• Andrei Geica

Quick note on the Circular Economy in Agriculture article

Based on some replies that I have received on the article from a few days ago, let me address the elephant in the room: it is impossible to talk about agriculture without talking about pesticides. Those more attentive would have probably noticed that I addressed fertilisers in that article, but not pesticides, for good reason: pesticides are a topic of heated debate right now (remember Glyphosate?), from citizens and civil society to policy-makers and scientists themselves.

That is why, in the context of that article, I want to give my own opinion on the issue: the truth of the matter is, that some synthetic pesticides are definitely worse than natural pesticides. But just because something is natural, that doesn't mean it's better.

For example, Rotenone is a tropical plant extract that is very efficient as an insecticide because it affects the pests' mitochondria. While it's 100% natural, it devastates aquatic sea life, especially fish. While it could be used in certain geographical areas with less risk, water always finds a way to cycle in the system. It's also been linked to increased rates of Parkinson's disease among farm workers.

This is why there is still a debate going on among scientists as to which approach ends up being better (or less-worse): spraying once with a powerful synthetic pesticide or repeated doses of natural pesticides (which, again, not necessarily better). For example, a study on soybean showed that because natural pesticides were less effective, using them ended up actually harming more unintended targets. Which would be a very undesirable effect in some of the solutions offered by eco-agriculture.

Of course, there is also the need to always take single studies with a pinch of salt, in general but especially when it comes to food safety, as there are huge well-financed interests involved and misinformation does not come through Facebook only (again, remember Glyphosate?).

So the truth here is not clear cut, but the increasing attention this topic is receiving, the green policy shift that will increase focus and resources towards research and the development of safer and more sustainable products, the increasing market pressure to farm sustainably, will eventually lead to answers.

Moreover, this is also an area that intersects with our behaviour: Simply running produce under water for 30 seconds is fairly effective when it comes to removing pesticides and dirt. Awareness-raising campaigns eliminate much of the risks associated with pesticides, natural or synthetic, if successful. This goes hand-in-hand with the tollerances set by regulators. There will always be pesticide on our food, but dosage is everything. There are certain limits that the human body can tollerate and dedicated institutions constantly monitor the food that we eat and set tolerance levels based on the latest and best scientific knowledge about their effects on the human body. Usually, these levels are hundreds, if not thousands of times more restrictive than the ones that science says are possible. Regarding this:

While monitoring the entire Glyphosate issue through the Public Hearings of the European Parliament's Special Committee on the EU authorisation procedure for pesticides (PEST), I earned a great deal of respect for the scientists working at the European Food and Safety Agency (based in Parma, where I earned my Bachelor's from as well). Their commitment to the scientific method when surrounded by powerful societal and economic interests and pressures from governments across Europe is nothing short of impressive.

After listening to their description of how they keep the food that we eat safe, I am personally convinced that pesticides will not be the primary obstacle in transitioning towards a circular agriculture sector. What is needed is to provide a nurturing environment for scientists, farmer-entrepreneurs, innovators and impact financiers like Sporos Platform, to search for answers to the question of pesticides, to all other open questions, as well as all the questions that we will encounter along the way towards a Circular Economy.

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