Welcome to a special set of papers published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture chosen from a selection presented at the First International Conference on Organic Food Quality and Health Research held in Prague, Czech Republic, in May 2011.
The market for organic food is growing worldwide. Consumers buy organic products because they believe they are of high quality, and it is the task of the organic movement to underline these expectations by certification and optimization of the foods' production processes. Scientists from different disciplines (agriculture, food technology, consumer research, quality analysis, health research etc.) may ask which principles, mechanisms and factors influence the different quality and health parameters of the food produced under organic regime. In parallel to the process-related quality criteria such as environmental issues and animal welfare, product criteria such as taste, nutrition and health, as well as organic specific indicators are becoming more and more important. Therefore, FQH, the International Association for Organic Food Quality and Health Research invited researchers from various disciplines to contribute to a meeting focusing on organic food quality and health research. It was the first time that such an event had taken place and the overwhelming response with more than 150 participants from more than 30 different countries with more than 100 oral and poster contributions showed the importance of this new research field. The contributions also reflected the interdisciplinary research from field to fork. Food quality analysis results, authenticity tests, comparisons of agricultural practices and their impact on the food as well as health studies were presented together with fundamental conceptual approaches in methodologies. However, despite the fact that 80% of organic food is processed, scientific research on food technology and processing was sparse and the majority of the contributions focused on agriculture.
This Special Issue reflects this wide range of research questions. It starts with a Spotlight article by Geier et al.1 which offers a new approach to consumer research. Consumers' beliefs may influence their eating behaviour, and van de Vijver and van Vliet2 discuss this in relation to the health effects of an organic diet. It is also important to know consumption patterns, and Oates et al.3 analyse such patterns within the Australian market. Sensory perception, meanwhile, is an important quality indicator, and Gallina Toschi et al.4 connect taste and acceptability in their paper, using organic yogurt as example.
It is still a matter of debate as to what extent single factors can represent organic agriculture as a system approach and how organic treatments can be effectively compared. For example, whereas factors such as fertilization are defined in terms of source and amount of input for organic farming, factors such as variety are not. Several papers focus on comparing the impact of different agricultural practices on the quality of the product. Lucarini et al.5 on lettuce, Di Silvestro et al.6, Ceseviciene et al.7, Arncken et al.8 and Hussain et al.9 on wheat, Migliori et al.10 as well as Hallmann11 on tomato, Schulzová et al.12 on celeriac, Paoletti et al.13 on carrots and Bonanno et al.14 on lamb meat. Jørgensen et al.15, meanwhile, analysed a range of fruits and vegetables.
Palupi et al.16 give for the first time a meta-analysis of organic milk quality, indicating that factors such as feeding regime which is regulated in organic animal husbandry, change milk composition towards healthy parameters. In addition, Baars et al.17 underline this at farm level, Larsen et al.18 for season as a factor and Kuczyńska et al.19 based on different feeding practices. Sakowski et al.20, link food to health by studying the effects of organic milk on physiological indicators. In another paper on the subject of the health effects of organic food, Roselli et al.21 compare the effect of carrots from different agricultural treatments on immunity.
Although most papers deal with questions regarding farming practices in industrialized countries, the paper from Krawinkel22 indicates that organic principles may support agriculture in developing countries as well.
This Special Issue offers two fundamental conceptual papers in organic food quality and health research. Kahl et al.23 start a scientific debate by offering the first definition what organic food quality is and Huber et al.24 discuss how health effects of the food may be tested according to the system approach in organic food production.
As a result of the overwhelming positive feedback, these meetings will be continued. The Second International Conference on Organic Food Quality and Health Research will take place in Warsaw, Poland, June 5–7, 2013 (www.fqh2013.org). Subsequent meetings are planned in Istanbul (2014) and Berlin (2015).
Finally, I would thank my co-organizer and colleague Machteld Huber from Louis Bolk Institute in the Netherlands, Prof. Jana Hajslova and her team from ICT Prague, Czech Republic for the excellent organization of the meeting, all the sponsors and all participants for their involvement and very interesting contributions. I also thank Clare Tovee for helping with the editing of this Special Issue.