Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dangers from modern agricultural practices-Food safety compromised?

Safety of agricultural produce is of paramount importance when it comes to evolving standards that will not compromise on human health. Internationally there is a great awareness regarding what ought not to be present in foods raised through industrial agriculture and in spite of measures that force the agri-industry to adopt safe cultivation practices, there are frequent reports regarding food poisoning and slow acting toxins contributing to adverse human impact. Though there are hundreds of chemicals available to the farmers for fertilization and crop protection, many countries try to regulate their use by banning those proved to be harmful and others that can be used at levels prescribed by relevant laws. What is not realized by layman is the dangers posed by these chemicals coming in contact with him through contamination of water and the land. Use of antibiotics and hormones in animal production as well as in raising fish through aquaculture and fish farming adds another dimension to the dangers posed to human beings and the environment. According to a recent report, modern analytical tools are exposing the presence of many chemicals in food and water which might be new or already in use but not assessable by conventional techniques. This report exposes the dangers and challenges posed by these so called "emerging contaminants".  

"The most well-documented impacts of agriculture runoff on human and ecological health are primarily related to nutrient pollution in water, where nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers cause oxygen-starved "dead zones" in water. Now, scientists and government agencies are also examining the impacts of agriculture runoff as a significant source of emerging contaminants, substances that may pose a health risk when they enter food or water systems. Emerging contaminants (ECs) — which include hormones, antibiotics, steroids, nanomaterials, human pharmaceuticals, and personal care products — are difficult to measure or identify, but they pose special threats to human and ecological health. However, few regulations prevent agriculture operations from releasing ECs into the environment. "Emerging contaminants are a perfect example of how regulations are behind the technology," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, "We are releasing contaminates from agriculture when we still do not fully understand them, and our current regulations do not keep us safe from them."

Organic food industry which started humbly two decades ago is becoming the darling of the consumer precisely for the reason that people want to avoid "unknowns" in their foods by preferring to eat crops raised with use of no chemicals or with least chemicals. Now that more sensitive and reliable instruments and methods are emerging which expose the presence of many chemicals, even in trace concentrations, in food and water, gaining entry intentionally or unintentionally, Organic foods are bound to be adopted by more and more people who care about their health and that of their families. WHO and FAO must revisit the safety issues and modern food and agri-industry practices to make the standards stricter and more enforceable to safeguard the health of the population as well as the environment. Standards must keep in pace with progress in technology for which regular and periodic reappraisals are necessary.

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