Project examples from FoodBerlin members

Research topics

Global population growth, climate change, crises and changing consumer demands require a rethink of food and nutrition. The global rise in diet-related diseases such as obesity and inflammatory diseases is also a threat. Improvement can only be achieved by making food systems sustainable. In the production of plants and animals, the conservation of production bases such as soil or water and animal welfare are important. Processing must be gentle and energy-efficient, residual products recycled and waste minimized. Producers should be able to do justice to this, but also make a living from it. This requires new business models.  Consumers are entitled to information about the origin and value of food in order to make conscious decisions about what to buy. The power of the markets must not lead to producers not being able to make a living from it and large parts of the world’s population being undersupplied.

Science and research in Berlin/Brandenburg offer innovative starting points for improving the existing systems. The range of topics covered by FoodBerlin’s research groups relates to the entire food value chain, for example:

> Production basics such as soil, climate, biodiversity.
> Production methods in the fields of arable farming, animal health and horticulture
> Food processing and marketing
> Food as a factor in human and animal health
> Food security (incl. equity issues)
> Consumer behavior, nutrition trends

Animal Health

The research area aims to contribute to the creation of conditions for the appropriate husbandry of food-producing animals from the point of view of sustainability and animal welfare. As an important aspect we work on the importance of nutrition for the development of young animals, which is influenced by a broad spectrum of endo- and exogenous factors. Increasing evidence shows that events during intrauterine and early postnatal life induce complex physiological and immunological response patterns that influence growth, metabolism, and short- and long-term health.

Beyond the direct effects of specific foods or feeds and nutrient profiles, there is increasing evidence that the gut microbiota is of paramount importance as a driving force in maintaining well-being and health both in the neonatal period and in old age. A systematic, integrative approach is needed to elucidate the effects of nutritional and microbial factors in young and older individuals. Pigs are an important domestic animal worldwide and are also increasingly viewed as an important model animal for humans. Thus, developmental interactions between sow and piglet can not only provide essential information for the target species, but can also be used as an attractive model for mother-child interactions in humans.

When breeding farm animals, care must be taken to ensure that not only performance parameters are considered, but also animal welfare is taken into account from the outset. Targeted breeding with the aid of genetic markers can ensure that animals are not one-sidedly specialized, e.g. for meat production or egg production.  The aim is to achieve breeds that are stable in health and versatile in use. Optimal husbandry conditions must also contribute to animal welfare.

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zentek
Institut für Tierernährung, FU Berlin

Intensive Agricultural Production Systems

The working groups in this area focus on forms of production with high added value per unit area and highly controlled production conditions. Adapted to the respective ecological and social conditions, technical production systems are coupled to make the production of food and feed sustainable and resilient to technical disturbances and environmental influences. An example is the combination of fish farming and vegetable production in closed cycles (“aquaponics”).

The systems under development are suitable for urban and peri-urban areas or industrial areas with good opportunities to connect with material cycles (water, nutrients, CO2 sinks), but also for rural areas or extreme locations such as desert areas. It is important to capture and optimize material cycles through sensors, modeling of processes and targeted control. In this way, the highest value-added densities can be achieved. Intensive production allows products to be produced in close proximity to the consumer in a resource-conserving manner and with only minimal CO2 emissions.

The consortium is testing the combination of insect breeding, fish farming and plant production, in which food for human consumption and nutrients for the next higher trophic level are produced at each stage. Production takes place in standardized, stackable, and intercommunicating modules that correspond in their dimensions to standardized ISO containers ( Working groups of the consortium are also working on the important areas of governance and social acceptance of modern production methods. In this context, valuation, market mechanisms and acceptance of products are analyzed in cooperation with practice partners and consumers.

Existing expertise (see also Ion sensitive sensors, aquaponic production systems, insect breeding, crop production under controlled and closed conditions, chemical ecology, “Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems”, post-harvest quality, volatile energy systems.

Prof. Dr. Christian Ulrich
Department of Urban Ecophysiology of Plants, HU Berlin

Prof. Dr. Uwe Schmidt
Department of Biosystems Engineering, HU Berlin

Food Safety

Ensuring food safety is an important task of consumer health protection. Following the “One Health” principle, this requires intensive cooperation between agricultural sciences, veterinary medicine, food technology and human medicine. The aim is to ensure that safe foodstuffs are placed on the market that do not pose any health risks to the consumer.

As food commodity flows become increasingly global and complex, international cooperation in the field of food safety is an important aspect. Therefore, building methods and capacities in science and practice, in monitoring, enforcement as well as advisory services has high priority on the ground in developing and emerging countries.

