Food for thought

Seven strategies to reduce pesticide usage.

By | Agronomy, Food Safety | No Comments

Pesticides play a sensitive role in food systems: they are applied in order to protect crops, but they can have negative impacts on environment and human health. While global pesticide use has grown to 3.5 billion kg active ingredients per year, a significant portion of the chemicals applied has proved to be excessive, uneconomic or unnecessary both in industrialized and developing countries.

Today there is a consensus among a wide range of stakeholders that pesticide use needs to be gradually reduced to a level that is effectively required to ensure crop production, and that risks of pesticide application need to be reduced as far as possible.

Here are listed 7 strategies available for pesticide reduction.

1. Agronomic practices.

Suitable agronomic practices are essential to achieve healthy crops and to prevent build-up of pest, disease and weed pressure. The following practices are of particular importance:

  • Appropriate plant nutrition and soil fertility management;
  • Crop rotation;
  • Appropriate irrigation management;
  • Appropriate timing of sowing or planting and of intercultural operations in order to reduce pest;
  • Timely shallow tillage reduces weed populations and at the same time improves nutrient supply to the crop;
  • Precision farming like spraying of hot-spots and weeding with optical detectors;
  • Intercropping (when it is possible) and the use of variety mixtures limits the spread of pests and diseases and provides food and shelter for natural enemies of pests;

2. Resistant crops

Crops and crop varieties differ in their susceptibility to pests and diseases and in their ability to compete with weeds. Growing crops suitable for local conditions and selecting appropriate crop varieties is therefore fundamental to a preventive pest management system. The use of resistant varieties together with rotations of non-susceptible crops can substantially limit pest build-up within a field.

3. Bio-control and Natural Pesticides

Bio-control makes use of pathogens (bacteria, fungi, viruses), insect predators or parasitoids, pheromones and insect traps to keep pest populations low.

The total eradication of a pest, which results from the use of synthetic pesticides, would reduce the food supply of the pest’s natural enemies, undermining a key element in system resilience. The aim, therefore, should be to manage insect pest populations to the point where natural predation operates in a balanced way and crop losses to pests are kept to an acceptable minimum.

4. Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

IPM is an ecosystem approach that does not seek to eradicate pests – but rather to manage them. It is founded on the idea that the first and most fundamental line of defense against pests and diseases in agriculture is a healthy agro-ecosystem, in which the biological processes that underpin production are protected, encouraged and enhanced.

A close approach to these principles is the common GlobalG.A.P. protocol even if it is not totally focused on pest prevention. The majority of retailers in today’s markets require certain standards that ensure safe and sustainable agriculture for demonstrating on-farm food safety and sustainability.

In a true IPM strong focus is on pest prevention by applying good agronomic practices and using resistant varieties, pest identification and monitoring and biological pest control. As soon as the economic threshold is achieved – the point at which the cost of pesticide use pays off (cost of expected loss in harvest exceeds the cost of treatment) – chemical pest control becomes profitable. The last step includes learning and adapting from IPM for the next crop season.

5. Agroecology

Agroecology is a discipline that defines, classifies and studies agricultural systems from an ecological and socio-economic perspective, and applies ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems. It is an integrative way of farming that focuses on working with and understanding the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment. In Agroecology pest control seeks to reinforce interactions of pests and natural enemies with the aim to maintain a natural balance in the ecosystem. While there is no consent on what techniques and inputs are compatible with agroecology the common denominator is to make use of biodiversity-based ecological processes to optimize agricultural production systems.

6. Organic Agriculture

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic standards strictly prohibit any use of synthetic pesticides. Crop protection in organic agriculture builds on good agronomic practices such as crop rotation and intercropping, the use of organic manures, resistant varieties and bio-control to prevent that pest, diseases and weeds cause significant damage.

Organic farming makes use of techniques similar to Integrated Pest Management and agroecology, with the only difference that synthetic chemicals cannot be used as a last resort.

Instead, organic farmers can use specific natural substances permitted by organic standards to control pests and diseases if preventive methods are not sufficient. Some of them, however, also have unwanted side effects on non-target organisms. Particularly the use of copper to control fungal diseases is problematic due to its accumulation in soils.

7. Use of less hazardous pesticides

There are various systems to classify pesticides as per their toxicity for humans and the environment. Phasing out the use of highly hazardous pesticides and replacing them with less hazardous ones is therefore the most obvious way to reduce the negative side-effects of pesticides.

This approach needs to be combined with safe handling of pesticides so that their impact on people and the environment is minimized. The use of protective gear and the observation of waiting periods before harvest are the most important measures in this regard.

However, in many countries the lack of information, unavailability of protective equipment and its impracticality in hot and humid climates result in low adoption rates.

Source: Frank Eyhorn, Tina Roner, Heiko Specking September 2015

How to support the Quality System with the Game Theory

By | Agrofood, Agronomy, Business, Food for thought, Gaming | No Comments

T he picture  is showing the Prisoner’s dilemma in a Matrix. This is used to understand clearly the possible choices when a company has to make an important decision: a strategic decision.

