Healthy crops mean safe food
Over the last forty years, scientific improvements have provided consumers with a wide range of affordable, high quality food. However, the modernisation of agriculture has raised new concerns amongst consumers, particularly around the use of pesticides.
For farmers, crop protection products are an important tool in their overall crop management portfolio. The challenge is to deliver high volume, high quality yields at affordable prices, while simultaneously meeting the high standards demanded by both consumers and retailers.
Safety comes first
Pesticides are only authorised in the first place if an independent, expert risk assessment – undertaken under a set of unfavourable circumstances and incorporating high safety margins – consistently verifies that any residues remaining after proper use of the product are below the safety levels for consumers.
In terms of usage, farmers comply with good agricultural practice, following the principle of using pesticides only when needed and then, as little as possible.
In addition to the safety standards, separate trading standards, called Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs), are also in place to check whether a pesticide has been correctly applied.
Also important: exceeding the maximum residue levels does not usually pose a risk to health as trading standards are usually far below safety limits, which, include wide safety margins. However, it does indicate that the pesticide has been incorrectly used. The crop protection industry views any violation of trading standards as unacceptable practice and is committed to eliminating this problem.
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Crop Protection for High Quality, High-Volume Yields
Crops must compete with 30,000 species of weeds, 3,000 species of nematodes and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects, all of which can seriously impact harvest yields. Naturally occurring fungal diseases also threaten unprotected plants. These are not only capable of causing substantial harvest losses but crops can also be contaminated by mycotoxins, highly toxic substances, produced by the fungus itself.
Today, major crop failures or famines in countries with well-developed agricultural sectors have thankfully been confined to history. However, farmers still lose 20 to 40 per cent of their annual harvest due to weeds, pests and plant diseases. Without crop protection, this figure would be twice as high.
Independent monitoring shows a high level of food safety
Authorities regularly monitor the food supply for pesticide residues. The latest results from the EU coordinated program, released in 2011, show that 98.8 per cent of all 10,533 samples tested either had no residues or only traces in compliance with legal levels (MRL).
Supermarkets also check food safety standards and perform their own analysis including monitoring of pesticide residues on a regular basis.
In the EU, a Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) is in place to respond quickly to any concerns regarding food safety if necessary. Importantly, it also helps the industry to identify and address any issues in order to ensure the continued supply of safe, high quality food for consumers.