The main focus of research in FoodBerlin’s “Food Safety” department is the prevention and control of food-associated pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Such zoonotic pathogens are found among viruses as well as bacteria and parasites.  Preventing the transmission of antimicrobial resistance is also a major area of research. These can be transmitted through direct contact with animals or even with food. The Department of Veterinary Medicine at Freie Universität Berlin has high expertise in this area. The new Veterinary Center for Resistance Research represents a unique infrastructure that is precisely tailored to these issues.

The focus of this research area is on:

  • Investigations on the entry of zoonotic microorganisms into the food chain,
  • Description of the mechanisms of survival of zoonotic microorganisms in the food chain and resulting minimization strategies
  • Epidemiological and molecular epidemiological studies to determine the distribution and transmission of zoonotic microorganisms in the environment and in the food chain
  • Investigation of the molecular basis of resistance development of pathogens
  • Development of diagnostic methods, vaccines and other procedures to reduce the emergence of resistance
  • Transfer of these new developments into practice

Existing expertise: food hygiene, animal hygiene, environmental hygiene, food microbiology, microbial stress response, molecular epidemiology of zoonotic pathogens, disinfectants, antibiotic resistant microorganisms.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Alter
Institute for Food Safety and Hygiene, FU Berlin

Prof. Dr. Uwe Rösler
Institute for Animal and Environmental Hygiene, FU Berlin

Prof. Dr. Stefan Schwarz
Institute for Microbiology and Animal Diseases

Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems in Politics and Society

The term “sustainable food systems” emphasizes the systemic interrelationships between agricultural production, value chains, ecology, dietary patterns and societal frameworks. In order to make food systems more sustainable and resilient, the production, processing, marketing and consumption of food must be thought together and the systemic interrelationships must be consistently taken into account. The cornerstones of this are the production of healthy and diverse foods with sustainable use of natural resources, consideration of animal welfare, climate protection and preservation of biological diversity, social cohesion and democracy, as well as transparency and justice. Meeting these demands while remaining competitive within the EU and in globally integrated markets is a challenge. In addition, the impact of nutrition on health and the societal costs of flawed dietary patterns must be considered.

Based on knowledge about the sustainability of food systems and about the interplay between agricultural and food policies, science can help to reflect societal priorities, to develop governance concepts and to structure the discussion between society and the agricultural sector. Within FoodBerlin we work interdisciplinary on the following topics:

Communication and dialogue
Societal demands for sustainable food systems need to be formulated and confronted with the realities of current agricultural systems. As can be seen from the example of the social debate on livestock farming, an intensive dialogue between society, the agricultural profession and other actors in the sector is necessary in order to develop socially acceptable, but also economically and socially viable future paths for the agricultural sector.

Framework conditions for sustainable food systems
The realization of societal sustainability claims and ecological sustainability requirements presupposes not only a target-oriented operationalization but also the development of steering and financing strategies. This is a key challenge because the dominant organizational forms and institutions of the European and international agri-food sector do not allow the financing of sustainability measures via the market for agricultural products.

Existing expertise: tensions between society and agriculture, animal welfare, EU agricultural policy, international agricultural trade, multifunctional agriculture, agricultural policy actors, development of simulation models for the analysis of economic and rural development, discourse analysis, food governance, social cohesion and nutrition, bioeconomy,transformation.

Prof. Dr. Peter H. Feindt
Agricultural and Food Policy, HU Berlin

Sustainable Value Chains for
Food Security in Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people suffering from hunger is currently rising due to conflicts and armed conflicts. At the same time, the population is growing, especially in places where many people are already starving today.

In addition to the ‘energetic’ supply of food, a balanced and healthy diet plays a role today more than ever. In addition to a deficient supply of vital minerals and vitamins, obesity and related secondary diseases are on the rise. This development is taking place against the backdrop of a diminishing production area, declining water supplies and increasing periods of drought. In order to meet these challenges, value chains must be geared especially to disadvantaged population groups.

In this sense, in addition to a significant increase in the production of plant and animal foods, post-harvest handling, processing, transport and marketing must also be significantly improved in order to reduce losses and preserve the value-giving ingredients. Regionally appropriate strategies must be developed to optimize value chains in terms of food security, environmental sustainability and healthy diets. In doing so, consumer preferences with regard to their food must be taken into account and knowledge about the composition and preparation of healthy food must be improved. The research work of the “FoodAfrica” research area focuses on countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Expertise available: value chain management, sustainable agricultural production, post-harvest handling, nutritional sciences, governance.

Prof. Dr. Dagmar Mithöfer
Management of Agricultural Value Chains, HU Berlin