From Farm to Table
Safe Agriculture and Healthy Life
Agriculture has always been the foundation of human survival since ancient times. No matter how rapidly science and technology progress, it remains the fundamental life support. It not only represents a productive industry but also includes life and ecology. The value it creates surpasses by far the market figures that are presented.
As agriculture relies on the natural environment, it is inevitably affected by factors such soil conditions, climate, storms and diseases. When a natural disaster occurs, all the efforts farmers have put in for months or even a whole year could turn into bubbles. On the other hand, there is the impact from globalization and free trade on domestic agriculture since Taiwan joined WTO.
Therefore, the current agriculture policy is aimed to move domestic agriculture toward "value increase" by transforming traditionally labor-intensive industries into knowledge-based industries to elevate the competitiveness of Taiwanese agriculture.
In an era of consumer awakening, "food quality" is more and more valued. The so-called "food quality" does not refer only to the external appeal, taste and freshness; safety is also included. Safety of food means farm management by the producer, such as the sources of seeds and seedlings, pest and weed elimination, application, dates and amounts of fertilization or vaccination, harvesting or slaughtering dates and basic information about the producer.
These make up the crop growth journal called "crop production profile" that renders the production-marketing process transparent, from the farm to the display shelf in the vending outlet, so that consumers can have access to the information on the product's growth, harvest, processing, transportation and marketing through channels such as computers, the Internet and cell phones. This is exactly the "Safe Agricultural Production and Marketing System" that agricultural authorities and production units have worked hard to build to allow consumers to shop and consume without any worries, as well as uplift Taiwan's agricultural production value. In the future, safety will become a prerequisite in agricultural exports.
The Awareness for Food Safety
The purpose of the crop production profile system is to keep track of the history of agricultural products, and the mad cow disease is the original cause of establishing traceability of food sources.
In 1985, in Kent County, England, some cows were found to be scared and easily irritable before their movement became slow and difficult. These animals eventually grew weak and died. Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture performed autopsies on the brains of these cows and discovered cerebral deterioration and a large amount of brain nerves had died. In 1986, the disease was confirmed to be bovine spongiform encephalopathies (commonly called the mad cow disease), and the cause was determined to be from the fodder.
After years of study, researchers concluded that the proprietors had made the feed from sheep dying of scrapie and this led to the infection of the mad cow disease. The latency could be as long as ten years, but once it surfaced, infected cows would die within weeks. The scrapie is the contagious spongiform encephalopathies in sheep and goats. It is a disease that is transmissible around among several mammals. The first case was discovered in Iceland two hundred years ago.
In order to trace the substance that had caused the mad cow disease, the British government created the "Special Commission for the Research and Investigation of the Mad Cow Disease" in 1990 to develop production profile records of cows. When the second mad cow disease crisis broke out in 1996, the European Union decided to introduce the crop production profile system since it was yet uncertain whether the mad cow disease was transmissible between man and animals. In 1997, preliminary basic regulations were drafted. Today, many countries have adopted traceability of food information as an agricultural trade prerequisite to ensure food safety.
Establishment of Production and Marketing System of Safe Agriculture
Along with income rises, consumers make tougher demands for quality. To provide them with safe agricultural products to ensure worry-free food and beverage consumption, the Council of Agriculture initiated in 2004 the Agricultural Production Profile System by using communications technology to monitor farm conditions and information technology to help record crop growth, and opening all the information on control, management and marketing of products from farm to table to put consumers at ease.
When consumers shopped for food in the past, they could only judge by the appearance and smell. There was no access to hidden information such as genetic modification. With the creation of safe agricultural production-marketing systems, beginning from the source and cultivation of the seedling, a "journal' is kept by using text and photos to record the production throughout the progress of sowing, nursing, fertilizing, harvesting and processing. On the marketing side, transportation and storage information is also recorded. Consumers in and outside Taiwan can then have access to information on the product's production-marketing process and photographic record through the computer at home or the vending outlet, or even the mobile phone. Such transparent information will ease consumers' worry about whether there is any hidden information.
Developing safe and high-grade agriculture is meant not just to protect the interests of consumers in Taiwan. In the trend of trade liberalization, safe agriculture will be an advantage for Taiwanese agriculture's international competitiveness. For farmers, value upgrade means direct earnings. Production and marketing groups or individual farmers producing safe agricultural products will represent quality and the trust and reliance between producers and consumers is established.