Research project
36 | monthsINN_LEG

Regulating technology innovation for a sustainable agrifood chain: from gmos to vertical farming. A legal study

Related toSpoke 01

Principal investigators
Lucia Scaffardi

Other partecipantsLaura Pineschi, Antonio D’Aloia, Elena Carpanelli, Marco Inglese, Ludovica Di Lullo, Emanuela Maio, Maria Chiara Errigo, Maria Laura Grilli, Guglielmo Agolino, Elena Scalcon, Mario Mendillo, Luca Romano, Lorenza Violini, Benedetta Vimercati, Giulia Formic
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Task involved

Task 1.3.3.

Consumers perception on food innovation: analysis of consumers social and cultural acceptance of new foods (including novel food and reformulated foods), new technologies, combined with innovative distribution channels, new packaging for multiple sustainable objectives, and efficient communication systems (in connection with Spoke 4).

Project deliverables


Guidelines on responsible product purchasing in line with sustainability goals through labelling systems and other technological tools (M18)


Report on legal issues, consumers benefits and acceptance of new and novel foods (M24)

State of the art

Global population growth, climate change, water scarcity and soil consumption are driving the need to adopt more efficient and sustainable production strategies in the agrifood chian. In this perspective, technological innovation can be a 'resource' providing alternative and more sophisticated tools with regard to the current demands. 
Particularly, technological innovation can directly intervene on products by modifying or trasforming certain characteristics (e.g., GMOs, foods obtained through genetic editing techniques, or, more generally, novel foods, innovative both in their composition and in the way they are produced). Technology innovation can also support new production models, such as vertical farming, which develops in a closed and controlled environment (in terms of humidity, light, oxygen...) and uses hydro/aero-ponics systems (with evident savings in soil consumption).
Technological innovation opens up important possibilities in terms of sustainability (e.g., resistance to certain climatic conditions; water and soil savings; increased food storage). However, it also entails ethical and legal problems related to safety standards, production costs, food quality, consumer protection. A precautionary approach can also lead to an obstructive and anti-scientific reactions ("right of fear").
Therefore, the national and supranational legal system plays a key role in defining an appropriate regulatory framework aimed at driving the proper application of new technologies, in terms of consumer’s protection, health and environmental safeguards, and sustainable agrifood chain.

Operation plan

This project proposal will be organized in the following steps:
1. Recognition and analysis of national, international and European Union policies for the regulation of these 'new' production experiences and identification of related regulatory challenges.
2. Risk assessment analysis of technological innovations in the agri-food sector, pursuant to general principles on prevention and precaution, food safety, consumer protection, environmental and sustainable development.
3. Focus on food biotechnologies: report on the current debate on GMOs and novel food, and on the impact of products created by gene editing techniques (Crispr) in the agrifood chain.
4. Focus on vertical farming: a limits and benefits analysis with respect to the concept of food sustainability, to the potential development of a more efficient short distance supply chain and to a production model tailored to smart cities (or wise cities), regarding the possible role of public intervention (e.g. incentives, tax reduction...).
4.1 Analysis of the Italian regional laws on the issue (including the Lombardia Law, August 2021). 
5. Inquiry on the benefits and drawbacks of a specific certification and labelling system for the products obtained from the examined production systems.

Expected results

This project proposal aims to achieve the following results:

1) Report of current laws, rules and policies and elaboration of proposals for amendments in order to make the production of the agri-food sector more sustainable (including through the use of new technologies).

2) Recognition of a regulatory framework for a safe, rational and sustainable use of biotechnological innovations (also emphasizing the difference between transgenic foods - traditional GMOs -, genetically edited products, novel foods), regarding the protection of agrifood “heritage” including organoleptic characteristics of products, nutritional values, food identity, social and cultural values.

3) Development and strengthening of an urban food policy, in order to implement sustainable food policies (the vertical farming model could contribute to more km 0 production and develop new urban/local resilient supply models with respect to climate change...).

4) Activities to promote a more open and informed discussion on these issues, with the involvement of relevant stakeholders.