Organic Food Quality project
Organic Food Quality (OFQ) is not really a stand-alone R&D project, but a central research scheme/focus that was investigated as part of a wide range of NEFG contract R&D projects
R&D to quantify and improve quality parameters in organic foods started in 2000 when Newcastle University established the TESCO Centre for Organic Agriculture, which in 2004 became the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group (NEFG).
Initially (2000 to 2004) the main aim was to develop HACCP-based quality assurance systems for organic vegetables, cereals and oil crop and livestock production systems. The main target was to deliver similar sensory and processing quality and ensure absence of microbial pathogens, mycotoxins, pesticides and other chemical contaminants from organic food products (see for example Leifert et al.
After 2004 the EU FP6 project QualityLowInputFood (www.QLIF.org) allowed the focus of studies to include comparisons of nutritional composition parameters in both crops and livestock.
The main objectives were to study impacts of
- effects of rotation, fertilisation, crop protection and varieties used in organic and conventional systems on crop composition (e.g. protein profiles, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, pesticides, toxic metals) and
- effects of feeding regimes, livestock husbandry and breeds used in organic and conventional systems on milk and meat composition (e.g. antioxidants, protein and fatty acid profiles)
- impacts of feeds made from organic and conventional crops on animal physiological parameters, including hormonal balances and immune system responsiveness
- trade-offs between crop and livestock health, productivitym and food quality and safety parameters
In 2009 a widely publicised FSA-sponsored systematic literature review (Dangour et al. 2009) concluded that there is no evidence for significant differences in nutritional composition between organic and conventional crop and livestock products.
Since this conclusion contradicted most results of (a) literature reviews, (b) controlled field experiements, (c) farm surveys and (d) supermarket surveys carried out by scientists from across Europe (those included in the QualityLowInputFood consortium) the NEFG initiated a programme of systematic literature reviews and meta-analyses of published data on composition differences between organic and conventional crops, meat and milk. These reviews/analyses were supported by both the EU (via the QualityLowInputFood, NUE-crops and LowInputBreeds projects) and the Sheepdrove Trust.
In 2014 (for crops) and 2016 (for milk and meat) the Organic Food Quality project published three extensive systematic literature reviews which:
- report results from meta-analyses of published data showing that there are significant and nutritionally relevant composition differences between organic and conventional foods
- summarise results from animal dietary intervention studies showing that organic food consumption has significant effects on physiological parameters in animals linked to health (including hormonal balances and immune system responsiveness) and
- review evidence from human cohort studies indicating that there are significant positive associations between organic food consumption and a reduced risk of certain disease
The Organic Food Quality team welcomes the continued public and scientific debate on this important subject. The entire database generated in the systematic literature review and used for the meta-analysis is freely available on the Newcastle University website for the benefit of other experts and interested members of the public.