Journal of Agricultural Chemistry and Environment, 2014, 3, 14-19
Published Online April 2014 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/jacen
How to cite this paper: Frazzoli, C., Mantovani, A. and Dra gone, R. (2014) Local Role of Food Producers’ Communities for a
Global One-Health Framework: The Experience of Translational Research in an Italian Dairy Chain. Journal of Agricultural
Chemistry and Environment, 3, 14-19. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jacen.2014.32B003
Local Role of Food Producers’ Communities
for a Global One-Health Framework: The
Experience of Translational Research in an
Italian Dairy Chain
Chiara Frazzoli1*, Alberto Mantovani1, Roberto Dragone2
1Department of Veterinary Public Health and Food Safety, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy
2Institute for Nanostructured Materials, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Rome, Italy
Received January 2014
Community is the foundation of public health: the present paper reports the approach and strate-
gy for intervention on the dairy production community developed by the Italian project ALERT
(www.alert 201 5 .i t), which implements the transfer of technical innovation and technological
know-how from public research. Starting from the local role of primary producers, Nor th-South
and South-South networking (www. noodl es onl u s. o rg) is needed to share solutions for transna-
tional problems like climatic change, contaminated agro-farming sites and food waste and losses
in the era of food crisis. Based on risk analysis, science-society dialogue and global health, the
main drivers of this experience of t ransl at ional research are One Health, i. e. the web of in-
ter-relationships among environment, farm animals and human health, and sustainable food
safety (prevention actions on diet of young women, today, to protect next generation’s health) to
increase population life expectancy in good health.
Contaminated Sites; Ecology; Food Losses; Sust ainab l e Food Safety; Technological Tran sfer ;
Translational research helps to make findings from basic science useful for practical applications that enhance
human health and well-being; indeed, investment in health has been proven to boost development .
Protecting the food supply chain is an important component of health investment. In particular, preven-
tion-based innovation in the dairy chain implies many facets at global level:
• Preserve quality and improve qualificatio n and c o mpetitive ness o f hig h-qualit y, ter ritory-linke d p ro d uct s a nd
C. Frazzoli et al.
productions, e.g. Made in Italy cheeses (e.g. Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Bufala Mozzarella Con-
sortium). In this regar d, the EXPO 201 5 presents the Ita lia n model of high quality products l inked to territory
while guaranteeing consumer safety.
• Improve accessibility of safe dairy products as nutritional source in developing countries . Safe and nutri-
tious food becomes all important since Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are projected to become the
most common causes of death by 2030 in the developing world ; also, there is the need to support the
citizens’ trust in wholesome local food productions.
• Provid e preventi on hi ghlights to the epochal change of East -Asian dieta ry habit s now introducing milk.
• Support the change from production models highly impacting on environment to environmental sustainable
ALERT (www.alert2015.it) is a project funded by the Italian Ministry for Economic Development and based
on the t ra nsfe r of tec hnica l i nnova tio n and tec hno logi cal kno w-how emerged from public research. ALERT, co-
ordinated by the Italian National Institute of Health (ISS), develops an innovative risk management framework
and transferable technology to farm’s daily production in order to exploit new biomarkers and new knowledge
for early management of anomalies and production improvements (e.g. feed changes). The ALERT activities
pivot on the bovine milk chain; nevertheless, parallel approaches and strategies might be developed also for milk
chains of goats, buffalo, sheep, and under-utilized species i n the dairy production, such as reindeer, elk, llamas,
alpacas, donkeys, yaks, camels and mithun. Under this aspect, the shift of target consumers is very interesting
and challenging; for instance: i) to date, safety aspects are better known for the bovine milk, whereas targeted
approaches have still to be developed for many other dairy species; ii) animal milk is a major food especially for
children aged 1 to 3 years , but consu mp tion is c ustomar y in all a ge and gender gr oups, i ncludin g women a t
fertile age which calls, therefore, for issues relevant to the next generation’s health, i.e. sustainable food safety
aspects ; iii) concerning the nutritional value, the under-utilized species present interesting aspects. The pro-
tein p rofiles o f donke y and m are milk ca n make t hem better suited to the 2% - 6% of the population allergic to
bovine milk; in their turn, the milk of reindeer and moose contains less than half the lactose present in bovine
milk and could provide a source alternately to the people who are lactose intolerant .
The above aspects should be viewed within the increasingly interconnected, globalized, food production and
market system, including its “dark side”, the global nutritional/food crisis and climatic change, that make the
feed and food safety a emerged hot issue whose problems and solutions are transnational.
