There has probably never been a time when food (at least in the developed world) has been safer. And yet there has probably never been a time when consumers in Europe are more concerned about what they eat and how it has been produced.
Over the years, food scare crises from BSE and E. coli in organic bean sprouts to tainted olive oil and listeria in cheese have had fatal consequences, so it is little wonder that consumers demanded to know: “what are they doing to our food?” Devastating as these crises were, they prompted the much-needed establishment of EU-wide risk assessment agencies, more stringent food safety standards, and closer evaluation of new technologies.
Farmers need access to tools and technologies
Farmers the world over need access to the best tools and technologies to meet production challenges and farm sustainably. Technologies such as GPS navigation, precision agriculture, drones and big data might be more common on farms in the developed world, but other innovations such as tensiometers to control water irrigation and new forms of plant breeding to improve seeds and reduce chemical use can be scale-neutral, allowing even small farmers to benefit.
Increasing attacks on science
But innovation in food supply can come at a cost. We should be concerned about the increasing attacks on science which threaten to slow and even halt the adoption of some food production technologies that could solve or address many of the issues facing our world’s food and energy security and climate change.
Text continues underneath image
Crop sensing technology is being tested at a German precision farming testing facility. - Photo: Mark Pasveer
Another cause for concern is the growth of so-called scientific papers which are being published in questionable scientific journals without credible peer review. Where relevant to opponents of a technology they are exploited as “evidence” of potential harm – contrary to any valid regulatory assessments.
It is little wonder that consumers lose trust in technologies which have received scientific blessing as safe but are rejected on purely political grounds
In 2010, there were 53,000 so-called scientific articles published, often having paid for the privilege. Today, that number is more than 400,000. Not all will be scientifically suspect, but those that are will be promoted as justification to ban or slow development of an innovative technology.
Politicians falling victim to pseudo-science and scaremongering
In parallel, there is a worrying trend of many politicians and regulators failing to support science-based decisions by falling victim to pseudo-science and scaremongering, which endangers the proper functioning of regulatory assessments and potentially bars the adoption of safe and helpful “farm tools”. It is little wonder that consumers lose trust in technologies which have received scientific blessing as safe but are rejected on purely political grounds.
Shortly before he died, the father of the green revolution, Dr. Norman Borlaug, said “Get it to the farmer”. He knew farmers need access to continued research, innovation and technology if they are to put food on our “global plates” and to do so sustainably.
About the U.S. Sustainability Alliance
The U.S. Sustainability Alliance (USSA) is a diverse group of American farmers, fishers and foresters, united by a commitment to conservation and sustainability practices. Currently, we represent 21 American associations and supply chain partners, ranging from The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and the Almond Board of California to the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the USA Rice Federation. Our aim is to correct misperceptions of American farming and food production by explaining and promoting the long history of sustainability and conservation in the United States as practiced by our members.