Subproject 2

WP2.1 Effect of crop management practices (organic, “low input” and conventional) on the nutritional quality of foods

WP2.2 Effect of livestock management practices (organic, “low input” and conventional) on the nutritional quality and safety of foods

WP2.3 Effect of organic food consumption on livestock and human health

Workpackage 2.3

Effect of organic food consumption on livestock and human health

WPs 2.1 and 2.2 will define how production systems and their components affect the contents of nutritionally- and health- relevant compounds and microbiological loads of foods. However, while these studies may allow specific hypothesis on the potential effect foods from specific systems to be developed, they will not show whether differences identified will in fact influence health of those who consume the food. Hypotheses developed as a result of WP2.1 and 2.2 will therefore need to be tested in animal experiments and dietary intervention and cohort studies in WP2.3.

In addition to concerns about reduced nutritional value in foods produced in conventional farming systems many consumers perceive organic foods as healthier, due to the prohibition on the use of chemosynthetic pesticides, of plant and animal growth regulators and of many food additives (e.g. colourings; hydrogenated fats, processing aids and preservatives) and due to use (prescribed minimum use) of veterinary medicines (EC Regulation 2092/91). In the past, some serious health problems have been linked to the use of these substances. Often these problems have been addressed by subsequent prohibition or restrictions on the use of the particular pesticide or food additives. However, there is still a concern that some substances which are still permitted for use (e.g. organophosphorus compounds) and/or recently introduced compounds and their combinations may have as of yet unidentified negative effects on health; especially their possible roles in the increasing incidences of allergies, behavioural disorders and reproductive problems. It is known that some deleterious effects of toxicants can be either enhanced or reduced by other compounds, but there are many possible interactions, and it is currently impossible to predict the implications for consumer health if the levels of many different compounds change simultaneously.

The fundamental issue is whether or not the combined effects of various differences between farming systems can result in significant overall influences on endpoints directly relevant for human health. So there is a need to assess entire diets.

We need medium or longer-term dietary interventions or survey/cohort studies that compare the effect of food produced in organic and conventional production systems on human health. At present such data are not available. This is mainly due to:

  1. Difficulties in identifying large comparable groups of organic and conventional consumer groups for cohort studies. Most previous studies have been subject to confounding factors (organic consumers were frequently observed to also have a different dietary compositions and lifestyles compared to comparable conventional consumer groups), and
  2. Logistical difficulties in ensuring continuous food supplies and long-term compliance for matching organic and conventional groups in diet intervention studies.

Due to the expansion in the range and availability of organic food over the last 5 years, it is now potentially possible to:

  1. (i) Identify groups of consumers which mainly consume organic food (which have a significantly lower dietary intake of pesticides, growth regulators and food additives)
  2. (ii) Compare the health status of “organic” consumer groups to groups with a conventional food based diet, but similar lifestyle, socio-economic and ethical background and dietary composition in cohort or dietary intervention studies and
  3. (iii) Identify the combined effect on human health of:
  1. Minimising agrochemical residues and/or
  2. Improving the nutritional composition of foods through agronomic means (provided nutritional benefits of low input/organic production systems are confirmed in experiments under WP2.1, WP2.2 and subprojects 3 and 4).

Studies to be carried out

The following studies will be carried out:

WP 2.3.1. Animal model study Effect of Chloro-Choline-Chloride (CCC) treatments of feed wheat on pig reproductive performance

This study will test the hypothesis (derived from earlier studies with rodents and birds) that there is a significant negative effect of CCC (the most widely used plant growth regulator) on reproductive performance.

As an animal model system the pig is more suitable than rodents and birds to assess potential health effects in humans, and additionally has agronomic importance in its own right, since reproductive performance is a crucial aspect of the production economy.

The study will start during the first year of the project.

WP 2.3.2 Human dietary Intervention study of effect of organic vs. conventional food based diets on health and well being of children

This will focus on quantifying the effect of foods on selected characteristics of human health and well-being. The experimental design will be a double-blind, comparative study based on the use of up to 12 children’s homes in the Warsaw area, with logistical support for the continuous provision of matching organic and conventional diets from a major European retailer.

The primary experimental unit will be the home, each of which has its own kitchen and provides all meals to 60-100 children aged 3-18 years. The Polish team comprises experts in intervention studies, food nutrient composition, paediatrics, data management and statistics, and has access to laboratories equipped to evaluate immune system parameters such as stress hormones, intestinal flora, biomarkers related to oxidative status.

The team has already published extensively in the area of dietary intervention studies with children. The work foreseen will use similar techniques to investigate health effects of organic food. Ethics

Specific experimental plans for the study will be developed during the initial 18 months period based on information from WP2.1 and WP2.2, the advice from the “Nutritional Studies Advisory Group (NSAG)” and the proceedings from the Nutrition break-out workshop at the IP congress at the end of year 1 of the project. Should the discussions not result in a work plan agreed by the NSAG, the project will not go ahead and the budget will be made available for a cohort study under WP2.3.3 (see below).

The contractor(s) shall provide the Commission with a statement confirming that they have received (a) favourable opinion(s) of the relevant ethics committee(s) and, if applicable, the regulatory approval of the competent national authority(ies) in the country concerned before beginning any biomedical research involving human beings. The Commission shall never be considered as a sponsor for clinical trials in the sense of Directive 2001/20/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 April 2001 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to the implementation of good clinical practice in the conduct of clinical trials on medicinal products for human use.

WP 2.3.3 Cohort study of effect of organic vs. conventional food based diets on human health parameters

This cohort study will focus on quantifying the effect of foods from organic and conventional production systems on selected human health characteristics.

Specific hypothesis and experimental plans for the study will be developed based on (a) the outcome of this call, as well as (b) information from WP2.1 and WP2.2, (c) the advise from the “Nutritional Studies Advisory Group” and (d) the proceedings from the Nutrition break-out workshop at the IP congress at the end of year 1 of the project, and it will be part of the second 18 month work plan.

The cohort study will be put for tender in an “Open call for proposals”. However, there will only be budgets available for this WP if the Human dietary Intervention study planned under WP2.3.2. can not be carried out.

It is expected that the cohort study will be based on analysis of data from an existing cohort study by the new partner selected in the call, supplemented by data from food consumption questionnaires and/or supermarket smart cards. More than one study may be combined, depending on advice from the “Nutritional Studies Advisory Group” (see section 6.4 for advisory group members). At least one study has been identified which is able to provide this resource.

· Participating researchers
· Publications