as they are extremely closely linked. If one does not deliver, the other cannot either.

Being these the main drivers to become involved with the JPIs, the only opportunity to be engaged was to apply to become a member of the SHAB.

How does your organisation see the collaboration between itself and JPI HDHL? What can JPI HDHL do for your organisation?
Within the JPI HDHL, ETP Food for Life fulfils a stakeholder role. Now, one of the reasons to be there and to stay there, and this is more a Beate’s personal view, is that it’s important for stakeholders to talk to each other. When you talk to other stakeholders, you learn from them, which then in return also influences you and your organisation. It can only be imagined that others think the same way. The stakeholder connections, the networking and mutual learning are the added value. They all play their role and have their opinions. You may agree or you may not, but that is an entirely different question. Tolerance must be the practice.

Besides the conversations between stakeholders, this collaboration creates opportunities to contribute to the JPI’s SRA, which is the main ETP Food for Life’s goal. Being a collaboration between scientists and industry, divided 50/50 between academia and industry, ETP Food for Life continuously updates its scientific papers.

But next to involvement with the scientists, industry would also like to benefit from being involved in the JPI. When the JPI HDHL funding mechanism started, it was set up for national research bodies and not for industry. Within this JPI concept, industry can only have in-kind collaboration, and there is no vision of a public-private collaboration which would give them the opportunity to have their own calls. So for the future, Beate hopes that the JPI HDHL creates an opportunity for industry to get involved where it is appropriate.

In your opinion, what has the JPI HDHL achieved so far? And how can they still improve?
To start with, the JPI HDHL has really addressed the right research questions. What It’s not immediately visible is what do they do with the outcomes. And that is the real question.

They could impact more by promoting the research outcomes in the public domain. Thinking about ENPADASI and others, many of their outcomes are also interesting for policy making.

Who is the person behind the SHAB member? You are going to retire soon. What did your professional career look like?
Beate is a food chemist by training and conviction. She has worked in the food policy and science area for 43 years: for German authorities, for BEUC, and for the industry. This has allowed her to gain an overview of many different ways of thinking – and to see that there is common ground, but you have to look for it. That is actually the beauty of her job. She really enjoys working with different stakeholders, different people, different areas of expertise. What she does not like and what she will continue to have problems with, is when scientific messages are misused for campaigning issues or political reasons.

What do you believe is important when it comes to being chair of the JPI HDHL SHAB?
Beate thinks that being a chair requires neutrality. You cannot just dictate your personal opinion or the opinion of the organisation that you are representing. Another critical point is that the preparatory work for meetings is often done ahead of time having people behind the SHAB another daily job. Thus, the secretariat plays a very important role there. Having an active secretariat and good preparation of the meetings and materials, increases the ability of the representatives to contribute.

What does a “healthy diet – healthy life” mean to you?
Beate thinks that the concept is excellent. A healthy diet for a healthy life is crucial, and when saying a “healthy diet” this should include physical activity. Without physical activity and half-heartedly eating healthier, only half of the concept is fulfilled. It truly is a combination of both.

Nowadays a lot of food is being offered to the consumer. However, everyone not always reads the labels and they also do not want to be taught - they want to decide for themselves. Therefore, the surrounding environment must be set up in a way that the consumer, on his own, can make a healthy choice.

You have been involved in the JPI for many years. Reflecting on those years, is there one last message that you would like to share with us (for the future)?
Being on track and already having improved a lot, Beate sincerely wishes this JPI to continue to exist keeping in mind the small improvements she has already mentioned. It really benefits society when research outcomes are promoted and put into practice. Beate’s aim, even as a scientist, was always to get people to talk to each other. And that is also her wish for the future. Try to reach consensus where ever it is possible - and make the effort to talk to people. You cannot impose something on anybody. You need to have constructive discussions. That is her credo in life.

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