December 19, 2014

Review of the first ETIA Talk on “Nuclear Technology in Agriculture”


Last week’s ETIA Talks expert panel on ’Nuclear Technology in Agriculture?’ was the first of a series on alternative approaches on Sustainable Agriculture. Once again, academics, professionals, students, and other interested audience flocked the Festsaal of the Diplomatic Academy, engaging in an interactive discussion, sharing facts, viewpoints, and objectives.

Panel speakers were Friederike Strebl (engineer at Seibersdorf Laboratories), Carl Blackburn (food irradiation specialist at IAEA/FAO joint mission), and Wolfgang Pirklhuber (Green Party spokesperson, organic farmer), led in discussion by moderator Franz Josef Maringer (professor at BOKU and TU).

The view that food treatment with low-dose irradiation could have remarkable benefits for worldwide food security was countered with arguments referring to the uncertainty of damages this technology could cause on individual health and social structures related to agriculture.

Several examples were mentioned, how irradiation benefits communities in developing countries today. For example, Mexican farmers can sell their products to the United States, because irradiation is used to kill pathogens otherwise carried across the borders. In Indonesia irradiated food lasts longer and survives transportation, which otherwise would have gone bad due to the regional climate. Irradiation responds to climate change includes activating seeds to grow more quickly mitigating against declining agricultural land. Therefore they can grow in high altitude and drought.

However, it was emphasized that this technology is very capital intensive and facilities cannot be installed everywhere. Further distances have to be covered by the agricultural produce, which can harm the environment and localized structures of production. Concerning health, scientists agree it is safe and almost all the nutritional value is preserved. Nuclear waste production is kept minimal by predominantly using electron beams and cobalt 60 – a recyclable material.

In Europe the application of irradiation is stagnating. The central explanation was that it is not necessary in our conditions. Irradiation in Europe is basically reduced to herbs and spices, as well as meals for sensitive patients in hospitals.

Permitting irradiated foods to enter the European Union was suggested to benefit consumers and producers in developing countries, consistently countered by the more feasible objective of building regional food markets. The panelists agreed that there are certain areas and products in which irradiation is necessary and makes sense, but that it poses one path among many to ensure food security.

ETIA Talks is an annual series of panel discussions organized by Master students of the Environmental Technology and International Affairs (ETIA) with support of DA students.

The panel topics explore energy and environmental technologies, and how these interconnect with society, politics, international relations, and development economics. The event aims to raise awareness for these issues by bringing together experts, politicians, and professionals to create a wide range of perspectives in an open atmosphere between the various disciplines.

Join our next panel on fertilizers in agriculture on 3 March 2015 and keep up-to-date with upcoming events via www.etiatalks.com.


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