Understand and reduce adverse health impacts

Use best available science to better understand and reduce adverse human and environmental health and safety impacts of agricultural inputs and practices.

Heightened concern and demand in the U.S. and globally for a healthy, safe, and affordable food supply has driven research and adoption of new technologies and practices that have reduced exposure both to potentially harmful agricultural and food inputs as well as foodborne pathogens. These include improvements in contamination detection methods through improved institutional capacity and reduced costs of diagnostics. However, concerns remain that there is insufficient scientific understanding about the comprehensive, synergistic, and cumulative effects to human health and the environment from exposure to inputs used in agriculture production and food manufacturing, such as pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, transgenic seeds, and antibiotics, and hormones.

In 2007, the U.S. National Research Council published “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and Strategy,” which called for improved scientific understanding and sound methods and metrics for risk assessment. Widely embraced by diverse groups, the report recommends harnessing scientific advances to make toxicity testing quicker, less expensive, and more directly relevant to human exposures. More effort is needed to advance these and other strategies recommended for improved understanding.

Alongside improved scientific understanding, new practices and advances are needed in integrated agro-ecological approaches, such as ecological intensification. These systems are designed to increase crop production while also improving environmental, social, and economic sustainability by managing biodiversity and ecosystem services. Diversified systems, which are currently a modest but growing component of U.S. agriculture, can also play a role. These systems include conservation agriculture, organic farming, alternative livestock systems, and mixed crop/livestock systems. Increased research in these systems is needed to further advance crop yields while protecting the environment.

Improvements in food safety will also be needed to further reduce the adverse health effects from biological contaminants. Each year, food-borne illness affects more than 48 million Americans. The Food Safety Modernization Act represented a sweeping reform of food safety laws. Support for its implementation is critical.

Total pesticide use in US 1964-2004


Reported coastal sites with hypoxic zones globally 1910-2000


Incidence of select food-borne illness 1996-2010


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