EU Science Hub

Organic food and sustainable agriculture

Food scares have increased consumer awareness in all aspects of food safety and quality. As a result, consumers have increasingly expressed preferences with respect to agricultural practices and geographical origin. Policy makers also have recognised the potential of organic farming as a means of food production that meets the demands of sustainability and the market place. On 1 January 2009, new EU regulations (Council Regulation (EEC) N° 834/2007) went into effect for the production, control and labelling of organic products and the Commission Regulation (EC) N° 889/2008 detailed the rules on production, labelling and control.

Research is still needed in this field, for instance to clarify the relationships between agricultural management and nutritional quality and food safety. Many claims on labels that relate to the expected/anticipated added value are rarely supported by analytical data, leaving regulators to rely solely on paper auditing procedures when monitoring compliance.

The JRC is investigating the potential of a number of analytical methods for distinguishing between organic and conventional foodstuffs. Approaches like transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics are being investigated. The possibility of using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) for antioxidant determination, and radionuclide and stable isotope measurements to authenticate organic food was also explored. While carrying out this work, the JRC has compiled scientific information about production and analysis of organic foods, reviewed the analytical methods available for comparing organic and conventional food products and organised an international workshop on the authentication of organic food products.