Your favourite food may be under attack

Having to rely on a single type or variety of foodstuff is dangerous business.

In the mid-19th century, a disproportionate share of the potatoes grown in Ireland were of a single variety, the 'Irish Lumper', because that flourished in the poor Irish soil. Crops failed for several years in a row in Ireland, the Scottish Highlands and – later – in mainland Europe.

From 1845 until 1857 over a million Irish died and forced another two million to emigrate (read: flee) to unaffected countries like the US because their potatoes were under attack from a strain (HERB-1) of a fungus-like organism, Phytophthora infestans.

You might think that modern insecticides or fungicides, algicides, and all other types of biocides are potent enough to counter all possible threats. But they are not.

During the middle of the last century, the Panama disease virtually wiped out the single most important banana variety, the ‘Gros Michel’, and we are now forced to eat the lesser tasting ‘Cavendish’. But that one is now also under threat from a new, mutated version of the Panama disease. See here for more banana news.
But there’s more: six major types of pineapple exist but we grow and eat only one cultivar, the ‘Smooth Cayenne’. Cultivation of all the other varieties is dwindling. The ‘Smooth Cayanne’ started its life scarily spiky, green on the outside and, more often than not, sour and fibrous within. In 1996, a new hybrid appeared: the Gold Extra Sweet pineapple (or MD-2), the first of a new type of low-acid pineapple. But it still was a ‘Smooth Cayenne’.
[Image by Asit Ghosh| Tommy Atkins]
The mango is suffering similar genetic erosion. The ‘Tommy Atkins’, which dominates the world export trade of mango’s because it is valued for its very long shelf life and because it has a good tolerance of handling and transportation with little or no bruising or degradation. But the 'Tommy Atkins' may have all those positive traits, it certainly does not have the same exquisite flavour as that of a ‘Chaunsa’, which is still grown in Pakistan.

No comments:

Post a Comment