Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD (Improving quality and safety and reduction of cost in the European organic and 'low input' supply chains')

The QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD project was funded by the European Commission (EC) under the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and technological development (RTD). The project comprised seven subprojects. Their main objectives and results achieved are stated below:

- Subproject 1 - Consumer expectations and attitudes
The objective was to deliver in-depth analyses of consumer expectations, attitudes and buying behaviours, with respect to quality and safety of foods from organic and low-input production systems.

Results of the research showed that consumer attitudes towards quality and safety were not consistent; in fact they were changeable, and linked to a whole bundle of assorted issues such as personal health, natural environment, and ethics. Organic consumers seemed to fall into two main types: regular and occasional purchasers. Regular consumers were committed insofar as the products satisfy their quality and safety requirements, but they were suspicious of over-processed organic foods sold in supermarkets. Occasional consumers of organic and low-input foods were more price and convenience-sensitive. A key finding is that consumer behaviour has co-evolved with market development. Availability has constituted the main barrier to increasing demand, and limited assortment, as well as the perceived relationship between quality and price account for much of the fluctuation in demand among occasional users.

Subproject 2 - Effects of production methods
The main objectives were to: (i) identify the effect of production systems (organic, low-input and conventional) on food quality and safety parameters; (ii) identify agronomic parameters responsible for differences in food quality and safety; (iii)- carry out a pilot study into the effect of consumption of organic crops on hormonal balances and immune status in a model experimental animal system

The results showed that organic food production methods resulted in:
(a) higher levels of nutritionally desirable compounds (e.g. vitamins / antioxidants and poly-unsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and CLA);
(b) lower levels of nutritionally undesirable compounds such as heavy metals, mycotoxins, pesticide residues and glyco-alkaloids in a range of crops and / or milk;
(c) a lower risk of faecal Salmonella shedding in pigs.
These nutritional benefits were linked to specific agronomic practices that were prescribed by organic farming standards. Pilot studies showed that these composition differences may translate into measurable health benefits in a model experimental system with rats. Further elaboration on the complex interaction between production methods and health benefits would have to be addressed in future studies.

Subproject 3 - Crop production systems
Organic crop production sought to produce high quality foods while reducing the inputs in order to promote environmental quality and conserve resources. This necessitated optimal production systems in terms of soil fertility and plant health. Studies in this subproject shown that soils may gain an improved potential to release nitrogen (N) from added amendments through adaptation of management practices. Likewise, long-term management strategies may influence suppressiveness of soils to economically important diseases. Application of manures and other organic soil fertility inputs did not pose any additional safety risk in ready-to-eat vegetables, such as head lettuce, if good farming practice was applied. Even under experimental worst-case conditions, pathogen transfer from soil treated with farmyard manure to vegetables was not substantial.

Subproject 4 - Livestock production systems
Results of this subproject provided recommendations to farmers and stakeholders on how to improve organic livestock farming. Progress was made in the areas of housing, feeding and management. Often the recommendations were straightforward and ready for implementation. In other areas challenges remained.

Subproject 5 - Processing strategies
In this subproject, part of the research included an assessment of alternative sanitising protocols under controlled laboratory conditions in the processing of fresh-cut lettuce and mixtures of fresh-cut vegetables. During these studies it was found that, with regard to ecological aspects, ozone was a good alternative to the existing disinfectants, such as chlorine, in the organic field. Further research concerned an assessment of processing technologies that may improve the nutritional composition of dairy products, such as increased content of Conjugated linolenic acids (CLA).

Subproject 6 - Transport, trading and retailing
One of the aims was to provide a better understanding of the supply chain performance and the collaboration system of organic supply chains. A notable finding was that supply chain actors with a high collaboration index outperformed respondents with a lower collaboration in terms of overall, non-financial and financial performance. Also, there was evidence that the higher the perceived risk for quality and safety was, the higher the probability that collaborative practices were in place. Nevertheless, the level of collaboration is still too low. Hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) case studies and training courses were developed with special reference to organic agriculture.

Subproject 7 - Horizontal activities
This subproject represented four horizontal activities common to the project, namely environmental and sustainability audits, cost-benefit analyses and socio-economic impact assessments, dissemination and technology transfer and training of graduate and postgraduate researchers

Activities in the horizontal research showed that organic crop production systems generally were more energy-efficient and had lower greenhouse gas emissions than the conventional production. In terms of dissemination the QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD website was central and the project newsletter attracted more than 1000 subscribers. Coupling of the website with the open access database organic e-prints provided a prospective source of project information that could be accessed also by future stakeholders in organic and low-input systems. Training events arranged annually for students contributed to proliferation of skills and knowledge gained in QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD. Also, these events served to mediate the attitude needed for research in organic and low-input farming.

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