Over the last forty years, scientific advances have provided consumers with a wide range of affordable, high quality food. However, the modernization of agriculture has raised concerns amongst consumers, particularly around the use of pesticides.
For farmers, pesticides 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.
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 yield. Naturally occurring fungal diseases also threaten unprotected plants. These are not only capable of causing substantial losses at harvest and in storage of agricultural commodities but crops can also be contaminated by mycotoxins, highly toxic substances, produced by the fungus itself.
With the exception of unpredictable weather conditions, leading e.g. to drought or flooding, today, major crop failures or famines in countries with well-developed agricultural sectors have thankfully been consigned to history. However, farmers still lose 20 to 40 percent of their annual harvest due to weeds, pests and plant diseases. Without crop protection, this figure would be twice as high.
Safety Comes First
In many countries pesticides are only authorized 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 well below the safety levels for consumers. Where the local capacity in regulatory authorities is insufficient to conduct this expert review. CropLife encourages these countries to refer to use assessments from developed countries and to FAO/WHO conducted risk assessments provided the conditions of use of the pesticides are comparable.
In terms of usage, CropLife encourages and train farmers to 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 Limits (MRLs) are also in place to provide a legal limit which is safe for consumers. Occasionally the MRLs are exceeded, especially when the label recommended use conditions are not respected. These exceedances are monitored in many developed countries. For example in the EU for many years now MRLs exceedances are observed between 1 and 3%. As the MRLs are established with a high margin of safety, only in few cases per year the residue levels are considered as safety concern. Compared with the severity and frequency of food contaminations by heavy metals or micro-organisms MRLs exceedance rarely lead to a withdrawal of a food commodity from the market. Nevertheless the crop protection industry views any violation of trading standards as unacceptable practice and is committed to further minimizing exceedances. In this joint effort with all stakeholders of the food value chain our members provide advice and training and are reviewing critically those recommended uses patterns which result in MRL exceedances more frequently.