Chem­i­cals key to food in our crowded world

Countryman - - OPINION - Dun­can Young Dun­can Young is WAFarm­ers grains pres­i­dent.

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.

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