Does Technology Help Grow Healthier Food?
Merriam-Webster defines technology as, "A manner of accomplishing a task especially using www.FoodDialogues.com asking about technology in food. processes, methods, or knowledge." We're used to technology with the latest mobile phones, music players and cars, but what about technology related to food? We received a question from
What production practices or technologies have researchers found that help grow healthier food?
To answer this question, Best Food Facts reached out to three of our Food System Experts:
Dr. Peter Davies, Professor of Animal Science, University of Minnesota
Dr. Tom Tomich, WK Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems, University of California, Davis
Best Food Facts: What production practices or technologies have researchers found that help grow healthier food?
Dr. Hurd: "One of the most exciting things I’m seeing right now in livestock production has to do with food safety for consumers. Researchers are testing the potential for animal vaccines for bacteria found on food. I’ve done some analysis and studies are showing that these vaccinations could be very effective in reducing food-borne illness. There are two products already conditionally licensed by USDA, and about 30,000-50,000 animals were vaccinated in 2011 as part of research studies. It is a real possibility that this on-farm intervention could help consumers.
"Another practice for livestock is planning. For example - a smart farmer knows exactly how many animals each building can house, how long they’ll stay, and keeps them moving through to keep them healthy. For farmers, health is the number one prerequisite for staying in business. Without health, there is no way they can stay in business.
"Lastly, using available technologies and putting preventative measures in place is important – things like vaccinating animals, using antibiotics responsibly and controlling the environment of barns (ensuring proper air flow, manure storage and removal, etc.) really makes a difference for animal health, and in turn, food safety."
Dr. Davies: "Specifically talking about the pork industry, pork safety in the U.S. is better than it has ever been. We’ve practically eliminated some of the parasites that used to exist here and that some countries still see. These caused a lot of food-borne illness in the past, but have been dramatically reduced in our current systems. We’ve done a lot better job of managing and decreasing the risks for contamination in packing plants as well – which has led to substantially decreased risks of salmonella. Things have definitely gotten better – not worse.
"Many of the things we’ve done over the last 20-30 years in the pork industry have been largely directed at improving animal health. We have reduced a number of previously common pork pathogens. There are still some diseases that are a challenge to the industry, but we’ve been able to implement practices like single-sourcing of animals, establishing breeding stock pyramids with genetics companies, etc. – these are all reasons we do have such high productivity today. We’re not an industry without issues, but we’ve made strong and documented progress in reducing these issues."
Dr. Tomich: "In California, we’re very interested in water and nutrient use efficiency. One possibility is widespread use of water and nutrient sensors to guide input decisions. These technologies are becoming more affordable. Technologies like this allow for better management of scarce natural resources.
"In some areas like the Midwest, there’s a great amount of interest and research in conservation tillage and 'no till' to conserve resources, including soil and energy. A closely-related scientific goal is advancing our understanding and ability to manage ecology of the soil. We’ve come to learn over the past decade or so that soil is a living ecosystem. Those soil organisms play crucial roles in soil fertility, pest control, greenhouse gas emissions, and many other functions shaping soil health. Looking forward, research may be able to make great strides in our ability to manage soil ecology to enhance agricultural productivity and environmental goals.
"More generally, we need to continue to invest in productivity-enhancing research so that we’re increasing production while preserving the environment. Since productivity depends on natural resources and environmental health, these goals are closely related and, indeed, I think they are complementary."