dimanche 19 janvier 2014

2- Metamorphosis

I think you remember that, in my first post (number 0), I said that some points of view would probably be the occasion of interesting debates. Well, it already happened, but not the way I was imaging. I received, indirectly, through my wife’s Facebook account, a reaction witch is, in a few words, the perfect summary of a majority of the false ideas running about conventional agriculture.

I didn’t want to write about that this way and so early in the life of my blog, but I finally think it’s interesting to address this issue from the beginning, especially because it was one of my motivations to create this blog.

I also use it to illustrate the word metamorphosis I used the first day. I didn’t choose it fortuitously. It’s really what is happening today.

But first the comment (or its full translation) :

« I have bought and sold pesticides during 9 years. I have seen trucks unshipping pallets of poisons in unventilated warehouses where the floor became red, green!!! Because of disemboweled containers!!! We all breathed that, with a cigarette in the mouth, and I still feel the odors!!! The sale of several dangerous products is prohibited in France but trampled with trucks still crossing borders… Spain and Italy, where are permanent vegetable crops, make us eat dangerous products, even with the “organic” label!!! Besides modern slavery: pickers from Africa, paperless, underpaid and living in conditions beyond hygiene standards!!!”

I hope you understand that I can’t let this nonsense helplessly. So let's do a text analysis in 4 points.

1st point.

« I have bought and sold pesticides during 9 years. I have seen trucks unshipping pallets of poisons in unventilated warehouses where the floor became red, green!!! Because of disemboweled containers!!! »

First, I want to explain why I don’t like the use of « poison » to speak about pesticides. It’s obvious that these products are dangerous, because they are concentrated before use, so potentially toxic in their previous packing (before application). It’s the same with organic pesticides that are dangerous too before application, for the same reasons, or with pharmaceuticals, although nobody call them poisons. The dose is what makes them useful or dangerous.

This person stopped working in this activity a long time ago. The disastrous habits of the 50s to 90s are now banned, at least in Europe, and the penalties are heavy. Regulations concerning the transportation, storage, handling and sale of these products are extremely severe and controlled. And I don’t know any pesticide businessman, who today can afford to waste so expensive products.

Then, the products also have changed, and all the most toxic have been banned in Europe (Directive 91/414/EEC) and are progressively banned worldwide. Nearly 300 molecules for agricultural use have been banned from Europe in the last 15 years.

Each new plant protection product registration must have passed a very long (around 15 years) and expensive research process, during which are observed the effects of the molecule on human health (control of the acute toxicity and control of long-term effects of a very low dose daily absorption), on soils, aquifers are evaluated on furry animals, birds, aquatic life as well as beneficial insects (like bees, ladybugs, lacewings, and so on). In this investigation, levels of use are also established, authorized crops and conditions of transportation, storage and handling as well as authorized residue levels in food and use limitations.

2nd point.

« We all breathed that, with a cigarette in the mouth, and I still feel the odors!!! »

The deplorable safety conditions in those years no longer exist in industrialized countries, for several reasons:

First, the laws have changed, and they became, once again, much more severe. In Europe, there are several directives regulating the labeling, transportation, storage and handling of hazardous substances. Any person handling toxic substances must have received specialized training, has to be included in an official accreditation register and has to follow a periodic program of verification of his knowledge, and specific medical checks. Companies that don’t comply with these laws have to pay heavy fines, and in extreme cases, may be doomed to closure. The controls are numerous and very strict.

Then, protective equipment have changed radically. PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are much more numerous, powerful and comfortable. I started my career as a tractor driver in the south of France, in the early 80s. We were spraying trees with sometimes very dangerous products, only equipped with rudimentary protections (simple uncomfortable rainwear, allergenic rubber nose-mouth masks with bad filters). This is no longer the case.

Training and information about risks to health and environment have caused a major change in attitudes. There are still some who refuse to be adequately protected, in the same way that there are still people who smoke, drink or drive without wearing a seatbelt. But overall, we can say that security in the handling of these substances has been radically improved.

And finally, who would believe today that a worker would accept to work under the conditions described in the commentary, without running at once to the labor inspectorate or the union?

3rd point.

« The sale of several dangerous products is prohibited in France but trampled with trucks still crossing borders… Spain and Italy, where are permanent vegetable crops, make us eat dangerous products, even with the “organic” sticker!!! »

This is totally false. First, because products, are not banned in France but throughout the European Community (Directive 91/414/EEC). The only power of the countries is the list of approved uses (crops and targets) for each substance included in this directive. In Europe, the use of unauthorized products has become almost impossible. Controls are very strict and at all levels. Supposing that a banned product could enter fraudulently in Europe, the controls are so severe that its use would almost automatically be detected, on the crop itself or on the final retailed. Risks to illegal users are huge.

Analysis of pesticide residues are carried in the field (in leaves and soil), and in retailed fruit and vegetables product in origin, transport (customs) or destination.

Controls are numerous, being stricter those done by retailers, especially supermarkets, which do many analyzes. The sale of a non-controlled product is a serious commercial risk that, today these groups are no longer willing to take. Competition between big retailers is so hard that everyone tries to trap the other one on food security, causing a self-regarding movement about risks to the health of consumers.

