EAT,PRAY,LOVE….the entire system that feed you

EAT,PRAY,LOVE….the entire system that feed you

The theme that the World Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has given to the World Food Day of this year 2021 is “Our actions are our future”.

And so it is, like everything in life, each step and each action that we undertake, determines our future. We,all of us, are an active and responsible part of a complex, living and moldable system called food system.

FAO defines food systems as a set of actors and the relationship of the set of activities established between all of them through the different interrelationships that make possible the production, transformation, distribution and consumption of the food.

The elements that make up food systems are multiple and integrate both aspects of the production, storage, processing, packaging and logistics as well as issues related to quality, nutritional, safety and price related aspects, even issues such as information and behavior of the consumers. Given all these factors- and many others!- and their interrelationship, it is not unreasonable to think that food systems are of crucial importance to many of the challenges and goals we must address globally, inlcuding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among these objectives, and particularly two of them, are those aimed at achieving “Zero Hunger” (SDG2) and “End Poverty” (SDG1) on which we must place special emphasis today.

Most of the current food systems are not capable of adapting, anticipating or being resilient to stressful situations or of supplying the present needs, in some cases, or to anticipate the needs of a growing population.

There is a clear need to transition to more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems

A sustainable food system integrates varied and sufficient, nutritious and safe food with a fair price for all, where there are no forms of malnutrition and no hungry. Policies and strategies are necessary, but also our personal contribution as active members of the system. Every time we choose foods, we make mutiple decisions and do our part towards our healthy, but also, more sustainable diet, which contributes to the restoration of natural resources. Towards an equitable trade, leading the way towards the eradication of poverty and malnutrition, thus protecting human rights.

On World Food Day, every October 16 since 1979,the collective action of a large number of countries is promoted to carry out events, communication and dissemination activities with the aim of promoting the need to eradicate hunger and guarantee healthy diets for all the members of this planet.

We must address challenges related to world population growth, climate change, diet-related diseases, depletion of natural resources and associated specific situations such as pandemics or natural disasters.

Each October 16 since 42 years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations promotes the celebration of World Food Day.In this case under the slogan “OUR ACTIONS ARE OUR FUTURE”

The European Union proposed to address the challenge of food security and nutrition through research and development policies aimed at guaranteeing the future of our food systems so that they turn into more sustainable, resilient,responsible, inclusive, diverse and competitive within the FOOD 2030 strategy and it is intended to provide solutions to four major general priorities of the food systems:

  • NUTRITION: ensuring healthy and sustainable diets.
  • CLIMATE: achieve climate-smart and sustainable food systems that adapt the climate change.
  • CIRCULARITY: reducing the use of resources and improving the efficiency of food systems, including zero food waste.
  • INNOVATION: fostering sustainable and accessible food sharing for all communities, cities and rural areas, developing data-driven food and nutrition systems that meet societal needs.

At CARTIF we work in different pathways of intervention that allow us to advance in this direction, such as the shift to more sustainable and healthy diets, the identification and use of new sources of protein, reduction of food waste, food security or urban food systems.

In this sense, FUSILLI project (Fostering the Urban Food System transformation through Innovative Living Labs Implementation, funded by the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme) general aim is achieving an integrated and safe transition towards food systems in pan-European cities and their peri-urban areas by creating a sustainable urban food plan, with environmental, social and economic aspects that integrates actions in the four pillars of the FOOD 2030 strategy.

Yes, we hold the future of food in our hands. Each step that each of us takes in the right direction ensures food and nutrition for healthy and sustainable diets while maintaining the environment, our health, equity and social inclusion, and the economy. Be part of the change that you want to see.

Chemical fingerprint of food: an alternative way to fight against food fraud

Chemical fingerprint of food: an alternative way to fight against food fraud

Just as fingerprints are used to identify people, the chemical profile or “chemical fingerprint” of food is useful in the agri-food sector, because it provides information about the authenticity of food. The study of the digital chemical fingerprint allows, among other aspects, differentiate foods of the same type but produced in different regions (denomination of origin), to distinguish between species, to verify the veracity of its components, to determinate the presence of adulterants and contaminants, to check the preparation or processing method used, among ohter characteristics.

