Chemicals key to food in our crowded world
The vast majority of food found in your local supermarket has been produced with the aid of agricultural chemicals. Without them, domestic and global food production would be massively reduced, there would be less variety on our supermarket shelves and a heftier price tag on most foods and beverages.
Australian agriculture is highly diverse and includes industries such as livestock production, grain production, horticulture, dairy and aquaculture, just to name a few. All farming systems, whether conventional or organic, have one thing in common: they use approved agricultural chemicals on farm to increase productivity. Organic systems commonly use copper sulphate and other new biochemical products which, though derived from nature, are still considered chemicals. There is a view that chemical use is bad for the environment and dangerous for human health, and a transition to an organic world, without the use of chemicals, is the solution.
Such claims are naive and completely ignorant of science and the bigger issue at stake.
The hard reality is that the world’s population is rapidly increasing, access to arable farming land is decreasing and the demand for increased food production is rocketing.
Agriculture chemicals are an extremely important part of allowing this food production to occur. The use of chemicals such as glyphosate in modern farming is essential to improve grain quality and yields, while minimising weeds. It allows hundreds of millions of tonnes of additional grain, vegetables and fruit to be grown to satisfy a hungry world.
Without the safe application of such chemicals, weed emergence and yield loss would be huge. To compensate for this, more land would need to be cleared to produce more arable cropping land. Without modern-day advances, such as the introduction of no-tillage farming, minimising soil disruption and conservation of the root system, the world would be required to clear more land.
This would negatively affect the environment.
Like most other developed countries, Australia has a regulated agricultural chemical system, which is enforced by the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority and registration of a chemical takes years of rigorous scientific studies.
Even after a chemical is approved for use it is regularly reviewed and reassessed for use and safety. Speaking on behalf of most farmers in Australia, we would not use a chemical that we believe could be detrimental to our health and health of consumers. Any move to ban the safe use of highly regulated chemicals such as glyphosate — safely used globally for 40 years and one of the most safe and effective weed control tools being used, assisting in reducing the impact on soil systems — would not only be devastating for Australian farmers but would also have an impact on global food production and food security.
There are about 800 million people in the world who do not have the luxury of reliable and consistent access to affordable and nutritious food. Australia is a food-producing country and Western Australia is a significant exporter of grain, vegetables and meat. I believe it is our duty as farmers to do everything we can to ensure that those 800 million people and the other 6.6 billion have safe and nutritious food on their tables every day.
We live in a world bursting with chemicals, from beauty products and medicine to household cleaning products.
Today’s society is surrounded by chemicals approved for human use. Glyphosate is the world’s most regularly applied and used herbicide. It is a safe product that is an extremely powerful tool in modern agriculture. We need our farmers to have the ability to fill the demands of feeding a growing population and using modern best practices ensure that their farming operations meet the market to which they sell.
So the next time you are in the fruit and vegetable aisle, biting into a loaf of fresh bread or sipping on a glass of red, have a think about the sheer volume of food that our Australian farmers produce; and what sort of world we would be in if there was not enough food to go around.
Beverley farmer Duncan Young says agrichemicals are vital to food supply.