Europe: a big fish in the tide of food research

From cod liver oil to Omega 3 in salmon, the health benefits of eating fish have long been promoted, and still are by modern doctors, Eager to further propagate these ‘fishy’ benefits, the EU
has been providing funding to research projects investigating the benefits of fish and seafood in the diet.

The biggest project to date in this area is SEAFOODplus, a one-of-a-kind, integrated seafood research project, or indeed series of projects, as it involves some 20 different studies. It has a
strategic objective to minimise health problems for consumers and provide them with healthier, safer food products. With (?)14.4 million in European Commission support and headed by Professor
Torger Børresen of the Danish Institute for Fisheries Research, SEAFOODplus will improve the use of by-products, ensure fish farming is
ethically responsible, and that goods are tailor-made.

SEAFOODplus is already on the road to success, having made a number of breakthroughs, one of which relates to the dreaded food poisoning associated with eating shellfish. Professor
Børresen explains how the team has successfully identified a new bacterium that produces histamine, effectively making it possible to avoid
histamine poisoning in seafood.

Until now, he says, it was believed that chilling fish in ice would avoid the growth of bacteria producing histamine. ‘However, many cases of histamine poisoning still occur each year even
after proper chilling. This is because an important bacterium was overlooked,’ Professor Børresen tells CORDIS News.

‘We discovered this bacterium and called it Morganella psychrotolerance. This has been officially accepted as a new bacterium,’ he says. Once the team studied the growth pattern of the
bacterium, they were able to determine how fish should be packed and stored, effectively eliminating the growth of bacterium.

The team is also busy validating methods that could stop diners developing other diseases associated with shellfish contamination, and is designing rapid analytical techniques for detecting
human pathogenic viruses, like noroviruses and hepatitis A, in bivalves (i.e. molluscs) in order to avoid contamination.

SEAFOODplus has also developed a new concept for farming fish with a consistent high level of selenium, which evidence suggests could help consumers to avoid cancer, says Professor

Furthermore, the team has established new methods for ensuring full chain traceability in the production and marketing of seafood, allowing one to trace a product right back from fork-to-farm
or from fork-to-fish. But in order to improve consumer confidence and health, understanding the demands and expectations of European consumers must first be a priority, emphasises Professor

The chain approach is important, as it helps everyone to better understand where the researchers’ efforts can best be applied and how they can provide consumers with key information. The end
result is fewer health woes and improved well-being.

Wild and farmed fish, as well as shellfish, are being investigated by the team. Although the subject of the project is fish as food, ‘we still have an interest in responsible fisheries and we
only work with species from sustainably managed fisheries,’ says Professor Børresen

Diminishing numbers of fish is an issue that has occupied the project consortium. One consequence of declining stocks is the lack of secondary fish used to nourish farmed fish. If aquaculture
is to be developed further, this is a serious problem that needs more attention, says Professor Børresen.

‘In our projects, we aim to develop new concepts for feed formulations where an optimal composition is obtained combining a steadily more scarce secondary fish supply with vegetable feed
sources,’ the SEAFOODplus coordinator says. ‘A very important objective is to understand how the feed composition impacts the quality traits of the final fish product and in this respect we are
mapping how gene expression is being affected by feed composition.’ The team is also looking into how appetite is regulated by studying the endocrine system in relation to digestion.

The processing of fish currently involves significant amount of ‘waste’. SEAFOODplus is assessing how to make use of this waste by upgrading by-products from traditional fish processing, and by
extracting pharmaceutically interesting compounds that could be used in cancer drugs.

A communication strategy has been developed with the aim of getting across to consumers the health benefits of seafood. Another attempt to improve consumer health is a set of recommendations on
weight reduction intended to reduce obesity among children and in young families.

Experts working in consumer organisations and/or journalists will work with the SEAFOODplus team to prepare brochures and flyers for the dissemination of information, along with print media, TV
and radio. Special workshops and courses will take place to inform groups and individuals, such as dieticians, teachers and consumers associations, about the accomplishments and future results
of SEAFOODplus.

While SEAFOODplus is large project, incorporating 20 individual studies, ‘Each project extensively integrates research across projects and pillars, resulting in a homogenous research approach
throughout the total seafood chain,’ says the coordinator.

It brings together academia, industry and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The involvement of SMEs is worthy of particular mention: the sector is a very competitive area, according to
Professor Børresen, and SEAFOODplus has brought together a fair number of leading, innovative SMEs. As the project has progressed, industry
interests have increased immensely. ‘This has led to the establishment of a new form of affiliation, where companies are registered as ‘Associates of SEAFOODplus’,’ he says.

But how big a role can or will SEAFOODplus play in Europe once the project comes to an end? Based on the project’s breakthroughs and the fervent desire by the team to succeed, it will be

For his part, Professor Børresen believes the project’s impact will be evident in increased consumption of seafood in many European states. But
that is not all. ‘The industrial applications will be many, of which new, restructured seafood products with a high nutritional content, new tailor-made aquaculture products and better animal
welfare in aquaculture can be mentioned,’ he divulges.

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