OECD BNCT Project on Better Food

Project on Better Food for Better Health (OECD BNCT)


Public health is facing huge challenges caused by the rise of complex diseases, linked to changing demographics. Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are with 63% the major cause of global deaths. Recent insights indicated that the gut microbiome composition is correlated to many NCD, such as heart diseases, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, immunological diseases, cancers and even neurological diseases. The causal relationship and mechanisms causing diseases, however, are still not well understood and hence efficient treatments are still lacking.

The human microbiome can be defined as the complete genetic content of all the microorganisms or microbiota that are associated to the human body. The microbiota consists of bacteria, archaea, fungi, viruses and unicellular organisms, not all of which can be isolated individually and are therefore characterised only through their genome. Different microbiomes on the body are found in the mouth, on the skin, vaginal or in the gastrointestinal tract, which is the densest one and contains the highest biodiversity.

Accumulating scientific evidence identifies the human gut microbiota as a key biological interface between human genetics and environmental conditions, and which is influenced by nutrition.The understanding of the complex interplay between diet and the gut microbiome and how this interplay effects our health, will lead to the development of innovative and cost efficient diagnostics, preventative measures and treatments targeting the gut microbiome to cure complex diseases that have been difficult to treat before. 

The microbiome, diet and health: project objectives


The new health paradigm that links diet, health and disease states requires a multidisciplinary systems approach and stakeholders’ involvement given that the scientific challenges to deliver the high medical potential of this emerging area are enormous. In addition, public health policy and practices should support rapid and efficient translation of new discoveries into clinical practices, while consumers’ protection policy should ensure appropriate regulatory frameworks to guarantee efficacy and safety of the products or new applications targeting the gut microbiome for better health and wellbeing through preventative nutritional approaches, while claims for curative approaches should be thoroughly scientifically documented. Not only are dietary interventions expected to have a significant positive effect on healthcare costs, it is also opening promising outlooks for food and feed companies. 

Specific Project Objectives:

  1. Take stock of existing international and regional policy, science and medical initiatives targeting human health and well-being through nutrition and microbiota.
  2. Identify current policy and scientific gaps and needs to fully realise the potential of this new area.
  3. Formulate recommendations on prioritised targets and discuss relevant action plans tailored to all stakeholders involved in order to adjust or to create (if necessary) supportive policy/regulatory/scientific frameworks.
  4. Discuss how to deliver the expected science base leading to innovative health benefits.


Workshop 30-31 May 2016 Brussels, Belgium

link to workshop agenda and practical information 

In order to address the issues described above, an international workshop is organised by the OECD Working Party on Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, and Converging Technologies. The workshop will be hosted in Brussels by the Department of Economy, Science and Innovation of the Flemish Government of Belgium. The organisation of the workshop also receives substantial support by the Business Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC). The workshop will convene scientific, policy, and industry leaders involved in the fields of human microbial and food research, food and drug regulation, and nutraceutical production. 

The workshop will have three thematic sessoins and will be concluded with a panel discussion. 

Thematic Session 1: Human Gut Microbiome: Potential for Healthier Foods and Health Innovation?

Session 1 will cover the most recent advances in our understanding of human microbiota as a new target for beneficial effects of diet. The session will highlight current trends and status of research and sketch how this is expected to evolve in the future for new therapeutic interventions through diet. Better insights in these developments will help assess what gaps in regulatory frameworks exist.

Thematic Session 2: Personalised Diet and New Foods 

Session 2 will focus on the development of functional foods and personalised diets, and evaluate the state of the scientific evidence to support health claims currently being made. Functional foods or personalised diets are expected to contribute to preventative medicine, next to combat diseases. Especially specific target groups, including the elderly, babies, diabetics, or those with extreme allergies, may benefit from targeted foods. For these groups, novel foods with beneficial health claims are being developed. There is accumulating evidence that food and dietary strategies may function through influencing the gut microbiome, but scientific support for strong health statements may be incomplete at best. Novel developments are expected to lead to the development of personalised diets based on personal gut microbiome configuration. Continued scientific research is needed to bolster efforts to develop better pre- and probiotics, nutraceuticals, functional foods and personalised diet.


Thematic session 3: Regulatory and Enabling frameworks

Session 3 aims to identify regulatory frameworks and policies needed to support the uptake of novel foods or diets with health beneficial effects so as to improve public health and wellbeing. In so doing, the session hopes to address the needs for the food and/ or pharmaceutical industries to develop new foods with health benefits and to bring these to the market. A major aim of the session is to better understand the nature of regulatory diversity across countries in efforts to promote greater standardisation.

Concluding session on policy opportunities - Panel discussion

The concluding session will be more general and will focus on the policy opportunities and will try to draw conclusions and main messages from the previous sessions. The panel of policy makers (OECD, EC, EFSA,…) and industry and researchers will focus on legislation, regulation, ethical issues, communication (raising awareness on healthy food, clear communication on food labelling) and the need for a systems approach in policy making in this area.

Expected outcomes of the workshop

Workshop is expected to give an outline of the current status and future outlook of the field of diet and health and how the gut microbiome is influenced by diet and thereby impacts health. In addition, policy needs will be identified as well as barriers to innovation. Recommendations to address S&T policy frameworks may be formulated to bring new solutions from healthy diet, novel foods, preventative medicine, and improved public health and well-being.

Feedback needed


We are collecting information on ongoing initiatives that address the microbiomes. Experts are invited to give feedback on projects and programmes in the different countries. 

  • Are you aware of large science initiatives in your country that address the link between microbiome and diet for health?
      • What is the duration of the initiative, its budget, participants, goals, milestones? 
      • please provide weblink if available. 
  • Are there other microbiome initiatives in your country?
  • Is your country interested in or are there policies available that focus on preventive medicine through nutraceuticals, dietary interventions, …?
  • Are you aware of barriers or gaps in your country that interfere with the development and use of new applications based on better understanding of how the microbiome is influencing health and how nutraceuticals may act through the microbiome to preventative medicine or cure diseases?
  • Are there specific needs for science?
  • Are there specific needs for tech transfer?
  • Are there specific needs for industry?
  • Are there any existing innovation and cooperation models (in other fields) that might be applicable to this area?

Please send your feedback by 14 April 2016 to David.winickoff@oecd.org 




The gut microbiome as target for better health


Only since access to omics technologies such as genomics, transcriptomics, epigenomics, proteomics, metabolomics and the like, combined with integrative systems approaches, it became within reach to understand how a complex system such as the gut microbiota is functioning as an organ as part of the body. Ultimately, the building of a solid science base, explaining how gut flora composition influences health and how nutrition determines this composition, will not only have a positive effect on health and wellbeing, but also on the health economic outcomes and supporting healthcare systems. It seems that we are at the start of new scientific insights, opening a new health paradigm.


While the importance of a balanced diet for healthy lives is well known, there is a trend towards the production of so-called novel foods, functional food products, nutraceuticals or foods for special medical purposes. Many of these products claim to have a positive effect on human health or even cure diseases through acting upon the gut microbiome. Insights are growing that the development of personalised diets and stratified approaches using specific food for specific target groups will help preventing or even cure important NCDs. While these are potential important evolutions, health claims should have a solid science base. Regulatory frameworks should guarantee efficacy and safety of such new products. One of the extra challenges is that the regulatory frameworks are different in different countries and continents or not existing for novel treatments, such as for faecal transplantation. It is likely that this is partly because it is not fully understood how this functions, although it has been used very successfully to address certain infections. In many other cases the health claims of food products and their actions on the gut microbiome have been more difficult to demonstrate.