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EU plan may increase global food problem

The challenge of meeting soaring global food demand may be made more difficult by European Union proposals which could ban some fungicides, Britain’s chief scientist said Nov. 12.

The European Union may change to a hazard rather than risk-based approach, which effectively means crop chemicals could be banned if they are dangerous at any dosage. At present they can be allowed if they are safe at the level at which they are used.

“The biggest worry is the loss of fungicides. We cannot throw away some of the weapons we have in our armory,” Britain’s chief scientist John Beddington said at a conference organized by the Agricultural Industries Confederation.

Beddington said a move to effectively ignore dosage was “an abrogation of science” although he added Britain’s opposition was not shared by other EU members.

“It is not currently shared in Europe and I don’t really understand why,” he said.

Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union, said his organization was lobbying strongly against the proposals but Helen Browning, food and farming director at Britain’s largest organic certification body, the Soil Association, said concerns had been overstated.

She said the proposals included safeguards to allow the least hazardous chemical to be used if a product was needed.

Beddington said it would be a challenge to meet an expected doubling in global food demand by 2050 with less water, less energy, less fertilizers, less pesticides and without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The growth in demand is caused both by rising world populations and changing diets in emerging countries.

He said science, in particular plant breeding, could play a key role in increasing yields.

“There is not a lot of extra land out there and productivity is going to be the key,” he said, adding there could be a role for genetically modified crops.

“We cannot dismiss the use of genetically modified crops out of hand,” he said.

GMO crops are widely grown in many parts of the world and now represent the majority of global soybean production. In Europe, however, there has been significant consumer opposition and crop approvals have been stalled.

Browning said if GMO crops were approved widely in the EU there would be a consumer backlash.

Beddington also said it was vital that crop losses to pest and disease should be reduced significantly if global demand for food was to be met.

He estimated global crop losses of about 40 per cent. “This is a thing we’ve got to be able to address,” he said.

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