Thursday, October 29, 2009


Those who are familiar with harvesting of coconuts will know why the professional climbers refuse to go up the tree during rainy season. It is next to impossible to climb a slippery surface, whether for man or animals and this principle has been made use of by scientists to preempt the menace from some of the pests. There are hundreds of pesticides, some approved and others ignored which find their way into the food system as a left over residue, causing long term harm to the consumers. No wonder people are increasingly sensitive to presence of pesticide residues in food realizing their damage potential and those fighting against indiscriminate use of pesticides in food production, handling, storage and distribution have a ready audience amongst these informed consumers.

It is still fresh in the memory of many people regarding the pesticide residue episode involving cola beverages which was orchestrated by some, becoming a partisan issue losing its credibility eventually. The pertinent question asked then was how marginally higher levels of pesticides in soft drinks are more critical than loads of such deadly chemicals already present in daily consuming materials like water, milk and other foods over which none seems to have any concern or control!

Pests are here to stay and controlling them is vital for the survival of humanity. While carrying out cost-benefit analysis studies, immediate and long term advantages need to be balanced against seriousness of the consequences of doing or not doing the same on consumers. Suppose all pesticides are banned overnight, what will be its effect on food production and how many people are going to be starved to death due to shortage of foods? No doubt crops are being raised under the organic food regime without using pesticides but is it sustainable? If every one on earth opts for organic foods can we produce enough to feed them? Unlikely. There are many natural and bio pesticides, without being toxic to humans but even these are not available in sufficient quantities to cover 100% of agricultural production.

Viewed against the above settings, any effort to reduce use of pesticides is welcome as long as it does not cause problems, worse than the present situation. The recent reported development of a chemical that prevent some of the pests like cockroaches, termites and ants accessing to the food source by scientists in UK is based on inhibiting the ability of these pests to climb any surface by making them lubricate their paws which makes the surface slippery and unclimbable. According this technology, cheap, durable, non-toxic and environmentally safe chemical is used to coat the surface areas where these pests frequent. Normally these pests secrete a fluid from the pads below their feet which give them sufficient grip to climb or move on slanted surfaces easily and the new surface coating chemical changes the characteristics of this secretion into an emulsion similar to custard or ketch up which makes the surface slippery.

Of course this cannot be strictly called a pesticide but an aid to repel them when they approach the food. This technology appears to have much more application potential in non food areas and besides its use for crop protection during storage or pest proofing of food containers, ventilators and piping, it may help protecting furniture, homes and wooden structures. For agricultural operations, it is not the right candidate for affording protection to the crops in the field. Food processing industry may benefit significantly if walls, floors, ceilings, windows, doors and other fixtures can be treated with this repellent, improving the sanitation of the manufacturing premises significantly.


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