Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS)

FAO/INFOODS Food Composition Database for Biodiversity: Partnering with University Students to Enter More Data


Dr. Ruth Charrondiere is a nutrition officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In 2008, she realized that there was no database in existence to help professionals to readily recognize  the differences in nutritional contents among different varieties of foods, including meat from different breeds of animals. She felt strongly that without this knowledge readily available, that biodiversity would never be mainstreamed into nutrition or agriculture, and the disconnect between food (nutrition) and agriculture (production) would continue. In response, she and a group of FAO colleagues collected and compiled compositional data and published the FAO/INFOODS Food Composition Database for Biodiversity in 2010. The database contains solely analytical data from mainly peer-reviewed sources. It grew from initially 2400 food entries (primarily plant foods such as cereals, vegetables, and fruit) to more than 6500 food entries. However, the effort soon faced the challenge of compiling additional analytical data to add to the INFOODS database.

In 2012, Dr. Paul Boettcher of FAO came to Dr. Charrondiere with a solution to this dilemma. Since 2009, Dr. Boettcher has worked with students and faculty from the Iowa State University (ISU) Dean’s Global Agriculture and Food Leadership Program to complete various collaborations with FAO. Dr. Boettcher suggested that the 2012 program could assist in contributing data on the composition of beef breeds. At that time the FAO/INFOODS database was lacking entries related to meat, making this contribution especially important. After the project, 210 food entries were added for beef breeds and a scientific article was published, making the collaboration a great success. Again in 2014 ISU students working with Dr. Charrondiere contributed close to 250 food entries for pork breeds into the FAO/INFOODS database and are preparing an article.

This FAO-ISU partnership is an example of how university students, under faculty and FAO supervision, can provide important research data that meet FAO needs. Not only does the FAO benefit from such a collaboration, but the students gain firsthand science-based experience working closely with a prestigious, scientific international organization.

In terms of conservation of livestock biodiversity, the FAO/INFOODS database now provides pertinent data about nutritional aspects of different breeds of livestock. This helps to identify valuable breeds that are in need of conservation. Dr. Charrondiere believes that, “agriculture needs to shift their thinking so that nutrition can become an element in breed selection”. Dr. Charrondiere and FAO believe that meeting nutritional needs with food and not additional fortification will result in a more sustainable and nutritious food supply worldwide. Identifying livestock breeds that provide better nutrition and are well adapted to their local environments will be critical in closing the gap between agriculture (production) and food (nutrition).

The relationship between FAO and Iowa State University has the potential to serve as a model for future collaborations with other universities that can add valuable data and knowledge to this database and identify even more livestock breeds in need of conservation efforts.

Nicholaus Jackosky & Briar Tenold


  •  Charrondiere, Ruth. "FAO/INFOODS Database." Personal interview. 27 May 2014.
  •  U. Ruth Charrondière et al. FAO/INFOODS Food Composition Database for Biodiversity. Food Chemistry 140 (2013) 408–412
  • FAO/INFOODS (2013). FAO/INFOODS Food Composition Database for Biodiversity - version2.1- BioFoodComp2.1.FAO,Rome.