Where Can Consumers and Farmers Find Objective Information About Low-Chem Agricultural Products?

2010 has been designated the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity – a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives.

In the context of climate change and the pressure on the planet’s resources it’s an important moment for us all, nowhere more than in the issues of food scarcity and security and the challenge to produce more to feed the world’s growing population.

We want as consumers to be sure that the food we’re buying is safe and healthy for our families. More and more we are changing our shopping habits to take account of issues like our carbon footprints and fair trade.

One difficulty for consumers is finding sources of genuinely objective information about how our food is produced, farming methods and the new bio-technologies that are argued to be essential to increasing food production and pest control in a sustainable way.

Because most human activities, including food production and supply, are businesses driven by the need to make a profit, it’s not surprising that there should be a degree of competition and therefore confidentiality about the details of the new low-chem agricultural products companies are developing and a degree of promotion to sell them.

The research and development of such products is, after all, expensive when you add up the cost of several trials and the long process of getting them registered for use in more than one country, each with its own regulatory process.

We are bound to be told they are safer, better and more environmentally friendly but how can we be sure this is the truth? What sources of objective information are there?

There’s a valuable, not for profit, scientific and research organisation with headquarters in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK, which is dedicated to information sharing.

The mission statement on its website describes it a science-based development and information organization, improving people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solving problems in agriculture and the environment.

It’s perhaps not as high profile as some of the big environmental campaigning or agrochemical research organisations but it’s actually celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

It’s called CABI, (the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International) and it focuses on improving food security, protecting biodiversity, helping farmers and providing information. There are CABI centres in China, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, UK and the USA and projects in more than 70 countries on the basis that farmers in the developed world face the same problems as subsistence and smallholder farmers in developing countries – pests and diseases, access to markets, access to quality seeds, credit, the best way to process produce.

It aims to help farmers grow more and lose less by improving crop yields, safeguarding the environment and improving access to agricultural and environmental scientific knowledge.

This includes helping them improve their crops by introducing natural or ‘bio’ pesticides and sustainable techniques such as integrated pest management as well as advising on trade and quarantine issues.

It has expertise in agriculture, animal and veterinary sciences, environmental sciences, human health, food and nutrition, leisure and tourism, microbiology and parasitology, and plant sciences.

CABI also manages one of the world’s largest genetic resource collections, the UK’s National Collection of Fungus Cultures, conducts microbiological identifications, provides cultures for sale, and offers preservation and consultancy services.

It offers a range of microbial services to businesses, academic institutions, agriculture and government departments worldwide. Customers come from industries including food and drink, medicine, research and environmental conservation.

Perhaps CABI’s range of activities indicates that there is at least one place where consumers can get objective information on the production of the foods the only get to see when they’re one the store shelves.

Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers