When we think of food, we think of pleasure, taste and pleasant company. However, concerns surrounding our food consumption are on the rise. Our food production is neither sustainable nor resilient, and the food system is influenced by a range of factors as a result of climate change, biodiversity decline or mechanisms in trade and resourcing resulting in new risks and vulnerabilities. These major issues with high urgency and complexity require multidisciplinary approaches to create solutions and collective actions.
The research programme ‘Healthy & safe food systems’ has been extended. Over the coming years, it will continue developing knowledge to make food products more sustainable and healthier, to help us better understand the implications of transitions in the food system on sustainability, health and safety-related issues, and to help us better understand consumer behaviour and choices to come up with strategies to facilitate making more sustainable choices. Our researchers operate through a systemic approach, covering multiple angles considering products, production, and consumption, choices and behaviour. The three multidisciplinary thematic subthemes all consider these multiple angles. Sustainability and resilience of the food system is a basis for all these subthemes.
Theme 1: Empowering health through nutrition; Health and sustainability inspired nutrition
Sustainable and healthy nutrition is an important aspect of people’s vitality. A constant availability of high-energy, high-sugar and high-fat foods in industrialised countries as well as modern-day lifestyle renders eating healthily difficult. This results in overweight, obesity and related morbidity and eventually mortality. The objective of this subtheme is to enable inherently sustainable and healthy food products, better understand the health-nutrition link and empower consumers who are committed to long-term positive change.
Theme 2: Food safety and traceability
Crucial success factors in full circular systems or the transition to a more plant-based diet are the absence of (re)circulation of antinutritional or toxic components or occurrence of new chemical or microbial contaminants or allergens that may impact the safety within the food system. Moreover, it is increasingly important to make information available on compositional aspects, objective sustainability parameters as well as health impacts. Based on this information, consumers can make a substantiated choice and, through their purchase, they can stimulate, support and force the necessary transition.
The objective of this subtheme is to develop methodologies and strategies to ensure the safety of products in food systems in transition, and to make sure consumers can more easily make well-informed choices that pave the way towards safe, healthy and sustainable food products.
Theme 3: Prepared for emerging risks in food systems in transition
Global changes, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and emerging diseases affect crops and production animals. Additionally, transitions towards circular production methods and utilisation of new primary organic or sustainable sources need to be considered in terms of new emerging safety risks. In dealing with these issues, new strategies, methodologies and tools to identify and monitor emerging risks will be essential support for the safe implementation of the approaches during these transitions.
The objective of this subtheme is to better understand the sources of risks, hotspots and resilience factors in changing food systems and food systems in transition, to develop strategies and methodologies for (onsite) analysis and elimination, and to improve preparedness.