Last week I attended a workshop in Cologne that was all about fruits and vegetables. It was organized by The European Fruit and Vegetables Association and the European Union. The campaign, “Cultivating the Taste of Europe”, tours through European cities with a mobile greenhouse to spread knowledge about European fruit and vegetables production and to clear up misconceptions especially German consumers have about the respective production methods. As I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables myself and care about where and how the food I put into my body was grown, it was a really interesting and insightful event for me. It certainly cleared up some critical concerns I had, too. In this post I am going to share with you some interesting facts I learned!
As I have stated before, the campaign tours through Europe with a mobile greenhouse. That is because the greenhouse is the most-commonly used method to produce fruit and vegetables in Spain, Europe’s biggest producer and exporter. However, many people, especially Germans, have prejudices against Spain’s cultivation methods, such as that the greenhouse is inefficient and artificial as well as that it uses a lot of water and produces a lot of waste. Jan van der Blom, a Dutch expert for greenhouse production working in Almería, Spain, gave us answers to questions many concerned German consumers have:
1. Greenhouses use a lot of water – does this exacerbate the water shortage in Spain?
Producers understand that water is a very valuable resource. Because of that, they have been working to reduce water consumption. Some techniques they have introduced are for example sanding techniques, drip irrigation or rainwater harvesting. This allows the water usage in Almería, where about 3.5 million tons of fruits and vegetables are produced every year, to be half the amount of the Spanish average.
2. Is the plastic used in greenhouses and open air production, especially plastic foils, recycled or properly disposed?
Currently, 70-80% of all plastic that is used can be recycled and they are working towards their goal of recycling 100%. There are certain incentives to get producers to rightfully recycle their plastics, such as that they get paid 10 cent per kilo plastic they recycle. Recycled greenhouse covers for example can be reused in the form of pellets or chipboard. Added to that, they make sure to use materials for as long as possible and try to minimize resource usage and waste production.
3. Is it true that Greenhouse and open air production has detrimental effects on our climate?
As opposed to Southeast and Eastern Spain, where temperature has been reported to increase by 0.54 degrees Celsius per decade since 1973, weather stations in Almería have reported the opposite trend: a slight cooling of -0.3 degrees Celsius for the same period. The reason for this I that the white plastic surface on the greenhouses reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere. Added to that, horticultural products have a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to other agricultural products, especially meat and other livestock.
4. Overproduction is a problem that occurs in the cultivation of fruit and vegetables – what happens with the produce that isn’t sold?
Unmarketed produce is given to the food bank – in the last campaign this was a total of more than 5 million kilos. However, there are certain legal difficulties, and food banks have a capacity limit. These actions can be seen as an indicator that producing companies show social concerns and try to respond to the reuse of food, avoidance of waste and reduction of pollution.
5. There are concerns about the food safety and nutritional value of fruit and vegetables coming from Spain – what can you say about that topic and the use of pesticides the Spanish production?
Jan van der Blom explained to us their way of controlling pests of diseases of plants: natural pest control. For example, they use bumblebees for pollination and we spotted a tiny green insect that is used against pests, too. Added to that, a report published by the European Food Safety Agency on pesticide residues in the EU that analyzed more than 84.000 samples of food, showed that 97.2% of those samples did not contain quantifiable waste or were at least below the legal limits. Those that did exceed legal limits, were mostly reported from products imported from third countries, and contained pesticides that are not approved in the EU.
The event certainly provided new insights for me, and I hope with my post I could provide these insights to you, too. It also motivated me to do more research on where and how the produce I buy is grown, cause fruit and vegetables might not actually be that healthy if polluted with pesticides!