The development of this type of analytic methodology is being especially demanded to combat food fraud, an issue that increasingly worries consumers, the food industry and the adminsitration. Although EU Food Fraud Network was founded in 2013 with the main objective to combat the food fraud in the food sector, both in Spain and in the global market of the European Union, the number of notifications related with fraudulent actions is increasing throughout of the agri-food chain. In 2018, food fraud caused a global cost in the food industry of around 30.000 million euros and, only in Spain, the food fraud´s notifications increased from 234 in 2018 to 292 in 2019. Some of the sectors such as olive oil, meat industry or the winegrowing were the most affected.

Types of food fraud in 2018. Source: The EU Food Fraud Network and the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System. 2018 Annual Report
Types of food fraud in 2019. Source: The EU Food Fraud Network and the Adminitrative Assitance and Cooperation System. 2019 Annual Report.

Fraudulent actions along the agri-food chain can be very diverse and can affect the quality, the purity, the conservation way or the identity of the food. According to this, in 2014 the GFSI (Global Safety Initiative) defined the food fraud as a collective term that encompasses the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, adulteration or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, labeling, information about the product or false and misleading declarations about a product to obtain economic benefits could can affect the customer´s health.

In this way, since the Food Area of CARTIF are progressed with the development of technical analytics to detect the multiple “biomarkers” or to obtain the “chemical digital fingerprint” which allows us to prove the authenticity about the food and detected frauds although can be masked. In general, some of the analytic technologies used with this reason as gas chromatogrpahy coupled or mass spectrometry (GC-MS(, or the ion mobility spectrometry (GC-IMS), the ñiquid chromatography with mass spectrometry as a dectector (LC-MS) or infrared spectroscopy are worked in laboratories several years; however, traditionally their applications has been guided to the targeted of some composed. Now adays, exist stark trends to the development of methods more strong and ambitious (not targeted) which lets the simultaneous detection of the high possible quality of their composed. The chemical facts getting off ths way, by being traded according the applications of mathematical or statistics (chemometrics) models can contribute relevant information about the identity of the food.

The ultimate aim of these analytical methodologies is to be able to provide, in the security food field, a useful, fast and relatively simple stool which can help to minimize food fraud and avoid its possible consequences, both from the point of view of the health consumers, as the economic losses that they may represent to the food industry.

Attention: NutriScore Traffic Light! We have a huge mess

Attention: NutriScore Traffic Light! We have a huge mess

NutriScore, is a nutritional traffic light intended to help consumers make healthier buying decisions by providing information on nutritional quality at a glance. It does this by using a algorithm that gives a lower (healthier) score for protein, fibre, fruit, nuts and vegetables and a higher (less healthy) score for kilocalories, saturated fat, total sugars and salt. Based on this score, the product is given a letter with the corresponding colour code, from the healthiest which would be green (letter A) to the least healthful which would be indicated by the colour red (letter E).

But not everything is perfect in the world of the colourful algorithm. Since its birth in France (2017), it has been the subject of numerous criticisms arguing that the NutriScore not only fails to meet the objectives for which it was created but is even misleading for consumers. As expected, we are facing a divided Europe. On the one hand, the governments of France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany have adopted the Nutriscore label on a voluntary basis. However, Italy considers that such labelling poses a risk to products “made in Italy” and to the Mediterranean diet, and has even presented to the Commission an alternative to NutriScore called NutrInform (which has also been widely criticised). Major food multinationals such as Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Danone have already implemented NutriScore in their own brand lines and some of the largest retail chains such as Carrefour, Erosky, Aldi and Lidl have also included NutriScore in their own brand products.

The pro-NutriScore group argues that it is an easily interpreted tool that can encourage healthy food choices and motivate industry to reformulate its products. By contrast, another group sees the NutriScore as an unfair system, which may discriminate against certain categories of food, as it does not include comprehensive nutrient information and is not based on the reference intakes of the average consumer, leading to an unbalanced diet.

The NutriScore also fails to convince the European Commission. In fact, in its Farm to Fork strategy published in March 2020, the Commission faces the challenge of implementing a single mandatory labelling system across the EU, by the last quarter of 2022, but has so far not committed itself to the NutriScore. In fact, it has proposed to launch an impact study on the different types of front of pack labelling.

Despite all this variety of opinions, today the NutriScore is one of the most widely accepted front labels in Europe and the one chosen by Spain for implementation during the first quarter of 2021.

