Potential hazards to consumers from contamination of food with pesticide
residues, is currently a major public concern the world over. While pesticides and chemical fertilizers in agriculture are a necessity to control the pests and diseases and enhance crop yield, however their often unrestrained use largely due to inadequate monitoring by the relevant authorities, is posing a grave risk to consumers’ health and the environment.
The Health Ministry’s investigations have revealed that the amount of pesticide residues and heavy metals in several agriculture crops including onions, potatoes, and cucumbers, produce which are consumed on a daily basis by most Iranians, have more than the toxicologically-tolerable limits, the Persian language weekly ‘Salamat’ reported.
Explaining the different fraudulent practices in agriculture, Dr. Kambiz
Bazargan, head of Soil and Water Research Institute (SWRI) affiliated to the
Agriculture Ministry said, “Some farmers use unauthorized pesticides or
fertilizers that may contain heavy metals including lead and cadmium.”
“Another practice is the extensive use of fertilizers; for instance, a farmer may use large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer to increase the crop yield which can result in nitrogen accumulation in crops and be harmful to consumers.” Nitrates and nitrites are known to cause several health complications, vitamin A deficiency, and cancers. They can also decrease oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.
Bazargan said there are two ways to prevent such farm practices that
contaminate food produce. Food grains are of particular importance in this
regard because they are consumed as major elements of national diets. “As the first step, we should ensure supply of high-quality pesticides and fertilizers to farmers. Secondly, we need to monitor the pattern of fertilizer and pesticide use by agriculturists.”Stricter controls have been imposed on the use of pesticides in the past two years by the government.
Mandatory Registration at SWRI
In August 2014 the agriculture minister enacted a law by which all suppliers of pesticides and fertilizers in the country should be registered at the SWRI. “This ensures we have more authority to control and monitor the quality of farm produce. In case of any violation, the registration can be cancelled.”
So far, the institute has conducted lab tests on 5,000 brands of chemical
fertilizers, of which 4,200 brands were approved. “Nearly 800 brands were labeled unsafe and unhealthy as they were found to be carcinogenic (or cancer-causing), neurotoxic (causing damage to the brain), or teratogenic (causing fetal harm), he said adding, “We continuously inspect fertilizer products, and violators are dealt with according to the law.” Along with implementation of the measures, SWRI holds training workshops for farmers with the aim to raise awareness of the proper use of fertilizers and pesticides.
In response to a query on the percentage of domestically-produced fertilizers in the market, he said all the nitrogen fertilizers are locally produced but potassium and phosphorus fertilizers are imported. Violations in fertilizers and pesticides use are not usually detected or recognized by any distinguishable smell, taste or visual defect in crops, and therefore people are not able to identify the potential risks to health by contaminated crops.
Children may be susceptible to adverse neurological, developmental and other effects from pesticide exposures in food products. Vulnerable populations including pregnant women also face particular risk from such exposure. The annual per capita consumption of pesticides through food products in Iran is around 400 grams per year as against 70 grams in European countries and 80 grams in the US, according to the head of Iranian Genetics Society. Mahmoud Tavallaei told IRNA that biotechnology can help reduce the amount of pesticides used in the agriculture sector.
Genetically modified organisms can be defined as plants, animals or
microorganisms in which the DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called modern biotechnology or genetic engineering