Farmers’ communities increasingly stand out as societal components whose awareness rising and empower-
ment/endorsement are strategic to protect the health of populations. This is particularly challenging, due to the
economic and environmental constraints that historically burden primary producers.
The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) approach is the widely used on-enterprise strate g y
to control and manage the safety of food production process as well as to support traceabilit y and liabilit y. The
ALERT technological strategy, based on the bioelectronic multiprobe platform BEST patented by the ISS 
implies the transfer of updated know how to innovate HACCP and self-monitoring plans with new biomarkers
and chemical/toxico logical aspects; the challe nging milk matrix is both hig hly vul nerable to toxic c ontamina nts
and business core of a valuable as well as vulnerable group of food business operator like farmers .
Last but not least, milk is also interesting for its role as One Health (e.g. environmental quality) sentinel.
ALERT characterises new transferable (i.e. automatically detectable on the farm through innovative marketable
technology) biomarkers in a One Health perspective, since such biomarkers may indicate changes in animal
health and/or husband ry a nd/o r environment .
The driver of economy is food: the power and sovereignty of a land comes from within, from quality and
safety of primary food productions.
2. A Public-Private Initiative for Improved Daily Knowledge of Product and
The European strategy for food safety  requires that the Official control, based on risk analysis “fro m farm to
fork”, is increasingly integrated by innovative systems for self-monitoring at each segment of the food chain
(from primary production to transport, transformation, and marketing) by food business operators. According to
the European strategy, food business operators are the subjects ethically and legally responsible for the safety of
their o wn pro ducts.
C. Frazzoli et al.
Between top-down food safety requirements and bottom-up responsibility of food operators is the role of pub-
lic health scientists to provide innovation and know-how. In particular, effective two-lane (top-down and bot-
tom-up) system for food safety requires the development of field biomarkers as automatically measurable bio-
chemical or molecular indicators.
Basing on a multidisciplinary team (agronomists, veterinarians, biologists, chemists, engineers) the pub-
lic-private Consortium of the project ALERT develops and transfers a automated technological platform based
on (bio)detection tools (sensors and biosensors) and (bio)markers to the Italian dairy chain whose components
are Pasc olini (farm), Lattep iù (collection/transpo rt), and Centrale del Latte di Roma/Parmalat (dairy indu stry).
ALERT responds to the demand of dairy producers for optimizing the use of resources devoted to self-control
by adopting technologies for early warning of safety, quality and nutritio nal factors of their pro ducts. When i m-
plemented, the new strategy will decrease the vulnerability to unexpected events, reduce the risk of product re-
calls from the market and the related costs of food destruction as well as damage to the enterprise’s commercial
The mentioned food business operators of the dairy chain started the ALERT Consortium with a cluster of
public institute s with top -level expertise in food chain protection (ISS, IZSLT) and technological transfer (CNR),
and a cluster of enterprises (Amel, Biosensor, TDM) with es tab lishe d exp ert ise i n sen sing syst ems. T he Conso r-
tium management aspects are dealt with separately by another enterprise (LBC).
2.1. Technological Transf e r
The BEST platform is conceived and designed to support in continuum co ntro l and mana ge ment of wholesome-
ness, quality, safety and traceability of the bovine milk chain, from farm through to transport, treatment and dis-
tribution. BEST is an integrated array of sensors and biosensors working in parallel. The hardware platform is
based on up to 40 automatic real-time in-situ chemical and biological probes, simultaneously meas uring che mi-
cal-physical (pH, conductivity, temperature, redox potential), specific (glucides, urea, oxidative stress, heavy
metal- and pesticide-related enzyme changes) and biological (cell respiration and catabolism, bacterial burden)
Probes are currently based on electrochemical and optical sensors, and on enzymes and whole cells as biolog-
ical media in biosensors. Thanks to remote (Wi-Fi) technical control and data assessment, product and produc-
tion are bo th d aily monitored and chances for traceability along the whole chain are set up.
ALERT exploits the technologies developed so far in the field of sensors and biosensors towards recognised
official app lic a tion in food safety:
• The so-called “weakness” of biosensors, i.e. qualitative or semi-quantitative output generally used for
screening purposes only, is exploited for self-targeted moni to ring purposes thanks to control charting.
• The selection of qualitative, semi-quantitave or presence/absence output depends on the nature and aim of
the investigated parameters.
• The limit of detection of available probes currently considered useless become suitable for no n-regula ted pa-
rameters (e.g. total exposure biomarkers).
