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Should Food Security Compromise Food safety ?

The ever-growing human population on the planet has been putting huge pressure on food supplies. The planet’s population is expected to be 9.7 Billion by 2050. To meet the ever-growing food demand, the crop protection industry justifies usage of many chemicals in agriculture to protect crop against insects, fungi, and other pests. There are more than 1000 different kinds of pesticides in use. Pesticides can prevent large crop losses. While on one hand, these chemicals protect the crop, the excessive residues cause huge harm to human health. Some are more dangerous than others. Insecticides are more harmful than herbicides. Carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and teratogenic ones are the most damaging to human health.

Concerns for food safety led to the formulation of various barriers to restrict food import that are harmful to human health. These concerns led the world community to agree on a ‘selective choices of acceptability’ of various FOOD SAFETY measures leading to formulation of Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary [SPS] Agreement. [It also concerns plant and animal health]. The important aspect of the agreement is the work done by CODEX Alimentarius commission on defining Maximum Residues Level of pesticides in food. The MRLs as they are called, are decided scientifically based on inputs from scientific community. It is based on the acceptable maximum of daily human intake limit.

The scientific basis avoids possibility of any misuse of MRL being used as a weapon for trade barrier. In advanced economies the MRLs come under scrutiny by civil societies, and thus cannot be set arbitrarily. MRLs could be challenged and scrutinized. These are the maximum limits of pesticides which are acceptable for sustainable public health. However, the MRLs implementation in different markets can be asynchronous. Harmonization of MRLs across the markets may be a need of the hour and a big challenge. It calls for more regulatory convergence.

On one hand for the human population we need more food, on the other hand to produce and secure more food we are resorting to agricultural practices requiring rampant usage of chemicals which in turn is damaging human life. This is paradoxical. Can we produce enough food without injecting chemicals? Is Organic Agriculture the right answer?

Organic farming creates better balance between production, economics, environment, and social wellbeing. It promotes and supports biodiversity. However often a question may come to mind, can Organic agriculture feed the world?

“Organic farming creates better balance between production, economics, environment, and social wellbeing. It promotes and supports biodiversity. However often a question may come to mind, can Organic agriculture feed the world?”

- Anjali Hardikar, Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India

Questions have been raised about ability of organic farming to feed the world. The yields in first year of conversion to organic farming records a drop, however subsequently it improves and equals the conventional farming at least in non-irrigated naturally rain fed lands. Time and again it has been established that nitrogen fixing legumes used as green manures can provide enough biological fixing nitrogen to replace the entire amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers currently in use. . The acreage under organic farming, though miniscule currently, has been growing in all continents. However, the debates about organic vs chemically induced farming continues. While conventional farming can boast of higher immediate yields, it creates environmental damage beyond the boundaries of the fields, right up to the fertilizers running off into the river waters.

Fixing MRLs for pesticides residues on a conventional produce, is a temporary solution for solving food safety, switching over to organic farming needs to be done for a fool-proof life-long solution for safe food.

Besides the debate on farming systems, it needs to be borne in mind that the developing and under-developed world has been wasting substantial amount of food due to lack of efficient supply chain to deliver the produce from farm to the consumers. Ideally, each country, irrespective of its economic status, must improve their food supply chains and stop wastage of foods. Such steps will help world at large in improving food availability. Avoiding the wastage is as good as producing more.

European Union has been supportive of organic farming within European farming community. It needs to take measures to encourage organic imports which will extend to helping hand to the organic farmers outside EU by creating a traction of demand.

The human life on the planet is precious. The FOOD SECURITY and FOOD SAFETY are prime issues for sustenance of human life. Both go hand in hand, should not be addressed by mutual exclusion.

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Anjali Hardikar

Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India