By David Matthew C. Gopilan, DOST-STII, DOST Media Service
Safe and healthy food is a basic human need and right. It is needed to sustain overall health and economic development in light of the recent pandemic.
With this, a research program called FRESH FARMS or Food Risk and Safety Analysis in Agricultural Farms towards Improvement of Control Strategies for Food Safety is currently implemented to ensure that the food from farms is free from any contaminations.
This is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through the Saganang Pagkain Para sa Lahat or SAPAT Program of the DOST-National Research Council of the Philippines’ National Integrated Basic Research Agenda.
Divided into three project components, FRESH FARMS aims to detect parasites, potentially harmful bacteria, and heavy metals from fresh farm produce and environmental samples in select farms in the provinces of Laguna and Quezon.
The program is led by Dr. Vachel Gay V. Paller of University of the Philippines Los Baños - Institute of Biological Sciences (UPLB-IBS). She also handles the FRESH FARMS first project component, Parasite Contamination and Transmission in Selected Agricultural Farms in Laguna and Quezon Provinces Towards the Improvement of Control Strategies for Food Safety.
Joining her are Dr. Bernadette Mendoza, also from UPLB-IBS and Assistant Professor Christian de la Cruz of Laguna State Polytechnic University. Dr. Mendoza handles the project detecting bacterial pathogen contamination in farms while Asst. Prof. Mendoza takes the heavy metal contamination.
They will also visit the existing practices of farms and know how these practices increase the chances of contamination of their produce.
Dr. Paller cautioned the public from eating raw leafy vegetables since they have direct contact to soil, animals, and water which may be contaminated.
According to her, vegetables that are eaten raw are not subjected to heat which could possibly destroy harmful parasites and pathogens.
Leafy vegetables, particularly the red ruby lettuce, have “uneven crevices” or corners where eggs of parasites could be hiding. If left uncleaned, it poses danger to human health.
Dr. Paller detected hookworm eggs and other parasitic, worm-like species in samples of leafy vegetables in organic and conventional farms. Possible causes are use of manure as fertilizer, presence of farm and feral animals, as well as rodents and pests.
Meanwhile, Asst. Prof. de la Cruz found that selected samples of soil and irrigation waters from farms are contaminated with heavy metals, particularly arsenic and lead.
Although he did not report if the levels of contamination pose danger to human health, he explained that heavy metals can be toxic even at very low concentrations.
To reduce chances of heavy metal contamination, he suggested using organic pesticides rather than synthetic pesticides.
Toxic heavy metals usually come from agrochemical applications, industrial discharges, car exhausts, and mining.
“We are the problem but worry not, we are also the solution,” Asst. Prof. de la Cruz concluded.