In this situation we must not forget that the most important thing is to inform (not influence) the consumer. This situation is reminding me of what happened with Regulation 1924/2006 whose initial objective was also very worthy, as it was published to protect consumers on nutrition and health claims on food. That was a Regulation under strong pressure from the food industry which did not take the consumer into account. In fact, to this day, consumers are still not aware of the difference between a “fat-free”, “low-fat” or “reduced-fat” product, to name just one example. It was a regulation made “for” and “by” the food industry and which in my opinion has not guaranteed consumer protection either. At the very least, the NutriScore would expose a regulation that is allowing a fried roll filled with vitamin D enriched cream to claim that it “contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system”. However, the NutriScore is also being used as a marketing tool by the food industry, and the algorithm has even been modified to improve the rating of certain products.

One of the main criticisms of NutriScore is that products with low nutritional value may give the impression of being healthy after reformulation. In my opinion, the NutriScore would actually be continuing a situation that Regulation 1924/2006 has not been able to resolve. We should focus on health policies by reformulating those products with too much salt, saturated fat and sugar so that consumers can actually make healthier choices.

We already know that NutriScore is not perfect, in fact no labelling system will ever be perfect in isolation. In parallel, complementary nutrition information systems will need to be put in place. Nutrition education will of course be essential for any labelling system to be effective, but here the food industry really needs to lose its fear of being more transparent. Marketing departments must understand that including “sodium palmitate” (Latin name) or “elaeis guineensis” (name of the plant) as an ingredient instead of “palm oil” is not transparent and can confuse even a PhD in nutrition.

In the food area of CARTIF during 2021 we are preparing business initiatives related to the improvement of the nutritional profile of certain foods and actions aimed at improving nutritional labelling so that consumers can make more informed choices.

Dear food system

Dear food system

Today, October 16, is commemorated, as every year since 1979, World Food Day, promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This year, the FAO makes a special call to achieve healthy food for all corners of the planet and, especially, for the most disadvantaged places, even more so at the moment due to the pandemic that is devastating us. In addition, people who cultivate the land, collect, fish or transport our food are honored in a special way. They are today the #HeroesofFood.

World Food Day has been celebrated every October 16 since 1979, promoted by the FAO. This year it does so under the motto “2020; cultivate, nurture, preserve, together “

Changes in nutritional habits in Europe are becoming more and more evident. The increase in diseases related to malnutrition – and the impact of this fact on the health system – which we already talked about in a previous post (Malnutrition due to excess), translates into more than 70% of the adult population with overweight and 30% obesity, while 820 million people in the world suffer from hunger (FAO Data, 2020).

On the other hand, the current food system – which includes cultivation, animal husbandry, transformation, packaging and transport – is responsible for 37% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are generated annually, and that food losses and waste also contribute 8-10% of the total (IPCC Data, 2019) as we also commented in another post (Tell me what you eat … and I’ll tell you if it’s good for the planet).

A large part of Europe’s food systems produce unsustainably and display unhealthy consumption patterns. It is necessary to align the objectives related to production, with those related to nutrition and health.

Sadly, with these data, we can say that if our current food systems are characterized by something, it is by unhealthy and unsustainable diets from an environmental point of view.

In summary, it can be said that, despite the growing interest of the population in food, nutrition and food quality and the benefits that a healthy diet has on health, the European Union has been experiencing a negative transition for years marked by the increase in these non-communicable diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer or chronic respiratory diseases).

For this reason, food systems need to face great challenges such as feeding a growing population, also concentrated in urban centers, while reducing the pressure on natural productive systems in the context of climate change. By achieving this transformation, we will improve our diet, our health and the health of the planet.

We all have a relevant role in making our food systems more resilient and robust so that they can adapt to each situation and climate change by offering healthy, affordable and sustainable diets in a fair system for all members.

In this context, the strategy of the Farm to the table arises to achieve a sustainable diet (From farm to fork). It is one of the initiatives of the European Union to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 within the so-called European Green Deal (European Green Deal). The Farm to Table strategy contemplates the production of food with a neutral or positive environmental impact while ensuring food safety, nutrition and people’s health within a framework of affordable and profitable prices. In it, European farmers, ranchers and fishermen are recognized as key actors to achieve climate change and preserve biodiversity, and a marketing environment is promoted through short channels, betting on the mitigation of climate change and the reduction or elimination of food waste.

The ultimate goal of this strategy is to achieve a fair, healthy and sustainable food system in which safe, nutritious and quality food is produced while minimizing the impact on nature. All of this aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Fig. Objectives of the European Union for the achievement of a sustainable food system

Maybe today is a good day to write our letter of wishes; Dear food system, I want to meet you more sustainable and healthy. To act in favor of change and reduce the impact on climate change, I am committed to making better choices about my food and to contributing with all the small actions that are in my power.

