Stack, a plant pathologist and expert on food security, says insuring a healthy crop is the best road to food security. New pathogens and insects are clearly a threat to the ability of farmers worldwide in producing enough food to feed the planet in the future.

In addition to providing enough food, we also want to reduce poverty and improve public health. These three factors are so intertwined that it is virtually impossible to separate one from the other, the Kansas State food security expert contends.

Stack says he is confident farmers can produce enough food to feed nine billion people, if we are willing to make some changes on a global basis. 

First, he says, we have to recognize that free trade isn’t free. “I want to make it clear, I’m not anti-trade, but I am for trade with responsibilities.

“If trade is the solution to food insecurity and we want to bring developing nations into the global marketplace, we have a big challenge. At this time, we simply don’t have the infrastructure needed to produce and transport food that is free of pests and pathogens,” Stack says.

“As we increase our trade with more nations, we risk the threat of introducing pests and pathogens that threaten our ability to produce food. Plant health and plant security are essential to our ability to continue to increase yields and thus food production,” he adds.

“By opening up our country to trade from countries without the necessary safeguards against crop/food pathogens and insects, we are opening the flood gates to these kinds of problems,” Stack says.

“For example, we now grow most of the ornamental and nursery materials in foreign countries. These plants come into a port, Miami for example, and they go through an inspection process and are loaded on trucks for transport to retail centers. These crops have been harvested in a foreign country, run through their plant inspection process and through our inspection process and on trucks to the public in a matter of a day or two.

“That short two-day time turn-around from field to consumer is much shorter than the incubation time for most diseases and shorter than the biological incubation of virtually undetectable stages of many insects. Factor in the lack of a visual inspection to detect these pathogens and insects and the reality that only 1-2 percent are checked, and there is real concern for safety and security,” Stack explains.

In the Southeast over the past two years homeowners and farmers have had to contend with at least three new insect pests never before found in North America. While the marmorated brown stinkbug and the Asian soybean beetle have been bigger threats to homeowners in the Carolinas and Virginia, the threat to crops is significant.

“To meet future food production and distribution goals, we simply can’t afford to allow food security to be used to promote products from one country over another,” Stack says.