Phytopathology for Food Safety
19 de abril de 2023
Agronômica, part of the Cotecna Group, is a leading Brazilian laboratory expert in phytosanitary diagnosis. The lab’s commitment in assisting Government, companies and food producers in the early detection and identification of pests in agricultural products is of key importance in promoting Plant Health and Food Safety.
We contacted one of our experts from Agronômica to get in-depth insights about phytopathology for food safety. Biól. Dra. Yuliet Franco Cardoza, Laboratory Supervisor at Agronômica, answers all our questions on this topic:
What is the relationship between phytopathology and food safety?
Plant diseases and pests influence the availability and safety of plants for human and animal consumption, reduce crop yield and detrimentally affect quality.
Global yield losses of main crops due to pathogens and pests can range up to 30% with estimated costs of hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy. Effective pest and disease management approaches, including pesticide management strategies, are required to successfully prevent and mitigate these problems. However, the misuse of pesticides may lead to residues in products, potentially compromising food safety. In addition, the use of banned pesticides (more toxic and environmentally persistent) continues to be a problem.
Chronic low-level pesticide exposures, for example through diet, are harmful to human health and have been associated with depression and neurodegenerative disease in adults. Furthermore, exposure during gestation and the early postnatal period has been associated with a lower birth weight, decreased gestational age, and neuro-developmental toxicity that can lead to motor- and neurocognitive developmental delays in children. In addition, the presence of pesticide residues in plants and the environment has been linked to the emergence of antimicrobial resistant organisms.
Where does the expertise of the Agronômica lab regarding plant health testing stem from?
In 2006, we were the first private laboratory in Brazil to obtain accreditation from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply to meet demands for the detection and diagnosis of pests in cargo from international transit of products and by-products. From there, the path to success emerged from the identification of an innovative business opportunity: promoting plant health.
We are responsible for identifying and determining pests provided for bilateral agreements for the adoption of phytosanitary measures in the national and international transit of agricultural products, in addition to assisting rural procedures and companies in the diagnosis of diseases in the field. Our commitment is not limited to compliance with regulations and legislation: we have the most comprehensive and reliable portfolio of services that deliver sustainable solutions to ensure plant health.
How does Agronômica work contribute to food safety?
We act throughout the production chain, which means from the seed to the final product, by applying specific, sensitive and accurate techniques for pest detection. Our analyzes include phytosanitary quality control for companies and support for farmers to assist in decision-making in controlling pests in their crops. The sooner pest detection is carried out, the sooner measures can be applied including prevention of the pathogen entry into pathogen-free area or elimination of pathogen preventing establishment. This allows to avoid or reduce the use of pesticides and contributes to food safety.
Another type of analyzes that we currently carry out with a high contribution to food safety are the microbiological analyzes on sugar. We perform Salmonella spp. and coliform detection to meet sugar export regulatory requirements. As is well known, these agents are one of the most important in food poisoning.
Besides quality control for companies and exportation processes, Agronômica analyses products that are imported to Brazil. Do you have any example of the laboratory's contribution to the food safety on imported crops?
One really interesting example is Seed Potato importation. As starter product, Seed Potato should be free of bacteria, fungi, insects, nematodes, oomycetes, invasive plants, viruses, viroids. To avoid the spread of pests between countries, the international transit of plants is regulated based on international agreements, such as the International Convention for the Protection of Plants (CIPV/FAO), the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures of the Organization World Trade Organization (SPS/WTO), determinations of regional phytosanitary protection organizations, as well as bilateral agreements. Considering that Brazil is heavily dependent on the import of seed potatoes, particularly due to its climatic conditions, predisposing to the proliferation of pests throughout the year, analyses of Seed Potato is crucial. The pests that need to be analyzed from imported Seed Potato are described in PORTARIA SDA Nº 617, DE 11 DE JULHO DE 2022., and vary according to the country of origin. It is the role of the laboratory to carry out these analyses and thus contribute to avoid pest entry and, consequently, to a reduction of problems in the field and in the application of chemical products.
How does Agronômica intervene to ensure food safety when Imported Seed Potatoes are planted in Brazilian fields in order to multiply?
Once in Brazilian territory, IN 32 of 2012 is the most important legislation applied to potato propagation material, as it establishes the norms for the production and commercialization of Seed Potatoes and their standards, aiming to guarantee their identity and quality. Regarding pests, the objective is to detect those already present, especially those with preservation capacity in the soil. Soil contamination with pests is harmful because some of these pests have the capacity to infect several other crops. This fact leads to a more widely use of chemicals, thus increasing the risk of greater consumption of chemical products due to the diversification of crops that become infected by these pests. The laboratory service helps to avoid soil contamination.
It is interesting to mention that potatoes and other vegetables in the nightshade family can produce solanine, an alkaloid compound that causes potatoes to turn green and have a bitter flavor. Solanine production by a plant is a chemical defense mechanism against insects, disease, and predators. Solanine, in small doses is toxic and can lead to headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and paralysis of the central nervous system; in large doses it can be fatal. As a result, preventing potato diseases also allows to prevent this food safety risk.