Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Organic Breakthrough: Pesticides out, Electrons in

We are consuming more now than ever, and thus the demand is enormous. Suppliers have a little secret that the average consumer does not know or ask about, and that is, how this increasing demand is being met.

One company that has led the way in discovering the solution to that very problem is Monsanto. They are the makers/creators of a well-known herbicide, Roundup, used for commercial soybean crops and maize. Monsanto also introduced BGH (bovine growth hormone), which involves injecting cows with artificial steroids/hormones that would allow a much higher volume of production, thus meeting increased demand. The results have us consuming unhealthy amounts of God knows what and the animal activists boycotting.

The processes by which we meet these demands in America are outlawed in most countries around the world because of the concern of genetically modified foods. Monsanto isn’t allowed to touch the food supply in most parts of Europe and Canada.

With our cows and chickens being pumped full of steroids and antibiotics, and our veggies tainted with chemicals, there is no way we can continue on this path without serious complications. We have already started seeing the effects of such tactics, and so we have turned to organic. We are becoming more conscientious of what goes into our bodies and the process by which our food is produced. But, with organic comes a very important question and concern; does organic mean a greater potential for contamination? Some feel that it’s not worth taking the risk nor is it worth paying more for a supposedly healthier alternative.

We have seen recent outbreaks of contaminated vegetables and the results can cost millions, and possibly even lives. What if there was a solution to the problem for not only organics, but for commercial crops as well, that didn’t involve chemicals.

According to Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, there is a solution, and it works.

Instead of using harmful fungicides on crops, researchers have developed a method that involves bombarding seeds with electrons to kill fungal spores and viruses.

A growing number of consumers prefer to buy organic foods that have been grown without the use of chemical pesticides. Conventional farming practice involves treating seeds with a mixture of chemicals: Fungicides to protect the emerging seedlings from attack by microscopic fungi, insecticides against wireworms, aphids and biting insects, herbicides to suppress weeds.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP in Dresden have developed an alternative to fungicide treatment.

“If cereal crops succumb to disease, this is usually due to microscopic fungi and spores present on the outer surface and in the husk of the seeds. Instead of using chemical products to eradicate these spores, we make use of accelerated electrons,” says FEP team leader Dr. Olaf Röder.

So what happens when the electrons hit the seeds?

“It’s not unlike cooking. For instance, when you make strawberry jam, the germs are killed by the high temperature – and your jam will keep for years. The electrons destroy the chemical bonds that hold together the molecules in the fungal spores and other pathogens, but without generating heat. You might say that they cause the molecules to explode,” explains Röder.

The plant developed by the researchers exposes the seed to electrons as it falls through the treatment zone. It is capable of treating 30 metric tons of seeds per hour – or disinfecting the entire surface of around 200,000 individual seeds per second. But the greatest challenge is not the speed of the process.

“Plant seeds are living organisms. If we damage the plant embryo, the seed will not germinate. We therefore have to dose the energy of the electrons very precisely, to ensure that they penetrate no further than the outer layers of the seed,” says Röder.

The researchers are disinfecting around 5,000 metric tons of seeds per year in collaboration with seed growers Schmidt-Seeger-GmbH.

“Our method has been approved for use in conventional arable farming, and is even recommended for use in organic farming. We are planning to set up a spin-off company to take over and expand these production activities,” reports Röder.

At the Parts2Clean fair from October 28 to 30 in Stuttgart, the research team will be demonstrating numerous other disinfecting and sterilization technologies for the pharmaceutical and medical engineering industries, in addition to the e-ventus technology for seeds described above.

Original here

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