The four-year project seeks to fill the gap in non-disease biomarkers – a gap that has become more pronounced since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) began rejecting health claims, often on the grounds of biomarker deficiency, in 2008 under the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).
“This is all about developing a new generation of biomarkers that can quantify ‘optimal health’,” Ben van Ommen, project manager and principal scientist and program director systems biology, at Dutch researcher, TNO, told NutraIngredients.
“There is work going on in this area and this is about shifting the paradigm from disease reduction to health. That is why we are focusing on stress response which may involve protein, inflammation and hormonal responses.”
“But this needs to be done properly and we are not promising food companies can be making claims in a few months. But it is time these concepts were presented in an acceptable way.”
The academic part of the project is called NutriTech, which has 23 academic institutions onboard, and a €6m EU-funded, four-year remit to develop biomarkers that demonstrate the healthiness of foods.
Part of the EU’s Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGo), members include Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), the University of Oslo, Paprika Bioanalytics in Hungary and the University of Alberta in Canada.
“NutriTech will disseminate the harmonised and integrated technologies on a global scale by a large academic network including 6 non-EU partners and by providing an integrated and standardised data storage and evaluation platform,” the project focusing on ‘Phenotypic Flexibility’ states.
“The impact of NutriTech will be multifold and exploitation is crucial as major breakthroughs from our technology and research are expected.”
PhenFlex, the aligned €4m project exploring ways of commercialising any biomarker developments, has so far enlisted the support of Nestlé, DSM, Danisco, Friesland Campina and Abott Nutrition, with at least two other food giants set to join.
Van Ommen said competitors were willing to work together as they shared a very real common need and there were commitments in place that no specific products were being used.
PhenFlex is 40% funded by industry and 60% by the Dutch government.
In a statement van Ommen said: "Global standardised and accepted research methods will enable manufacturers to scientifically substantiate their health claims.”
"To date many health claims have not been acknowledged by the EFSA on the grounds of insufficient scientific substantiation. This is discouraging, which is a shame because manufacturers need to be stimulated to continue developing healthy food. The new measurement methods that the consortium will develop will enable the health effect of food to be better demonstrated and so facilitate the development of new, healthy food."