There is no doubt that by choosing a healthier and more sustainable diet we are consciously contributing to change. Choosing foods that have a lower footprint (carbon, water or ecological) contributes to a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases and, therefore, to slow down global warming. In addition to the lower impact on the environment, we get a greater benefit on our health since we obtain a more balanced diet. By eating a varied diet or choosing seasonal products or less processed foods, we can also reduce our carbon footprint. Small actions such as consuming tap water, planning the purchase, cooking in a traditional way or properly preserving food, contribute positively.

Heterotrophic microalgae, night efficiency in wastewater treatment

Heterotrophic microalgae, night efficiency in wastewater treatment

Microalgae here, microalgae there. It is so rare not to have come across any news about the exploitation and the thousand uses of these microorganisms that a few years ago we simply knew as those that dye salty and sweet waters green.

Microalgae are a very beneficial source for humanity, extending their application to fields such as food, agriculture, aquaculture, pharmacology and cosmetics, among others. They can also generate clean energy and second-generation biofuels, thereby contributing to the development of the circular economy.

They can grow autotrophically or heterotrophic. In the first, they use sunlight as an energy source and CO2 as an inorganic source of carbon, consuming nutrients and producing oxygen. While in heterotrophic growth mode the only source of energy or carbon is organic compounds.

Heterotrophic microalgae have great potential to remove organic carbon and various types of nitrogen and phosphorous compounds from wastewater, which use it as a source of carbon and energy without the need for sunlight. It is, therefore, a great opportunity to purify wastewater without requiring large areas, as in the case of autotrophic conditions.

LIFE ALGAECAN Project

With the LIFE ALGAECAN project, coordinated by CARTIF, a new sustainable treatment of residual effluents from the agri-food industry is proposed through the cultivation of heterotrophic microalgae, obtaining a high-quality by-product as raw material and of commercial interest. This by-product aims to be useful as a biofertilizer and / or animal feed.

Microalgal biomass contains micro and macronutrients, especially nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, which can be considered as a biofertilizer, a product that can help improve soil fertility and stimulate plant growth.

The pilot plant has been installed and operating for six months at the Huercasa company facilities, in Segovia (Spain), carrying out a treatment of its residual water from the washing and processing of vegetables and achieving the profitable growth of heterotrophic microalgae in closed tanks .

This demonstration plant is capable of carrying out a treatment of 2m3 a day through the cultivation of microalgae; a separation by centrifugation of the algal biomass and clean water and, lastly, a spray drying of this biomass obtaining microalgae powder as the final product.

Is this treatment environmentally and economically beneficial?

The project consortium has designed and developed this prototype treatment, powered by renewable energies, specifically solar energy and with the support of biomass, with the aim of minimizing the carbon footprint and operating costs.

On the other hand, an economic benefit will be obtained with the sale of the microalgae obtained as a biofertilizer.

The results obtained have been favorable so far, given that a purified water is being achieved within the legal parameters of discharges, in addition to the complete elimination of the sludge that is generated in the traditional process of purification of this type of water in conditions aerobics. This translates into a good option as a treatment for companies with this type of effluent and its possible escalation at an industrial level.

The ultimate goal of the project is to replicate its results elsewhere and for the next six months the plant will be operating in the second demonstrator at the VIPÎ company facilities in Slovenia, where the environmental conditions are different.

The project consortium is made up of the CARTIF Technology Centers (as coordinator) and AlgEn (Slovenia), the companies HUERCASA (Spain) and VIPÎ (Slovenia), and the University of Athens (Greece).

On World Health Day, #stayhome but do it in a healthy and active way

On World Health Day, #stayhome but do it in a healthy and active way

April 7 is World Health Day. It is paradoxical that this year we will celebrate it confined due to a global pandemic. However, although #Istayhome, life goes on and we cannot let our guard down when it comes to health.

Each of us associates the fact of being at home with different habits: some to tranquillity and rest, others to domestic tasks, others to family. Whatever your situation, there are no excuses to do it in a healthy and active way.

