Increasing Fruit Consumption to Improve Health - ISAFRUIT Forum
In January 2006 the ISAFRUIT project began. 300 scientists from 60 research and development institutions and SMEs, in 16 countries across Europe, the USA and New Zealand, embarked upon a mission to encourage increased consumption of fruit, to improve the health and well-being of the European population. Despite government initiatives to encourage people to eat more fresh fruit and the fact that fruit is synonymous with good health in the minds of consumers, quantities consumed are not increasing, and they vary widely across Europe, from 70-100 kg in Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain to 40-60 kg per person each year in Poland, the UK and Germany. This suggests that many Europeans still do not consume the recommended daily minimum of five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables. The EU Framework 6-funded ISAFRUIT Integrated Project in the area of food quality and safety is the only FP 6 Integrated Project entirely focused on fruit, and runs until 2010. The emphasis of the individual projects that are comprised in this integrated study is to address bottlenecks to fruit consumption such as: consumer perceptions, fruit availability, quality and convenience, and environmentally-friendly production. The project focuses on the idea that improving both the quality and availability of fruit and fruit products, along with raising customer awareness, will boost fruit consumption and improve the health and well-being of Europeans.
ISAFRUIT's goal of increasing fruit consumption has strong foundations in new knowledge created by a multidisciplinary team of natural and social scientists addressing many aspects of the multi-faceted fruit chain. Meeting consumer expectations in terms of quality, flavour and taste plays a key role in achieving increased fruit consumption and ISAFRUIT's supply chain approach has been addressing bottlenecks that may affect these characteristics.
Starting with consumer science, social scientists have been identifying and explaining patterns of variation in fruit consumption across Europe. The project's researchers have been investigating the reasons for consumer behaviours and their attitudes to new innovations; asking what are the drivers behind buying decisions for fruit and fruit-derived products; and analysing traits of fruit and fruit products supply chains to identify their capacity to act as a coordinated chain.
It is well known that a diet rich in fruit and vegetable content can reduce the risk of chronic disease, but the fruit traits responsible for the beneficial human health effects of fruit consumption are not well known, such as those related to cardio-vascular diseases and obesity, particularly in younger generations. These are also targets of investigation for the ISAFRUIT project, which studies the impact of regular consumption of fruit and innovative fruit-derived products on health. A significant percentage of European consumers suffers from fruit allergenicity. Close cooperation among ISAFRUIT scientists (human health experts, fruit geneticists, horticulturists) is addressing this problem from many angles, with the goal of providing consumers with fruit of reduced allergenic potential either thanks to innovative growing techniques, or because these genes have been silenced in novel transgenic products via biotechnology.
Processed fruit products can be more convenient for the consumer, therefore novel fruit products and processes have been developed and the health properties of these foods have been investigated. The keeping qualities of minimally processed products and fruit-based snacks can help to increase the availability and wider consumption of fruit especially by the young and ISAFRUIT is developing a knowledge base on the uptake of such products.
Consumers are now also much more aware of where their food comes from and they want questions about how their food has been produced to be answered. ISAFRUIT has directed efforts to attain the highest pre-harvest quality of fruit by developing sustainable production methods that save energy and natural resources such as water, and reduce pesticide and fertilizer applications thanks to the adoption of precision agriculture methods, including innovative mechanical equipment, models and decision support systems. This work lays the foundation for studies on the post-harvest phase of the supply chain, which aim to provide the consumer with high quality fruit at every purchase, to increase the potential of meeting consumer expectations, while the use of "generally regarded as safe" methods to preserve quality during storage will also increase consumer confidence. Non-destructive tools for quality control along the supply chain will help the trade to guarantee the quality expected by consumers. This all contributes to producing fruit and fruit-products that are more inviting and acceptable to the consumer.
ISAFRUIT researchers have carried out the largest to date study of consumer acceptance of existing, innovative apple and peach varieties throughout Europe. The results from these studies and knowledge gained mapping genes responsible for important fruit quality traits in these species will facilitate bringing better varieties to market in future, including prospects for reduced chemical inputs and low- or allergen-free-products.
Finally, ISAFRUIT has developed strategies to identify, protect and exploit intellectual property and to disseminate new scientific information, skills training and knowledge, including plans to involve the key actors in the European fruit industry. This new knowledge can ultimately be disseminated to a variety of audiences including key decisions-makers, with whom the responsibility of policy-driven change lies.
In June 2007, the European Commission adopted a White Paper setting out a wide range of proposals to tackle nutrition- and obesity-related health issues. An advisory group, made up of representatives from each Member State, was appointed to monitor progress. Its final report is due in 2010. Among other measures proposed, new programmes to promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables are being developed. In line with these objectives a joint initiative of ISAFRUIT, the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) and the European Economic and Social committee, has brought together ISAFRUIT researchers with their colleagues from the World Health Organisation, the Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development and ISHS to discuss issues related to fruit consumption from the perspectives of consumer behaviour, the health-giving benefits of fruit and initiatives to encourage increased consumption, in particular by school children. This volume provides reviews of the work done in these areas.
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