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Xavi Parra, PhD in Chemistry and Director of R&D+i at Citrosol

Green chemistry for effective organic farming

Xavi Parra is in charge of the Citrosol laboratory, a cutting-edge center dedicated to the research and development of new post-harvest techniques, and, in this interview, he offers a perspective on how post-harvest can be adapted to the needs of organic farming. A “green chemistry” that makes it possible “to achieve effectiveness equivalent to those of traditional synthetic chemical products” within the ecological model.

Valencia Fruits: Was it safer 40 years ago than it is now to eat fresh fruit and vegetables?

Xavi Parra: This question is often asked. Indeed, there is a belief that in the past people ate in a more natural, safer and healthier way, with “less chemistry”. The first important point to answer this question is to specify the time horizon for said comparison. If we look back to 40 years ago as you mention, the answer is no. From 1980 until now, national and European authorities, and indeed on all other continents, have withdrawn many phytosanitary products from the market due to the risks to human health or to the environment that their use entailed. The case of DDT or other insecticides is a good example. Many products that posed risks have been withdrawn by order of the authorities.

Now we eat more healthily, the risks mentioned are very carefully evaluated by regulatory bodies, the EFSA in Europe for example, restricting release to the market of only those products that are considered 100% safe, with their dosage being set along with their maximum residue limit on the fruit (LMR). Monitoring and control programs are established to ensure compliance, thus, in short, taking all necessary measures to guarantee both consumer and environmental safety. Therefore, all these requirements, evaluation and control measures have been intensified and made stricter over the years, and it is now, undoubtedly, much safer to consume treated fresh fruit and vegetable produce than it was 40 years ago, and certainly than when the first phytosanitary products began to be used, at a time when regulations were still to be fully developed.

“Now we eat more healthily, the risks mentioned are very carefully evaluated by regulatory bodies”

How do you see the future of post-harvest? 

XP. There are two fundamental trends to which post-harvest technology will undoubtedly have to offer a firm response in the coming years, directing development and innovation in their direction: sustainability and respect for the environment plus the growing demand for more natural fruit and vegetable products, without residues of synthetic chemical products, with organic certification, ECO or BIO.

What is Citrosol’s proposal for this sustainable agriculture?

The demand for sustainable technologies, based on the circular economy, responsible use of resources and respect for the environment is already an unstoppable trend, both as a result of legislative pressure (environmental regulations, as well as controls, have become stricter over the years) as well as consumer pressure, due to the increase in “conscious consumers”, who make their purchases not only based on the intrinsic characteristics of the product, but also on the fact that the product is produced under sustainable conditions, with respect for the environment, for animals, for human and labor rights, etc. We find, therefore, that it is no longer enough to offer the market effective and profitable post-harvest solutions for the customer, it is not enough to control levels of decay, dehydration or changes in the skin of the fruit, but we also have to achieve these objectives with systems paying heed to sustainably.

To these ends, Citrosol’s intention is to continue to always integrate this dimension of corporate social responsibility as a fundamental pillar into each of its innovations, examples such as the Vertido Cero® (Zero Waste) system, Citrocide® Systems or quick-drying waxes, adhere to this dimension of sustainability and respect for the environment by saving water, mitigating the generation of waste products and reducing the carbon footprint, among others. It is important to highlight that these additional functionalities not only respond to social responsibility, but also have an impact on the profitability of our clients, since savings in water, fuel or waste management also have a direct impact on the bottom line.

And what is the current situation regarding the demand for organic farming products?

The demand for more natural fruit and vegetable produce, without residues of synthetic chemical products, mainly pesticides and fertilizers, is a growing trend and one that will surely continue to increase in the coming years. With that in mind, it is important to explain the differences between the terms “organic”, “ecological or ECO” and BIO, which are often used interchangeably by consumers, but which are different: an organic food is one in which pesticides have not been used, nor derived from genetically modified seeds, BIO foods are those that have not been genetically altered, but in which pesticides may have been used during their production and, finally, “organic” foods are those in which pesticides have not been used in their production but in which genetic manipulation may have been carried out.

This trend is, like that of sustainability, strongly influenced both by legislative pressure (since each time the limitation of synthetic active materials is greater by regulatory bodies), and by the pressure of those “conscious consumers ”, which in this case are looking not only for a product with excellent organoleptic characteristics, but also free of chemical residues and without genetic manipulation, which is normally associated by the consumer with what we call organic farming.

How can the post-harvest industry respond to those requirements that make organic farming unique?

The reduction or elimination of the use of synthetic pesticides of proven efficacy, entails, in the vast majority of cases, increased losses for the production and distribution chain and, finally, greater food waste, opening a debate that is not without controversy already seen at the time of the Green Revolution: use synthetic chemistry to avoid waste or not use it and be more natural, but condemn humanity to starvation in the long term. With that in mind, the challenge for those of us dedicated to post-harvest solutions lies precisely in finding “green chemistry” solutions, based on products of natural origin, with a low toxicological and ecotoxicological profile, which allow us to achieve efficiencies equivalent to those of the traditional synthetic chemical products, but that are compatible with an organic farming model, and that can also obtain legal use registration.

From our firm commitment to this philosophy, our BioCare by Citrosol range was born, within which our adjuvants from the Citrocide® range currently stand out for disinfection of fruit and vegetable process water, and PlantSeal® coatings, plant-based coatings with excellent weight loss and chilling injury control properties, which, while maintaining a high efficiency, even higher than that of conventional solutions, are indeed certified for use in organic farming. In tune with what the market and society demand, we will continue to work hard to expand this range of products in the coming years. Evidence of this is our Greencide, a new product for drencher treatment based on plant extracts, currently in the process of being registered and which we hope to be able to put on the market soon, which has shown efficacy comparable to that of synthetic fungicides in control of citrus decay, with a lasting effect over time, even in long storage periods, and with a long permissible delay time between infection and treatment, comparable to that of the fungicide of reference, imazalil.


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