Let’s put ourselves in situation with some data from the 2019 health profile in Spain published by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development):

  • Spain is the EU country with the highest life expectancy: 83.4 years in 2017, which is 2.5 years above the EU average. Spaniards today can expect to live an additional 21.5 years after reaching the age of 65, 1.5 years more than the EU average. This increase in life expectancy was mainly caused by a considerable reduction in mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases, although mortality from Alzheimer’s disease increased as a consequence of the increase in life expectancy.
  • Spain has some of the lowest mortality rates from preventable and treatable causes, indicating that public health and healthcare interventions are, in some cases, effective. However, much remains to be done as estimates suggest that more than a third of deaths in Spain can be attributed to risk factors associated with behavioural habits, including tobacco use, poor diet, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle (see figure).
Figure: Percentages of deaths in Spain and in the EU attributed to behavioural risk factors. Source: IHME (2018), Global Health Data Exchange (estimates correspond to 2017)
  • In the case of smoking, an anti-smoking law was adopted in 2005 and was strengthened in 2010. The 2010 law strengthened the rules on the retail and advertising of tobacco products; increased protection for minors and non-smokers by expanding smoke-free zones to all public places; and promoted the application of smoking cessation programs, especially in primary care. At the same time, taxes on cigarettes were increased, by 3% per pack of cigarettes in 2013 and by 2.5% more in 2017, along with a 6.8% increase in taxes on rolling tobacco. All these measures have contributed to the fact that smoking rates have decreased in the last fifteen years. However, more than one in five Spanish adults (22%) continued to smoke daily in 2017, representing a higher proportion than the EU average (19%).
  • Regarding overweight and obesity, the data is even more alarming. In 2005, the NAOS Strategy, managed by the Spanish Agency for Consumption, Food Safety and Nutrition, aimed to curb the increase in obesity in the Spanish population. This was reinforced by the Food Safety and Nutrition Law adopted in 2011, also with the aim of reducing overweight and obesity in children, prohibiting foods and beverages with a high content of saturated fatty acids, salt and sugar in schools and, more broadly, tightening the regulations on children’s menus. Recently, work has been carried out to establish a set of indicators that allow evaluating progress in their application and for the execution of health promotion activities in the area of nutrition, physical activity and obesity prevention (AECOSAN, 2019). In 2018, the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare announced new measures to reinforce the NAOS Strategy and, among them, an initiative on a new labelling on the front of packages using the Nutriscore model. Using an easy-to-understand colour code (based on a “traffic light” approach), this initiative aims to provide citizens with more accurate information on the nutritional quality of food, although this measure has not yet been applied. In early 2019, the Ministry also signed an agreement with almost four hundred food companies that committed to reducing the content of saturated fatty acids, salt and added sugars in their products. However, the effects so far seem modest. In fact, the obesity rate has increased among adults, which may hinder progress in reducing cardiovascular mortality and other related causes of death: one in six Spaniards suffered from obesity in 2017 (17%), a increase compared to the figure of one in eight in 2001, also above the EU average (15%). This increase is related to poor physical activity among adults, as well as unhealthy nutritional habits: only about 35% of adults reported eating at least one vegetable a day. The same situation is found in the child-youth population. According to the PASOS study (2019), 14.2% of the child-youth population is overweight and obese as measured by BMI and 24.5% have abdominal obesity. The prevalence of childhood obesity has grown in the last two decades: 1.6% according to BMI and 8.3% according to abdominal obesity.

We cannot ignore the data. A healthy and active lifestyle contributes to our quality of life expectancy. Some basic recommendations:

  1. Move, live an active life: go up the stairs, go to work on foot or by bike whenever possible, choose games that involve movement to do with your children, dance, etc.
  2. Eat calmly: follow your feeling of satiety and not your emotions (avoid eating due to boredom, anxiety, etc.). Limit ultra-processed food (you can read further in the post: Realfood, fad or is it here to stay?). Include fruits and vegetables in all your intakes. Give priority to whole carbohydrates over refined ones. Vary the food every day. Eat quietly and if possible, in company.
  3. Hydrate yourself regularly throughout the day.
  4. Exercise daily: dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to the physical activity that you like the most and vary it.
  5. Rest and sleep between 6 and 8 hours a day.
  6. Spend time on activities you like: reading, walking, writing, dancing, painting, photography, movies, meditating, talking to someone who inspires you, etc.

Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits should be an ever-present motto in our lives, but it becomes essential in difficult situations like the one we are experiencing. It is at these times when initiatives like #AlimentActivos from FIAB (Federation of Food and Beverage Industries) take on special relevance. It is a website where they give us tricks and ideas, pose challenges for us and provide us with scientific data and information to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.

Do not forget that, through social networks, you can follow a multitude of profiles that inspire us in matters of healthy eating and cooking, physical exercise at home, how to maintain good mental health, as well as stay positive and relaxed.

At CARTIF, #westayathome exercising #health.