Last Tuesday, on the occasion of the World Day for Food Safety, the World Health Organization (WHO) sought to draw attention to the deleterious effects of foodborne diseases under the theme “Food more safer, better health”. The WHO estimates that there are 31 food hazards that can cause some 32 illnesses; many are invasive, debilitating and deadly, but all are preventable. Yet each year, there are some 600 million cases of foodborne illness and 420,000 deaths, 30% of them in children under five.
Since we all need to eat to live, it is essential that our food does not make us sick or kill us. Illness occurs when food or water becomes contaminated with parasitic or chemical agents that wreak havoc on the human body when ingested. In most cases, it is impossible for consumers to look at food products and know that they are not safe. A great deal of trust is therefore invested in farmers, manufacturers and vendors, including those who sell prepared foods. Governments and health authorities have a responsibility to ensure that safe practices are used at every stage of handling our food. However, even where this is strictly regulated, checks and balances have failed.
Although foodborne diseases occur all over the world, the greatest risks of contracting them are in developing countries where poverty and hunger can outweigh safety and sanitary measures can be lax in due to apathy, inexperience or greed or all three. For example, given the choice between preparing and consuming questionable foods and starving, those who suffer from hunger might choose the former, by unwittingly ingesting pathogens. Furthermore, indifferent, naive, or greedy officials might be persuaded to look the other way, allowing unhealthy food to reach the general population.
Unfortunately, ignorance surrounding the danger of consuming contaminated food also plays a huge role in its continuation. This is why the WHO is keen to make known that in addition to nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, foodborne illnesses can cause kidney and liver failure, brain and neural disorders, paralysis and potentially death. cancer; in children, they can retard physical and mental development.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, then ensuring our food is free of parasites, microorganisms, toxins and chemicals should be our concern. Unfortunately, it’s not as widely prioritized as it should be. However, actions taken in the name of food security often do not take into account food security or the fact that the two are inextricably linked. Moreover, when weighed against financial security, food security is more likely to suffer.
For example, innovation with organic and bio-based fertilizers remains in the niche phase, despite the known dangers of chemical fertilizers to the environment and humans in the event of improper storage or abuse. The latter occurs more frequently than is known and the abuse is not always voluntary.
Chemical fertilizers and pesticides can pollute groundwater and air as well as negatively affect the soil in the long term. Besides fertilizers, there are approximately 140 chemical pesticides and herbicides approved for use in Guyana by the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) of the Ministry of Agriculture. These are limited to farming, but there are more than a few that have been consistently misused over the years in acts of tragedy. In agricultural applications, it is only this previously mentioned element of trust that allows the consumer to trust the assumption that chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weedkillers are being used correctly. There is no strict control over their use.
That said, all signs point to the need for this country to get back to basics, but also to update and innovate to phase out these chemicals, especially as prices keep rising. . Organic fertilizers work well in small-scale farming, and there’s no reason our budding young agronomists can’t find ways to make them mainstream. In fact, why not hold a contest and offer a substantial cash prize or fully paid scholarship to the winning innovator(s)?
Instead, in January last year, the government invested $60.4 million in a new testing laboratory at the PTCCB, which is supposed to monitor the quality of imported fertilizers. We imagine that it was the cheapest option. It was also the laziest alternative and encouraged dependence on countries like Russia, China and Canada, which are among the world’s top fertilizer exporters. As long as this dependence persists, true food security will remain only a pipe dream. Fertilizer producers will be the ones making the decisions as our agricultural sector fluctuates with the vagaries of transportation, weather and global affairs.