Great expectations for pesticides

The European Union watches agriculture and related problems very closely. It is an essential part of sustainable development policy for all Member States. One of the unresolved issues concerns pesticides. Restrictions on the use of these measures apply throughout the Union. 

Restrictions or false hopes

This is based on the hope that the less pesticides are used in food production, the less pesticides will be in the food and the environment. However, despite the restrictions imposed on farmers, harmful substances are still being detected in food, as evidenced by the 2020 report. 29.7% (3,590 samples) contained residues of one or more substances at concentrations below or equal to the permitted levels. 1.7% (209 samples) contained residues exceeding the legal maximum, of which 113 (0.9%) were non-compliant. 

What are pesticides?

Pesticides are synthetic or natural substances used to control harmful organisms. They are commonly used in horticulture and agriculture as plant protection agents against diseases and pests.

The European Commission is constantly working to ensure the highest level of food safety in all EU countries, which is why research conducted by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) can change the face of global agriculture.

Research that will change everything?

Under the NWO Kennis-en Innovatieconvenant programme, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) has allocated a total of €5.5 million to three consortia, including this one. The goal of the program, which is called Microbiome: Healthy from Soil to Gut and Back, is to explore the role of the microbiome in nutrients. Scientists pin their hopes and knowledge on bacteria that occur naturally and produce antimicrobial peptides. Peptides are proteins that are made up of a small number of amino acids. Some of these groups are lethal to pathogens without harming the human body or biodiversity.

The goal is to discover easily biodegradable peptides that will attack bacteria and fungi and not affect the rest of the plant microbiome. And if the bacteria producing these peptides can be used as biological pesticides, it will ensure that they are produced only when needed. However, these studies are also unique in terms of the scale of their activities. Professor Marnix Medema, who is the coordinator of the research consortium, says “This is the first time that a study is being carried out on whether the bacteria in plants that produce such peptides actually colonize the gut.” UMC Groningen is involved in human health research to study the effect on the gut microbiome, while scientists from the universities of Leiden and Zurich will test whether the peptides work as intended and are not harmful to pathogens.

As Professor Madema notes, these compounds are natural, safe for humans and are already used in food. The research will take years, but such a great revolution in agriculture and food is worth waiting for!


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