Regarding to the « organic label» comment,   I recognize that I cannot say the same. Organic products are not subject to the same regulations as conventional products, and controls are generally much less exacting (it’s a subject on which I shall write later). And it’s a reality that, except among consumers, there are much less organic idealist people than organic opportunist people, and that at all levels of the food chain.

 4th point.

« Besides modern slavery: pickers from Africa, paperless, underpaid and living in conditions beyond hygiene standards!!! »

 Again, this is totally false. Controls are common (even in Spain!), and fraudsters are severely punished with heavy fines and/or imprisonment. There are no undocumented workers in agriculture in Europe any more. About hygiene conditions, they are respected both in accommodation and working conditions in terms of housing at the level of working conditions. Videos circulating on Internet for several years, are old and are today totally false, even if it is true that it has existed in Spain, in Italy but also in France and in many countries.

There are professional conventions throughout Europe, with regulation of wages, which are controlled and respected. Once again, failures are reported by workers or unions, and severely punished.

 Certification systems to be met by companies that want to export to Europe (GlobalGap certification is the more usual), all integrate a section on environmental conditions, and a section on housing conditions, work and health (GRASP certification).

Finally, you should know that to retail a food product in the European Community, the original companies should respect local legislation and European legislation too on hygiene and pesticide residues.

Moreover, it should be noted that European legislation is by far the most severe in the world.

We can say that today, food security reaches the highest level ever achieved. But we have to keep progressing in the same direction.

 Metamorphosis of agriculture comes from several key points:

-        + The laws have considerably tightened on all matters relating to food security, environment, work safety and training.

-        + Technology has progressed a lot, at all levels of the system: agricultural techniques, chemistry, protective equipment, storage equipment, handling equipment, and so on.

-        + Measure equipment for pesticides residues have changed a lot. 20 years ago, the level of precision was of 0,1 ppm, which represents 1 mg for 10 kg of food. Today, we can detect to 1 ppb, or 0,001 ppm, which is 1 mg in 1000 kg of food.

-        + New generations farmers are trained and certified either in agriculture or marketing or business leadership.

-        + Technicians and workers training have progressed a lot.

-        + Information and awareness of the seriousness of problems of health, hygiene and environmental protection have also improved at all levels.

-        +  Retail companies have taken the measure of consumer concern, and have also had to adapt to the new regulations. They now request their suppliers (farmers), they fulfill strict production protocols. They do not hesitate to throw a supplier out in case of non-compliance.

Everything I just wrote does not deny real facts that have existed in Europe until the 90s. But now it's over.

What I tell basically affects the European Community. I don’t know enough about the situation of other countries to be able to extrapolate. However, the European movement in the direction of better respect in all areas trails in the same direction most of the countries that export to Europe.

Let’s forget misconceptions coming from long-standing practices.

I don’t seek to deny the past. I'm just saying that it is past.

And to conclude, I just want to remind that if Italy and Spain are the gateways for illegal immigration from Africa, it is only because their ribs are only accessible with boats fortune. But illegal successful spin to land immediately to France, Germany and Holland, that is to say the richest countries and lack of local labor unskilled.

And to conclude, I remember that, if Italy and Spain are the gateways for illegal immigration from Africa, it is only because they have the only shores accessible with precarious boats. But successful illegals directly go to France, Germany and the Netherlands, richer countries in Europe without unskilled local labor.

Of course there are cheaters, but no more in one country than in another, in France to. The problem is that any fraud is immediately exploited by those interested (organic lobbies, for example), and widely reported in the press, greedy with scandals. Normality does not sell.

Unfortunately these scandals hide the large majority of good farmers doing their job without fraud, without exploiting anyone, without destroying the environment, in accordance with the legislation and the so-called "good agricultural practices".

At last, it’s good to record some facts : last main food scandals in Europe are

-          + The horsemeat fraud (2013-France, United Kingdom) with ramifications to several countries of Eastern Europe, outright fraud of the food industry, fortunately with no  consequence for human health.

-          + The Escherichia coli crisis(2012-Germany) animal fecal bacteria from an organically grown sprouts, has caused about 50 deaths, not counting sequels, and accompanied by false accusations from a German minister against Spanish agriculture and causing a major crisis of the agricultural economy in Europe,

-         + The BSE (mad cow disease) crisis (UK first, then many other countries), older but also more durable, with more than 200 human victims and forcing the sacrifice of nearly 200,000 animals, in which farmers were accused when the real responsible were the animal food industrials and the agricultural research in supporting this, without having asked the required questions about the long-term risks and ethics of feeding ruminants with meat and bone meal.

Three major food crises, with tens of dead victims and hundreds of victims in terms of sequels, which have nothing to do with the use of pesticides.

Where are Spain and Italy in these crises? Only among the victims of the interests of politics, lobbies and communication medias, quick to form suspicions or accusations without proof. If they are wrong, submit their apologies, but too late to repair the damage caused.

¿There have been problems with illegal pesticides in food? Yes, but with little magnitude and victimless, both in Spain and in Italy, but also in France and other European countries, mainly showing the effectiveness of monitoring means.

So let’s stop saying nonsense, and if there are charges to be (nobody is perfect), that are authenticated and on current facts.

Today my post is very European. I recommend to my non-European readers to seek information to know the laws of their country.

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