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    Preparing Lobster for Competition

Bio-pesticides ' good for the farmer, good for the consumer?

Consumers increasingly demand food free from chemical additives and the residues of chemical pesticides.

UK shoppers are increasingly switching to a safer, more natural shopping basket even though organic and fair-trade products are generally a bit more expensive.

A sample of 432 UK supermarket shoppers revealed that just over two thirds said their purchasing behaviour had changed significantly in the last ten years.

In particular, spending habits had shifted towards buying more free range (46 percent), more fair trade (42 percent), more locally sourced food (32 percent), and more organic and less processed foods (32 percent).  So in the UK the numbers of shoppers choosing organic and fair trade products are slowly increasing.

However,TABS Group, a Connecticut-based US marketing and research looked at shoppers' behaviour and found no significant year on year growth in in the number of U.S. shoppers buying such products between 2008 and 2009.

According to TABS Group president and founder Dr. Kurt Jetta the usage results for its 2009 study were remarkably similar to the results 2008 with 38% of adults claiming to have purchased anything from the major organic categories in the last six months: "Identical to last year."

The study found that organic fresh fruit had the highest purchase incidence, at 26 percent, with organic fresh vegetables close behind, at 25 percent. Seventeen percent and 16 percent of respondents, respectively, said they bought organic dairy products, eggs and milk.

But if you consider that these surveys were carried out inthe midst of a global economic crisis, which has had a massive impact on consumer spending, the figures nonetheless show that roughly a third of food purchased is organic - surely not an insignificant number?

Can food be cheap and healthy?

Particularly in the developed world, however, consumers have been "educated" by the big superstores to expect food to be cheap and many of the big players now offer "budget-priced" own-brand cheaper options, particularly attractive during a recession. But what do we know about the quality of these products? And at what cost to the already-pressurised profit margins for farmers?

As more of the old chemical fertilisers and pesticides are banned by food standards agencies around the world is there an answer to these seemingly contradictory pressures between cost and quality?

Biopesticides point the way forward

Biopesticides are derived from natural materials like animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. For example, garlic, mint, neem, papaya and baking soda all have pesticidal applications and are considered biopesticides. Compared to conventional chemical pesticides Bio-pesticides are less harmful because they generally have specific target pests and are therefore less likely to affect other beneficial insects, birds and mammals. They have generally lower toxicity levels, decompose quickly and thus do not cause the kind of environmental problems associated with chemical pesticides. Used as part of Integrated Pest Management programs (for example with biofungicides or biological control of insects by using their natural enemies to feed on them ) biopesticides can greatly reduce the use of conventional pesticides without compromising crop yields. Marcus Meadows-Smith, CEO of AgraQuest, a leading US-based company specialising in researching low-chem - or biological - agricultural products and their developmet, believes it is not right for farmers to have to compromise on yield and profitability as older, more toxic pesticides are getting banned, leaving gaps in their portfolios.

He says biopesticides now account for $1 billion (£638.5 million) of the global $40bn agrochemical market and over the next 10 years the biopesticides, or low-chem, market is expected to grow to $10bn.

And that could be good news for farmers, the quality of their land, and for health and price conscious consumers.

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Ali Withers is an experienced, qualified journalist specialising in a variety of consumer issues including organic food, its production and use of low-chem biop-esticides, bio-fungicides and yield enhancers for sustainable farming.. A useful web resource she has found is for the US-based low-chem agricultural products R & D company AgraQuest http://www.agraquest.com/