Food Quality: Which Production Practices make a Difference?
Hardy Vogtmann highlighted the need to integrate decision making regarding food quality with biodiversity issues. Gillian Butler reported that fresh forage intake improves milk quality in respect to fatty acids and antioxidants. Johannes Kahl reviewed approaches of food quality assessment and proposed that a more holistic approach be used. The discussion compared food quality assessment with a reductionist vs. a holistic approach and stressed the importance of consumer education. An example was given of how striving for food quality can clash with economic needs at the farm level.
Hardy Vogtmann presented aspects of food quality in the context of biodiversity as set out in the Rio Convention. Although farming systems differ in many ecologically relevant aspects, consumers focus on food quality, especially freshness, taste and the absence of chemical residues. The need to integrate decision making regarding food quality was highlighted in an example of variety choice in lettuce, where nitrate levels, yield and whitefly infestation are all necessary selection criteria.
Gillian Butler reported on milk quality research, concentrating on fatty acids and antioxidants. Levels of fatty acids, seen as beneficial for human health increased with fresh forage intake, as higher levels were observed during summer and in organic systems, compared to winter and conventional systems. Johannes Kahl reviewed approaches of food quality assessment and criticized that a more holistic approach, although accepted for ecological studies, is not used in food analyses. Analysing isolated components was criticized for "throwing away most of the carrot". It was found that farming system and management have less impact on food quality than variety choice and weather. It was proposed that the entire food chain should be analysed when assessing food quality.
The discussion concentrated on two approaches to assess food quality - a reductionist one that analyses single components and a more holistic one. The importance of consumer education was highlighted but it was also argued that human intake of healthy components strongly depends on dietary composition whereas the quality of each food item could be secondary. While the need for the organic movement to create food quality attributes was stressed, the question of cost for analysing complex food quality properties was also raised. An example was given of how striving for food quality can clash with economic needs, as milk supply in winter is difficult to maintain without concentrate feeding.