Things that are “natural” aren’t necessarily safe. To the contrary, nature can be quite cruel, and those who fail to take advantage of the tools of modern technology to protect themselves may find themselves unwilling victims of natural selection.
We’ve seen this happen before. Ideological opponents of modern vaccines have triggered a resurgence of deadly but preventable diseases like measles, which claimed 140,000 lives in 2018. Africa alone has seen a ten-fold increase in measles cases.
Unfounded fears and uncertainty about technology are also spreading from Europe to the agricultural fields of Africa. In Europe, the elites have the luxury to declare the only food fit for their consumption must bear an “organic” label — and come with a significant price premium. It is a fashion statement that demonstrates their ability to afford the extra cost.
Such people reason that organic food is “natural” and therefore must be safer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mold creates a deadly problem
One of the biggest dangers to our food supply comes from mold through a process that’s all-too-natural. Mold thrives in wet environments, or on crops damaged by insects, or through improper storage. The fungus in turn produces toxic metabolites known as mycotoxins, which are found contaminating just about every major crop, from corn to soybean, as well as a number of spices. Cows that eat infected feed pass on these toxins to the milk we drink.
There are hundreds of varieties of mycotoxin, but one of the nastiest is aflatoxin B1, which can scramble human or animal DNA and cause cancer, even at low levels of exposure. In greater quantities, aflatoxin B1 has the same lethality as man-made substances like hydrogen cyanide or a scorpion’s all-natural venom.
This is a global problem. A 2017 study of mycotoxin contamination around the world described Europe as a “severe risk” region, with more than half of tested crop samples above risk threshold limits.
The problem is even more acute in Africa. Last year, a study of animal feed in Sub-Saharan Africa found 76 percent of the samples tested positive for aflatoxin B1 with a detected concentration of 23 parts per billion — higher than anywhere else in the world. Poor countries often lack the resources needed to rein in the problem. As a result, more Africans are exposed to deadly aflatoxin than to malaria and tuberculosis, and it is taking a toll.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noted that there is a connection between liver cancer rates and mycotoxin exposure in Kenya, Mozambique and Swaziland. Liver cancer associated with aflatoxin exposure kills 26,000 sub-Saharan Africans every year. In addition to the damage it’s doing to health, it’s draining cash from the pockets of Africans. Between 2013 and 2016, for example, the European Union (EU) blocked over 120 food products from Nigeria over contamination fears. According to The Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), crop losses from aflatoxin contamination alone exceed $670 million annually.
Fungicides are the answer
That’s bad enough, but the EU is making the problem far worse than it would otherwise be by sabotaging efforts to address the problem head-on. Modern technology has a simple answer to mold: fungicide. One particular class of fungicides, known as Succinate Dehydrogenase Inhibitors (SDHI), have proved effective in wiping out mold for decades. But a group of activist scientists and NGOs in Europe have been stoking unfounded fears in the hopes that policymakers worldwide will ban it.
In January, 450 scientists published in Le Monde newspaper their demand for an SDHI ban, and the special-interest groups We Want Poppies, Generations Futures and FNE followed up with threats of taking legal action to outlaw SDHIs in France.
As with the case against vaccines, the arguments against SDHI are thin at best. Twelve SDHIs have been approved in the EU after rigorous safety reviews, and they’re widely used across the continent. Yet the relentless attacks by organic industry business interests against the use of modern agricultural technology has an impact extending beyond Europe — with Africa usually being the hardest hit.
While mycotoxins are a major problem in the less developed world, they’re still a serious issue commanding the attention of food safety authorities in every nation, including the U.S. and France where the toxins have contaminated corn, wheat and even swine (presumably from consumption of tainted feed).
The mycotoxin has no greater friend than the organic industry, which promotes farming methods that reject modern fungicides in favor of far less effective, and thus less safe, alternatives. The result puts the food supply at risk in the EU, Africa and everywhere else such bad ideas take root.
The products that anti-technology Europeans want banned are helping to save their lives while the “nature” they so idolize is doing its best to kill them. The world’s regulators need to wake up to what’s happening. They need to ignore the hysterical letter-writing campaigns and reject bans on the technologies that are saving lives around the world.
This post is also available in: DE (DE)