Imagine two prisoners held in separate cells, interrogated simultaneously, and offered deals (lighter jail sentences) for betraying their fellow criminal. They can “cooperate” (with the other prisoner) by not snitching, or “defect” by betraying the other. However, there is a catch; if both players defect, then they both serve a longer sentence than if neither said anything. Lower jail sentences are interpreted as higher payoffs (shown in the table).

The prisoner’s dilemma has a similar matrix as depicted for the coordination game, but the maximum reward for each player (in this case, 3) is obtained only when the players’ decisions are different. Each player improves their own situation by switching from “cooperating” to “defecting”, given knowledge that the other player’s best decision is to “defect”. The prisoner’s dilemma thus has a single Nash equilibrium: both players choosing to defect.

What has long made this an interesting case to study is the fact that this scenario is globally inferior to “both cooperating”. That is, both players would be better off if they both chose to “cooperate” instead of both choosing to defect. However, each player could improve their own situation by breaking the mutual cooperation, no matter how the other player possibly (or certainly) changes their decision.

Nash equilibrium has been demonstrated by J. Nash in a real situation.

In game theory, the Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only his own strategy.

In Europe I do not know anybody else, except Casaqa, who is trying to integrate quality management and business management systems. I’ve formed a very definite opinion about this and why the quality management system is believed to be so distance to the business management. I would like to share it.

1) The food company are particularly narrow-minded about the different processes, and  I think we’ll just have not to compartmentalize everything.

2) The people don’t know the applications of the Game Theory.

3) They also think that management systems must necessarily derive from an external scheme, often imposed by supermarkets, and that nothing can be proposed from within the same companies as in the automotive business happens.

Game theory is a major method used in mathematical economics and business for modeling competing behaviors of interacting agents. Applications include a wide array of economic phenomena and approaches, such as auctions, bargaining, mergers & acquisitions pricing,fair division, duopolies, oligopolies, social network formation, agent-based computational economics, general equilibrium, mechanism design, and voting systems; and across such broad areas as experimental economics, behavioral economics, information economics, industrial organization, and political economy.

I believe that game theory should be use in the Quality Management System too.

Business is a high-stakes game.The way we approach this game is reflected in the language we use to describe it. Business language is full of expressions borrowed from the military and fro sports. Some of them are dangerously misleading. Unlike war and sports, business is not about winning and losing. Nor is it about how well you play the game. Companies can succeed spectacularly without requiring others to fail. And they can fail miserably no matter how well they play if they make the mistake of playing the wrong game.

The essence of business success lies in making sure you’re playing the right game. How do you know if it is the right game? What can you do about it is the wrong game?

In order to help managers answer those questions, I am using a framework (developed by Adam Brandeburg, Barry J. Nalebuff, but updated through Alexander Ostoerwalder) that draws on the insights of the game theory. Basically game theory is about to change the game of business, updating your model business. The point is to use this method into your quality system. The decision taking process is a process like the “maintenance” or the “production”.

The game of business is all about value: creating it and capturing it. Who are the participants in the enterprise? To describe them some Author introduce the Value Net – a schematic map designed to represent all the players in the game and the interdependencies among them.

The Value Net reveals two fundamental symmetries in the game of the business:

a) the first between customers and suppliers

b) the second between substituotors and complementors.

Managers understand intuitively the along the vertical dimension of the Value Net, there is a mixture of cooperation and competition.

This method is very interesting to manage the “process decision ” and to give a tool to analyze the reality as a game. This means to help the managers and to give a contribution to achieve a Quality Management System that can include the ” business model management” .

3 consequences about the Maximum Residue Levels after Brexit.

By | Agronomy, Food for thought, Food Safety | No Comments

T he departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, will impact the agriculture of all European horticultural companies and in particular the export of the Mediterranean Countries.You can hear several rumours about what will happen, some of these with a catastrophic perspective.

On the other hand, we need to don’t think that everything will remain the same. There will be changes and I will tell you the two scenarios that could occur and the three consequences from the point of view of the relationship between the  Food Safety and the fruit and vegetable market, especially with regard to maximum residue levels of the pesticides.

Hypothesis #1. Probably the trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union will follow the same course of the countries as Iceland and Norway: outside the Union, but with a foot within the European economic area.

Therefore, majorities of European laws and regulations will remain unchanged and the UK will continue to respect the same European standards like today.

The second hypothesis is that the United Kingdom will completely withdraw from the European market so that it can be supplied by other world markets, such as the United States, North Africa and developing countries.

Both scenarios are a bit extremes. It is true that the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU does not imply that the exports are terminated, but that they will be carried out under different conditions.

The most evident consequence is the fall in the price of the pound against the euro.

From a technical point of view we can speculate that one of the most important changes will be the relationship between EFSA, European Food Safety Authority, and the UK. EFSA’s main objective is to provide scientific methods for alerting and detecting all problems affecting food safety. EFSA, for example, establishes the residue limits of plant protection products. Currently in force is the Regulation 396/2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin.

Accordingly, in the interest of free movement of goods, equal competition conditions among the Member States, as well as a high level of consumer protection, it has been considered appropriate that maximum residue levels (MRLs) for products of plant and animal origin be set at Community level, taking into account good agricultural practice.

