Twenty years ago,the health scare over the use of the chemical alar on apple crops effectively launched the modern organic business. Now the fungicide industry is ready to exact its revenge as a new class of green fungicides (yes, really) could potentially make expensive organic produce less attractive to money-minded shoppers.
Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan are working on the development of “paldoxins,” a class of fungicides that kill disease-causing fungi without destroying beneficial organisms. Paldoxins work by disrupting a chemical signalling pathway that fungi use to break down plant defenses. The disruption causes plants to boost their defenses and overpower the attacking fungi without any of the toxic side effects of traditional fungicides. (The fungicide industry has taken a lot of flack recently because of toxic products harming frogs, earthworms, and sometimes even humans.)
So far, University of Saskatchewan team has developed six synthetic paldoxins that can effectively protect fungicide-tolerant plants and vegetables, including rapeseed and mustard greens. The next step is to test paldoxins on difficult-to-protect crops like wheat, rye, and oat. If all goes well, paldoxins could be on the market within the next two years.
Green fungicides that can be safely sprayed on large amounts of crops won’t destroy the market for boutique organic foods, but they will make conventionally-grown fruits and veggies safer for mass consumption. And that’s a big deal for the food industry, which has long struggled with safety concerns.