Improving quality and safety and reduction of costs in the European organic and low input supply chain
The European Union is funding a new 18M Euro Integrated Project ‘QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD’ that aims to improve quality, ensure safety and improve productivity along the European organic and other “low input” food supply chains.
The Integrated project will involve thirty-one research institutions, industrial companies and universities (listed below) throughout Europe and beyond. , with a total budget of 18 million Euro. Five of the eight industrial partners are Small to Medium size Enterprises and all eight are involved in the production, processing or quality assurance of organic food. Thus, this Integrated Project integrates the critical mass of activities and resources needed to achieve ambitious scientific and technological objectives.
The research will encompass the whole food chain from fork to farm for protected crops (tomato), field vegetables (lettuce, onion, potato, carrot, cabbage), fruit (apple), cereal (wheat), pork, dairy and poultry. It will measure consumer attitudes and expectations, and will develop new technologies to improve nutritional, sensory, microbiological and toxicological quality/safety of organic foods. All the project’s innovations will be assessed for their socio-economic, environmental and sustainability impacts.
The research will provide meaningful information that is currently lacking on the extent to which differences in production systems affect nutritional value, taste and safety of food. The project is expected to make a significant impact on increasing the competitiveness of the organic industry to the benefit of the European consumers and organic farmers.
Major results from the integrated project and other completed or ongoing European research projects will be reported at the “Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health Congress” which will be held between the 6th and 9th of January 2005 at Newcastle University. The conference is aimed at farmers, processors, traders/retailers, consumer organisations and other stakeholders in the food supply chain.
Low input for high returns
European citizens want agriculture to provide tasty, safe, affordable and nutritious food without damaging the environment. “Low input” farming minimises or completely avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. The best known low input system is organic farming, which is one of the most dynamic sectors of agriculture in Europe, but also faces substantial challenges to meet consumers’ demands for safe, high quality, affordable organic food. The European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) has allocated 685 million Euro for research and development in the area of Food Quality and Safety, such as “safer and environmentally friendly production methods and technologies and healthier foodstuffs”, “impact of food on health”; and “traceability processes all along the production chain”. The project ‘QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD’ brings together European expertise in an 18 million Euro Integrated Project to improve quality, ensure safety and reduce cost along the European organic and “low input” food supply chains.
Start with the Consumer …
One of the first investigations will ask consumers what they want from low input foods, and measure what they actually buy, to determine what producers need to do to satisfy consumer demand. Other researchers will compare “low-input” and conventional products for qualities such as nutritional value, taste, shelf life, and processing characteristics, and for risks related to reduced fertility, pathogens and toxins from fungi. The aim here is to understand how these benefits and hazards can be optimised and controlled throughout the chain.
Then the Producer …
Based on this, scientists will develop novel techniques to produce better products as cost-effectively as possible, and disseminate them to professionals in the food industry. Focus here will be on farm-based research in cereals, vegetables, dairy, poultry and pork production. For example, agronomists will test different management strategies for improvements in soil fertility, disease, weed and pest control to improve yields of high quality, organic plant foods, while livestock experts will assess how improved husbandry methods and feeding regimes can improve the nutritional quality of organic milk and minimise parasites and bacterial infections in pig and dairy production.
The project involves 31 partners, including Universities, Research Institutes and industrial companies. Five of the eight industrial partners are Small to Medium size Enterprises and all eight are involved in the production, processing or quality assurance of organic food.
Each year of the project, a major congress will be held to present the results of this and other projects on organic and “low input” agriculture to representatives of producers, processors, retailers, consumers and other user groups. The first major congress will take place between the 6.-9. January 2005 at Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyner, UK and has been jointly organised with the Soil Association, one of Europe’s major organic farming organisations. In addition to first results from the integrated project major outputs from other R&D projects funded by the EU, national governments and industry will be presented. Details can be found on the project website (www.qlif.org).
Project co-ordinator: Prof. C. Leifert, University of Newcastle, UK
Academic co-ordinator: Dr Urs Niggli, Research Institute of Organic (Fibl)