The Water Research Commission has made R4,7 million available to the Department of Food Science at the University of Stellenbosch for research into the relationship between irrigation water quality and food safety.
There has been rising concern in the past few years over the health risks associated with polluted irrigation water on agricultural products, with numerous studies revealing high populations of pathogenic bacteria, such as E coli, strephylococcus and salmonella in some of the polluted rivers in the Western Cape. Prof Trevor Britz of the Department of Food Science, who will act as the project leader of the research, said international studies have revealed that contaminated irrigation water is the primary source of agricultural product contamination, especially where the products are raw or only subjected to minimal processing before being eaten.
H e believes this study is of the utmost importance to the agricultural industry, not only because irrigated products that are biologically contaminated could have a negative impact on consumer health, but also because of the impact of contaminated water on people who live close to these water resources or have to work with the contaminated products.
Daan Louw, spokesperson for the Deciduous Fruit Producers Trust and director of Optimal Agricultural Business Systems, says that producers supplied with water from the Berg River had been especially dissatisfied with the poor water quality, but that the municipality did not have sufficient funds to supply housing and good sanitation. e hoped that the research would enable the agricultural industry to negotiate better-quality water from municipalities and more funds for sanitation from the National Treasury. Louw pointed out that many fruit farms were not affected by polluted water, as the water was applied via drip or micro-irrigation systems and did not come into contact with the fruit. In addition, more than 40% of irrigation water is supplied from farm dams which are not polluted, and help to dilute and in effect reduce the impact of polluted water on production. Louw’s major concern was those people who still use or swim in this polluted water. – Glenneis Erasmus