What is the resilience in the agri-food sector?

his article is about the Resilience concept and the fresh vegetable business.

Resilience is in vogue at the moment as a conceptual frame for the development community. There are lots of new initiatives and new projects designed to improve resilience—mostly in the context of the recent and ongoing food crises in the Horn of Africa and the Sahelian region.

Resilience has many sense:

“the power or ability of a System to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched”; this is a generic definition.

What this the relation between the Resilience and the Food Safety System in the fresh food business?

Industrialized agriculture increasingly emulates the production, processing, and distribution characteristics of large-scale manufacturing. Agriculture has become more uniform and mechanized, while post-harvest processing offers more ‘‘value added’’ and packaged goods. We are packing everything: Lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.

In this way the Food Industry wants to increase the illusion of control over the agrifood system propagandizing their imagine..like..”we have everything under control”. Food companies need consumers to believe that their products are safe. When outbreaks occur, the companies often deny responsibility place blame on others, and resist changes in their production or processing procedures. This seems to be the agrifood resilience: do not understand the need to change to avoid the same problem.

Outbreaks of food-borne illness from fresh produce are significantly more prevalent in recent decades. This could be related to four factors, as reported by University of Arizona

  • 1) changes in farming or processing practices
  • 2) the overall increase in consumption of raw fruits and vegetables or minimally processed
  • 3) the increase in trade and international distribution
  • 4) the increase in immunosuppressed consumers.

In addition, the general lack of efficacy of disinfectants in the elimination of pathogens in raw fruits and vegetables has been attributed, in part, to their difficulty in penetrating the leaf surface and the foliar tissue that may harbour pathogens.

When firms are found at fault, in the Food Safety System, or in the disinfectant inefficiency as well they often advertise new technological fixes, increasing the complexity of the production system as well as its reliance on synthetic substances and controversial measures (e.g. irradiation).

It is unclear if those technologies increase actually the food safety but industry may succeed in temporarily perpetuating the image that food is now safer.

A clear example of resilience has been the outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 from raw ‘ready to eat’ bagged spinach during autumn 2006.

This incident resulted in over 200 illnesses and at least three deaths in 26 US states and Canada.

In this case, the leafy greens industry was unable to control a strain of bacteria that spread though the pre-packaged salad production system

In an attempt to regain control, or the appearance of control the industry is actively fighting back against nature in an attempt to sterilize production sites, segregating the open field with net and fencing, controlling the wildlife activity exploring possible vaccines for humans and for cattle to treat E. coli O157:H7. Many of these control- measures do not seem to make sense.

One day I will make a video on this topic:”The craziest control measures” (as title).

Well, what have been the results of these measures?

In the 2011 a food borne infection of E. coli caused about 50 deaths in Germany and France, 3000 infected people and millionaire losses in the agricultural sector.

And without having a clear explanation of the cause.

First were the Spanish cucumbers, then the German soya, then the Egyptian seeds. In 2016, last year, the same toxiinfection caused 2 deaths and 151 people in UK affected by E. coli. Resilience? Yep! I return to the definition..

The power or ability of a System to return to the original form, position, after being bent, compressed, or stretched.

Dictionary by Googling


Author pierpaolobacciu

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