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Integrated evaluation of marine food products: nutritional value, safety and consumer acceptance

Research project CP/56 (Research action CP)

Persons :

  • Dr.  COOREMAN Kris - Centre de Recherche Agronomique - Gand (CLO)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2003-31/12/2005
  • Dr.  VERBEKE Wim - Universiteit Gent (RUG)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2003-31/12/2005
  • Dr.  VAN CAMP John - Universiteit Gent (RUG)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2003-31/12/2005
  • Dr.  WILLEMS Jan - Universiteit Gent (RUG)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2003-31/12/2005

Description :


In spite of the known health effects of n-3 unsaturated fatty acids, their intake via the mean Western diet remains low. A possible remedy would be to increase the intake of fish. Fish, however, is also a source of persistent, chemical contaminants that accumulate in the marine food chain. Therefore, an increase in fish consumption will also increase the exposure to these contaminants. Because of this dilemma, consumers may face a difficult choice when considering changing their food habits. Conversely, this conflict model poses a problem for the authorities responsible for public health and food consumption recommendations. The project presented here will collect necessary information to devise adequate food recommendations and to convey the message to the population.

Project description


Epidemiological and nutritional research has identified fish as an important food because of its favourable impact on the prevention of chronic degenerative illnesses. Fish constitutes a unique source of long chain, poly unsaturated fatty acids of the omega-3 (n-3) family. In the human body, the essential fatty acids linoeic acid and linolenic acid (both C-18 fatty acids) are converted into longer chain fatty acids through a biochemical pathway of de-saturation and chain elongation. Moreover, marine food products also contain a number of other valuable nutrients, e.g. vitamin D, iron, iodine, selenium and zinc. Research into the frequency of fish consumption, portions and nutritional value is therefore important to investigate whether the contribution of fish to our diet is sufficient or not.

Fish consumption, however, also presents some drawbacks. Fish remains a source of chemical contaminants. Persistent organochlorine compounds, e.g. PCBs, dioxins, insecticides as DDT/DDE, accumulate in the marine food chain. Also cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic accumulate in the marine environment. A quantitative estimation of the potential intake of these contaminants – and the ensuing health risk – has to be performed before new fish consumption recommendations can be devised.

For the consumer, balancing the benefits and disadventages of fish intake remains a rather difficult business. This influences his behabiour and impedes possible necessary changes in his food habits. The aim of the topic ‘consumer research’ within our project, therefore, will compare consumer perception with factual knowledge concerning the positive and negative aspects of fish consumption and will study the impact of communication techniques on this perception. The results will enable the formulation of more efficient health communication techniques regarding fish.


The research starts with the detailed inventory of the intake of marine food products by our population, with information concerning origin and culture procedures, and nutrient and contaminant content. This will be based on Belgian and foreign data bases after screening of their quality and reliability. Fish consumption data will be combined with nutrient composition and contaminant content following a probabilistic approach and the algorithm: Yi = Σv Σt (Xv,i,tCv,i,t)/T. T is the observation period, Xv,i,t is the magnitude of a particular food item v, consumed by an i, on day t (t = 1, ..., T),and Cv,i,t is the concentration of a nutrient of a contaminant in the food item consumed. Several intake scenario’s can be simulated. The results obtained – possible benefits versus potential harm – will be confronted with consumer perception.

Interaction between the different partners

Together, the partners dispose of sufficient knowledge and access to knowledge in order to carry out the project: origin of the fish, content of nutrients and contaminants, combination with fish consumption and evaluation of pros and cons of fish consumption, and knowledge concerning the purchase behaviour of the Belgian population. The partners will work sequentially, one using the results of the other, but will take a common position at the end.

Expected results

The results will be published as an official report and as scientific papers in the professional press. The data will be interpreted in an integrated way and translated into a practicable package on behalf of the competent authority.

Contact Information


Jan Willems
Universiteit Gent (UGent)
Vakgroep Maatschappelijke Gezondheidkunde
De Pintelaan 185 - Blok A-2
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 240 24 38
Fax: +32 (0)9 240 49 94


Stefaan De Henauw
Universiteit Gent (UG)
Vakgroep Maatschappelijke Gezondheidkunde
De Pintelaan 185
B-9000 Gent
Tél: +32 (0)9 240 36 79
Fax: +32 (0)9 240 49 94

John Van Camp
Universiteit Gent (UGent)
Faculteit landbouwkundige en toegepaste biologische wetenschappen - Vakgroep Levensmiddelentechnologie en voeding
Coupure Links 653
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 62 08
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 62 18

Wim Verbeke
Universiteit Gent (UGent)
Vakgroep Landbouweconomie
Coupure Links 653
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 61 81
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 62 46

Kris Cooreman
Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap
Centrum voor Landbouwkundig Onderzoek - Gent (CLO) - Departement Zeevisserij (DVZ)
Ankerstraat 1
B-8400 Oostende
Tel: +32 (0)59 34 22 51
Fax: +32 (0)59 33 06 29

Users Committee

G. Houins, Federaal Agentschap voor de Veiligheid van de Voedselketen (FAVV-AFSCA)
I. Vanhaevre, Onderzoeks- en Informatiecentrum van de Verbruikersorganisatie (OIVO-CRIOC)
C. Seeuws, Nutriënten België (asbl NUBEL vzw)
H. De Geeter, Nutrition Information Center (NICE). Vlaams Promotiecentrum voor Agro- en Visserijmarketing vzw (VLAM)
C. Moris, Belgische Federatie van de Voedingsnijverheid (FEVIA)

Documentation :

Integrated evaluation of marine food items: nutritional value, safety, and consumer perception : final report  De Henauw, Stefaan - Willems, Jan - Sioen, Isabelle ... et al  Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2006 (SP1622)
[To download

Integrated evaluation of marine food items: nutritional value, safety, and consumer perception : annexes    Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2006 (SP1624)
[To download

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