This week, European industry association FoodDrinkEurope is holding a two-day conference in Brussels discussing how the sector can ride out the tough economic conditions on the Continent and the longer-term future for the industry. Day one focused on the economy, on EU regulation and on the challenge of innovation. Here is a flavour of the first day of the event.

“We are on the brink what is probably the greatest opportunity for the food and drink industry in the history of agriculture. There is huge demand, incomes rising in some countries rapidly, we have changes in diet. There is huge demand for the product. All this growth virtually is coming from developing countries. Whether Europe is going to expand depends on how successful the industry is on capturing share of the trade. The consensus is Europe is going to capture very little of that growth” – Wayne Jones, head of agro-food trade and markets division at the OECD.

“If you look at the longer term and basic fundamentals, without getting into this argument about innovation, Europe can be a very stong and solid economy. I would be much more optmistic about its ability to maintain strong market shares and competitiveness globally. What it means is an adjustment in how you set up your trade relations with other countries. What we’re seeing more and more diff in the food industry and specialisation. These are things that Europe’s food industry should be focused on” – Rufus Yerxa, deputy director-general of the World Trade Organisation

“I don’t see any short-term recovery in Europe. But we have got enough exporting companies to target countries in the developing world” – Andrew Morgan, president of drinks giant Diageo‘s European operations.

“The small- and medium-sized enterprise is very important in Europe. We are creating jobs, we are not exporting jobs to cheaper countries. We are investing in our local communities” – Frans Egberts, MD of Dutch deli meats firm Henri van de Bilt Vleeswaren

“I have two dreams. To work with an industry that shares with us the objective of improving the health of society at large and to share the vision of a healthier Europe and a healthier world. I don’t see either of them” – Dr Roberto Bertollini, chief scientist of the World Health Organisation’s European arm.

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“Most of the legislation is centred around cultural backgrounds rather than economic recovery. There is too much cultural involvement in food legislation rather than scientific involvement. We believe in order for the world to be sustainable we have to use innovation but there is a fear Europe is going to become a food museum” – Maurice House, minister counsellor on Food and Agriculture for the US Mission to the EU.

“We all know R&D is very expensive. In these tough economic times, it’s the first thing to be cut” – Olivier Rigaud, president of Tate & Lyle plc’s speciality food ingredients division.

“The regulatory framework needs to be an appropriate balance between what we can do and what we cannot do” – Rigaud also says European regulation can hinder innovation.

“It is clear: all EU policies aim to encourage a strong environment for the European food industry. I know that the health claims legislation has provoked some disquiet in the business. This gives clarity and establishes a level playing field and great rewards for the genuine innovation that are able to get their claims authorised” – Paola Testori Coggi, director general of the European Commission’s agency focusing on health and consumers.