These maximum residue limits (MRLs), which are set by the European Commission, include:

Specific MRLs for certain foodstuffs intended for humans or animals and an overall limit applicable where no MRLs have been established (a ‘default limit’ of 0,01 mg / kg).


What will happen after Brexit?

Hypothesis # 1: Britain will continue to collaborate with the EU and EFSA on common food safety issues. This also involves collaboration from a financial point of view. In this case, nothing change. .

Hypothesis #2: The United Kingdom does not collaborate with Europe on this issue, using the proper Food Safety Agency (FSA). This is quite likely. Of course, there are things the British want to change: not surprisingly, there was a clear desire to move from Hazard-based regulation to a Risk-based approach, strongly science-based and proportionate, whilst maintaining or improving current human and environmental safety standards and taking account of socio-economic benefits.

Hypothesis #3. United Kingdom is homologated to the United States. The British wants to stop unnecessary expiry of authorisations and routine reviews and introduce a US EPA-style data ‘call in’ system. They  should simplify or remove efficacy requirements, and onerous assessments for minor uses and low risk products including bio-pesticides – and have an emergency approvals/essential uses system for unforeseen problems, that we do not have in Europe now.

What will happen on the subject of MRLs could also change the viewpoint of Europeans and bring the European Union closer to the American market

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The Agronomy Field Walking will be assisted by the radar

By | Food for thought, Sin categoría | No Comments

This is an interview to Alessio Cantone, an international expert about radar application in agricolture. It seems that we should not wait for the future to have the technology that can help farmers and agronomists in the field walking: the monitoring operation to control the crop health . The radar technology is able to produce a specific risk maps so that you can also monitor the production into the greenhouses or tunnels.

Fresh salad. Leaf chopping increases the Salmonella risk

By | Food for thought, Food Safety | No Comments

University of Leicester team show leached juices from leafy vegetables enhance growth and virulence of food poisoning bug.

Here is another article highlighting the risk of fresh cut salad. The aim here is to underline those aspects of the food industry which must be improved rather than making consumers diffident or afraid when buying a salad bag.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 18 November 2016

  • Lab study shows juices from damaged leaves in bagged salad increase Salmonella pathogen growth 2400-fold over a control group
  • Leached juices also increased the pathogen’s capacity to form a strong and wash-resistant attachment to salad leaves
  • Research highlights need for growers to maintain high food safety standards

The research is led by Dr Primrose Freestone of the University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation and PhD student Giannis Koukkidis, who has been funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) i-case Studentship.

Here below the link showing the results of the University investigation.

According to my experience the risk of pathogens bacterial growth is high when the hygiene conditions during the cultivation process are not met by the producer. If salad will be produced according to the standard and hygiene parameters there will not be risk of Salmonella or E.coli O157 for example.

For this reason Casaqa is deeply involved in the study of the ideal environment for the cultivation of salad with the aim to prevent any kind of contamination. An excellent result has been already achieved thanks to the cultivation in specific designed green houses which are different from the green houses used until today.  Clearly the cultivation in an open field cannot be easily under control since it is subject to external contaminations such as wild and domestic animals, pollution etc., on the other side the method and green houses are giving great results.

Even if the fact is well known in the industry it is difficult to convince them of the use of these specific green houses especially in Spain which is one of the biggest salad producer in Europe.

Casaqa is working in this direction to innovate the fresh salad sector. Even if these changes are not often accepted, Casaqa continues to promote the methods and techniques to improve the food safety in the baby leaf production.


E.coli deaths: two people have died and 151 cases have been confirmed. Mixed salad leaves linked to outbreak

By | Featured, Food for thought | 3 Comments

In UK 2 people have died and 151 cases have been confirmed in an E.coli outbreak  that seems to be linked to eating mixed salad leaves and especially wild rocket.

Two people died and a further 62 needed hospital attention after contracting the infection. In total are 151 cases that have been confirmed. Health autorities have said more than 150 people in the UK have been found to have been infected with the E. coli O157  bacteria—many of whom had eaten pre-packed salad containing rocket leaves.

"“PHE has been working to establish the cause of the outbreak and has identified that several of the affected individuals ate mixed salad leaves including rocket leaves prior to becoming unwell.
“PHE is also working closely with the Food Standards Agency to trace, sample and test salad products grown in the UK and other parts of Europe.

“As an additional precautionary measure, we have advised a small number of wholesalers to cease adding some imported rocket leaves to their mixed salad products pending further investigations"

Dr Isabel OliverDirector of PHE’s field epidemiology service

Rocket leaves is suspected to be mainly contaminated by E.coli

Public Health England  is still investigating the exact cause. A small number of wholesalers  has been advised to cease importing wild rocket leaves for their mixed salad products. They are recommending shoppers wash pre-packaged mixed leaves thoroughly.

The health body believe the strain of E. coli is likely to have been imported, perhaps from the Meditteranean.

E. coli can cause bloody diarrhoea as well as stomach ache. People can avoid getting the invection by washing hands thoroughly and keeping unwashed vegetables away from food that is ready to eat