Wednesday, 07 February 2018 13:07

Population surge demands food protection

Written by  Mark Ross, chief executive of Agcarm
Mark Ross. Mark Ross.

Over the next decade, the global middle class will grow from two billion to nearly five billion — an explosive rise considering the entire world population was only five billion in 1990. 

Animals, grains, fruits and crops will be at the core of global growth in coming decades. Companies are spending billions on R&D each year to protect them. But there are challenges to overcome and misconceptions hindering innovation. 

A major challenge is antibiotic resistance, a threat that can cost lives. In animal health, the fight to curb antibiotic resistance is concentrated on better management of existing antibiotics and the development of alternatives. 

Modern technologies like custom, herd-specific vaccines and animal-only antibiotics are improving our ability to better preserve existing medicines. But, too often, animals are the scapegoat in drug resistance. Research has found that addressing antibiotic resistance in animals alone does little to tackle the issue for people. Animal health must be an equal partner in this fight. 

Like bacteria with antibiotics, resistance to crop protection compounds (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) can develop over time. This is a major global challenge for farming.  

Managing resistance requires an understanding of the factors that influence its development, and having strategies in place to manage these risks. Increasing regulatory roadblocks for registering new plant protection products hinder progress in providing farmers and growers with solutions to pests and disease.  Decision-making based on political gain, rather than science, adds to the frustration. 

These products are too often subject to activists touting alarmist claims in the media. Misinformation going viral can inhibit sensible decision-making on the registration of products essential for producing safe food. 

One hurdle was overcome when the European Commission and member states extended the renewal of glyphosate in late 2017 for five more years. This is a sensible decision that allows farmers to safely and efficiently kill weeds in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.  

In emerging markets, navigating complex regulatory systems can at times be tough. Delivering animal medicines and crop protection products to smaller markets is becoming increasingly challenging. Products with proven track records hit an impasse and progress grinds to a halt. 

Working with our international counterparts allows us to share knowledge with a global community focused on keeping animals and crops healthy. Agcarm does this via its membership of the international CropLife networks and the organisation HealthforAnimals. Our memberships allow New Zealand makers and retailers to foster a greater understanding of global animal health and plant protection trends and activities.

To ensure that we continue to produce healthy food, we need to embrace innovation and be proactive in dealing with the barriers. Advocating for sensible science will not only support a way forward, it will provide the necessary assurance needed in a world where the internet often dilutes the facts.

• Mark Ross is chief executive of Agcarm, the industry association for companies which manufacture and distribute crop protection and animal health products.


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