• Up-to-date techniques of the microelectronics and microfluidics industry are exploited for assembling
chemical-physica l sensors as biosensors’ transduc ers also.
• Novelty in both rec ognition a nd transduction pro cess for realistic a nalytical meas urements during daily food
production; e.g. engineered receptors for recognition of specific molecules are exploited.
(Bio)sensors arrays have the potential to become widely accepted for self-diagnostic and self-monitoring ap-
plications, provided that robust results on fully automated platforms are successfully generated. For this pur-
• BEST is an open and flexib le technology able to improve its detection capability by hosting new probes
made available by the scientific community.
• Automation is exploited for easiness of use and maintenance, including minimization of reagents and costs,
robustness to field conditions and acoustic/light signaling, thus facilitating acquisition/readability by the
2.2. Transfer to Risk Managem ent
For effective transfer, the core principle of ALERT is to suppor t the bottom-up role of prod ucers in guaranteeing
C. Frazzoli et al.
food safety, thus reducing and refining downstream external control on final products. ALERT will improve
self-monitoring capability and facilitate its acquisition by adopting the end-users perspective: control charting
(already recognized and adopted in HACCP systems), integration with previous enterprise’s database, and
HACCP-like monitoring of anomalies respect to the general trend in the specific enterprise. The ALERT con-
ceptual framework highlights invariability as a quality parameter: expected values are self-targeted, set on the
enterprise historical characteristics rather than established from external bodies.
ALERT offers an analytical criterion to integrate the current statistical-based, randomized criterion foreseen
by official control schemes and self-monitoring plans, thus optimizing the use of resources devoted to official
control. Moreover, the official food safety system will benefit from food operators empowered in their know-
ledge of the food production chain. To facilitate interface and recognition by official bodies, the BEST-based
self-monitoring performances are assessed along with data from official methods and certified/reference mate-
Basing o n acceptance by both food operators and official bodies, ALERT develops the following:
• Designs modern H A CCP- and good practices-based self-monitoring plans including the toxicological r isks [7 ]
to suppor t decision making i n points of par tic ular a ttentio n o f the productio n line .
• Identifies and characterizes innovative (grids of) (bio)markers of undesirable (chemical and microbial) pol-
lutants, milk quality (composition, subclinical mastitis, and metabolomics) and anomalies in bioactive con-
centrations (e.g. net antioxidant power impacting on oxidative shelf life), facing interpretation challenges
such as dose-response(s) relationships and matrix effect. The core idea is that n clues make a test.
• Investigates the whole food approach based on signals from the bulk mixtures of molecules present in the
same commodity and having common mode of action or biological target, rather than the same structure.
• Develops guidelines for recognition by the official co ntrol with the strategic aim of official acceptance with-
in the national and international food safety systems.
Finall y, ALERT fosters the One Health framewor k in food safety, as its successful outcome will support the
• One Health biomarkers in farm animals for daily monitoring by food producers including both targeted (e.g.
heavy metals, micotoxins, pesticides, veterinary drugs) and total exposure (e.g. oxidative stress or cells res-
piration re late d) bio markers.
• Detoxification of farm animals in contaminated sites.
• Impact of different production practices (intensive, traditional, organic, and biod ynamic).
Last but not least, t hrou gh the follow-up of bio markers ALE RT seeks to establis h trace abilit y along the who le
2.3. Transfer to the Market
Marketability, i.e. effective need, sustainability and impact, of the ISS Spin-off proposal named MILKNET has
been analysed in the frame of business plan competitions. The MILKNET entrepreneurial project won the
Start-Cup CNR-IlSole24Ore Prize for Central Italy in 2011; MILKNET was one of the 3 finalists (out of 560
projects competing) at the 2011 edition of the National Innovation Prize-Working Capital (Social Innovation
The dr ivers for marketabili t y lie in the legal respon sibilit y of foo d ope rato rs, the role o f consortia and associa-
tions, the adherence to widely recognised norms, the increasing demand for safety by the consumer, as well as in
the measures to facilitate diffusion in farming enterprises.
In Countries where o fficial co ntrol systems are strong, MILKNET offers innovation of both product (qualifi-
cation and competitiveness) and process. In developing a nd emerging Countries, which will gain a greater role
in the global food market, MILKNET supports the implementation of the web of bottom-up preve nti on actions
as driver of change.
