EU research driving healthier food formulation

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union Nutrition

Food is getting healthier and better thanks to EU research,
according to results showcased in Brussels this week.

New research for example shows that organically produced food has a higher nutritional value than conventional in contrast to previous research.

And although the health benefits of fish and seafood due to omega-3 are well known, another project has discovered that there are other important health-giving components in these foods.

"Food quality and safety are major concerns for European citizens and it is great to see relevant new results coming out of EU-funded research,"​ said European science and research commissioner Janez Potocnik.

"Basing decisions about food on scientific evidence benefits consumers. Measures proposed by researchers from EU projects have been tested for validity and reliability and can be used on farms and in food production."

Until recently there has been little scientific knowledge about the effect of agricultural production systems on food. But new EU research claims to show that organically-produced food has a higher nutritional value than food produced by conventional methods.

One study compared organic and conventional milk and found that levels of beneficial fatty acids like omega-3 were 60 per cent higher in organic milk and it had 20 per cent more antioxidants and vitamins.

"Organic food has experienced a boom over the last decade, as recognised by the European Action Plan,"​ said the EC.

"However, it is necessary to improve the quality and safety of organic and low-input food, whilst reducing the cost to the consumer."

Another study, SeafoodPlus, found that white fish could have an important anti-inflammatory effect in preventing colon and intestinal cancers, which are quite common in European populations.

"It has also been clearly demonstrated that fish diets, especially cod, are essential in weight loss programmes and that fish diets increase the antioxidant potential of the blood reinforcing anticancer benefits,"​ said the EC in a statement.

Further studies on the role of fish in cardiac disease, depression, and osteoporosis, are being continued.

Another project is Cleanfruit, a three-year initiative designed to enable cleaner fruit production in the Mediterranean using the sterile insect technique (SIT).

The Medfly is a serious pest for European fruit producers and is often treated with chemical sprays. The Cleanfruit project aims to develop alternative methods of crop protection using SIT, which has already proved to be successful in other areas of the world, including Central America, California and Florida.

By releasing sterile male insects into the fly population, no young are produced and the total number of flies decreases. The aim is to achieve the use of STI Medfly to 25 per cent of European citrus production by 2010.

Grain Legumes is a project designed to develop new strategies to improve grain legumes for food and feed.

Animal food needs to contain both energy and protein. Following the BSE crisis, which led to the removal of animal derived protein from livestock feed, the lack of vegetable protein sources came to light.

As 75 per cent of European plant-derived protein is exported, the European Union wants to encourage farmers to increase the growth of protein-rich legume crops for animal feed. This type of crop, including peas and beans, is currently under-used in European agriculture, despite having the advantages of reducing the need for fertiliser and pesticides.

Grain Legumes therefore aims to make legume crops more competitive for European agriculture through implementation of the latest developments in genomics, plant improvement, crop management and feed processing.

The results of these projects, which have been funded by the EU's Sixth Research Framework Programme, were discussed at a conference in Brussels yesterday.

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