Safety and security: Productivity and Trust
In order to be able to feed ten billion people by 2050, substantial effort will be required from the agriculture and research sectors. Security and safety will play a major role in this, with both food security and food safety being key. In order to ensure food security, productivity and food production levels need to be increased. This can only happen if there is an openness to technological ideas and new technologies are adapted. Food safety is also important for consumers. Their trust must not be shaken by products that endanger either human health or the environment.
Monday, November 22, 2021
According to the latest figures published by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 800 million people suffered from famine in 2020. This trend is on the rise due to the coronavirus pandemic. Around one-third of the world’s population do not have access to adequate nutrition. Guaranteeing food security is therefore the most fundamental aim of agricultural production worldwide. Owing to the continued strong population growth, the increasing soil erosion, climate change, pest pressure and centers of conflict, the aim of guaranteeing global food security is a herculean task. One that cannot be achieved without using new technologies that allow for larger harvests from smaller land areas and with less water, fertilizer and pesticides being used.
The demands placed upon new technologies are considerable. Not only is the production of a sufficient number of calories important, the safety of people and the environment is also vital. There is a great deal of hope being pinned on green genetic engineering and in particular genome editing. They have the potential to massively improve food security. The rapid cultivation of new and robust varieties is vital in the race against climate change. In addition, researchers are in agreement that genetic engineering is as safe for humans and the environment as conventional plant cultivation methods.
We will not be able to achieve this in the future without using pesticides. They are becoming more targeted in their effects and thus more environmentally friendly. Banning them from being used in agriculture would cause more uncertainty than it would safety. On the one hand, without pesticides the food loss from the field would increase, which would result in a rise in food insecurity. Pesticides will also secure yields in the future. At the same time, pesticides will continue to undergo intensive testing. They have to meet strict requirements with respect to food safety.
For example, fungicides help to ensure food safety in wheat farming by fighting carcinogenic fungi (mycotoxins) and there protecting consumers. This ensures that only high-quality wheat that does not contain any dangerous toxins from mold fungi is used to produce our daily bread. In this way, pesticides help to ensure food safety. Without pesticides, cleaning agents and disinfectants (biocides) would not be able to be used in food processing processes. They ensure germ-free production, are an active method of preventing diseases and increase the trust that consumers place in food. Ultimately, there is no trust if there is no safety or security.
The reduced use of plant protection products is causing much smaller wheat and rapeseed harvests. A study carried out by Swiss Agricultural Research reveals that such crop failures can only be offset by state subsidies. This is neither sustainable nor resource-efficient.
The economic interdependence of the world has increased greatly over the past years and decades. Due to the brisk trade activity between the continents, invasive plant and animal species are also spreading faster and faster. This can lead to serious problems for native vegetation and agriculture. According to the FOEN, the canton of Ticino is particularly affected.
Invasive pests and plant diseases are among the greatest challenges for biodiversity and agriculture. They often enter Switzerland via travel and imported goods and cause great damage to cultivated and wild plants. Since 2020, the import of plants from non-EU countries is prohibited. However, introduced pests are a worldwide problem.
The Japanese beetle was first discovered in Switzerland in 2017 in Ticino. Now it has made it to the northern side of the Alps. After being found in Basel-Stadt and Solothurn, a larger population of the beetles has been found in Kloten for the first time. They are controlled with traps, but also pesticides.