3. Sharing Solutions for Transnational Problems
3.1. The Community Participatory Approach
Community is the foundation of public health and identifying communities is the first step in facilitating com-
munit y c hange. The commu nit y context can be exploited to promote and encourage behaviour changes in public
C. Frazzoli et al.
health, provided that community components, structure, characteristics (e.g. norms, constraints, capacities and
resources), typologies (e.g. farmers, consumers, citizens, and rea sons for gr ouping) as wel l as awareness and at-
titudes towards empowerment are correctly identified and understood . Involvement deeply affects sustain-
ability of co mmunity change efforts: co mmunities need to par ticipate in the design, impl ementation and e valua-
tion of any intervention. Provided proper resources and empowerment (e.g. know how and technology), the
proactive role of far mers is strategic to integrate top-down public health measures under multiple aspects, like:
• One He alth, i ncludin g enviro nmental healt h (e.g. a nimal fa rm waste ) and i nnovati on (e.g . assess me nt of de-
liberate changes in the production process, e.g. animal diet, self-produced or acquired feeds, watering
• Rural development, including efficacy, diffusion and effectiveness of the BEST-based approach for sharing
information a nd intervention measures (e. g. tele diagnos tic s).
• Climate change and seasonal effects, including geoclimatic factors, e.g. changes in the dynamics of pollu-
tants and nutritio nal composition of soil and vege ta b le s.
• Emergencies, including early identification of co mmercial frauds (e.g. water dilution of milk or mixing with
milk fro m dif ferent species ) possibly hindering safety issues, or unintended/une xpec t ed c ontaminatio ns.
• Emerging or re-emerging problems, possibly highlighted by the monitoring of arrays of signals.
• Conta minated agro-zootec hnic sites, waste b urning o r by-products contaminations , including follow-up
of remediation activities.
• Food waste and losses, including exploitation of surplus, scrap, and agro-food by-products.
3.2. The Web Open Platform
The BEST bioelectronic platform is designed as an open flexible technology, which is capable of updating
thro ugh t he integra tion of new pr obes and/or biomarke rs.
In order to survey the probes developed as field transferable tools by the scientific community (universities,
research institutes, companies, etc), the ALERT consortium has launched a census web tool
(http://www.alert2015.it/ce nsus). On the other side, the BEST technology meets emerging issues posed by its
end-users (farmers’ associations, consortia, dairy industry) through a similar web database
(http://www.alert2015.it/issues). To match issues and probes, knowledge in risk assessment is supported in
ALERT by in silico tool (QSAR) with the final o bjective o f improving the BE ST’s diagn ostic capab ilitie s.
Based on this approach, ALERT establishes a platfor m for long-ter m interface between dairy enterprises a nd
research bodies to facilitate science-society dialogue and fostering effective and updated innova tion.
3.3. Global Health
The ALERT initiative i s amplified by the NOODLES Network (Nutrition & food safety and wholesomeness—
Prevention, education and research, www.noodlesonlus.org) to boost science-food producers dialogue and fos-
ter the Glo bal Health framewo rk by wor kin g loc a lly but establishing North-So uth and Sout h-South collaboration
(currently in Mid East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) around the ALERT objectives.
The global st rategy o n NCDs presents four key tensions :
• The tension b etwee n hu man right s and c orp orate rights, i ncl uding the right to informed choices, and of free-
dom from unintended exposure. This tension calls for long-term vision, and development of science-driven
healthcare based on primary prevention in face to the business- and technology-driven healthcare based on
costly treatments and drugs.
• The tensio ns regard ing where to invest i n health al ong the “causal chain” (fro m social deter minants to tr eat-
ment services), including tackling underlying causes of the diseases (prevention) or to invest on care for
those already ill.
• The tensions in governments funding programs for their own countries versus assistance for developing
countries, including the chance of re-allocating existing funds to prevent/reduce the growing burden of
NCDs or shift i ng from disease-sp ecific programmes to hea lth systems s t rengthe nin g.
• The tensions about which intervention to prioritize: focus on people who most need, on people who would
benefit most, on actions that would benefit the most people due to common causes. Dealing with such ten-
sions calls for r isk analys is, which has to be driven by communi ty values and sup ported by scientific data .
C. Frazzoli et al.
The authors acknowledge the Consortium of the project ALERT (www.alert2015.it) “Inte grated system of bio-
sensors and sensors (“BEST”) for the monitoring of wholes omene ss and qualit y, as well as for tracea bilit y in the
cow milk chain” funded by the Italian Ministry of economical development under the Call Industria 2015 “New
technologies for Made in Italy” and the team of the NOODLES Network (www.noodlesonlus.org).
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