26 September 1997

Spray cuts and perfect produce not realistic

PRODUCER protocols which demand blemish-free produce at the same time as significant reductions in pesticide use are unrealistic.

That was the message from Alan Malcolm, director of the Institute of Food Research at last weeks Crop Protection and Food Quality conference organised by the British Crop Protection Council in Canterbury, Kent.

Better labelling which tells consumers what has been applied to their food from seed to supermarket shelf, is needed, he said. That should not just detail food additives – a current statutory requirements – but also pesticides applied to the growing crop, and feeds given to livestock.

But the continual insistence of supermarkets on visual perfection makes a nonsense of their claims to minimise pesticide use, Prof Malcolm argued.

"Growers are forced into a no-risk programme, to meet the blemish and insect-free produce demanded, eliminating not just pests and diseases, but beneficials and visiting bugs too.

"Substantial reductions could be achieved if consumers were prepared to accept some visual defect," he said.

"Growers are finding increasing difficulty in achieving standards, but dont want to speak out for fear of losing their market share."

Furthermore, agronomists that have identified opportunities to reduce agrochemical inputs, have been frustrated by restrictive regulations, he added.

Repeat low dose herbicide systems often fall foul of single dose statutory requirements, for example. Label water volume recommendations are also often set too high.

He called for supermarkets, growers, agronomists, manufacturers and regulators to get together to truly further integrated crop management principles.