Project Details The Importance of Chemistry in Maintaining a Secure Food Supply

Project No.:
Start Date:
01 July 2012
End Date:
12 August 2019


Ever since populations have depended on farming for their food supply there has been a constant battle against pests that reduce it. The objective of the project is to examine how chemistry for the control of pests has been used and how it has developed from a trial and error basis to a more rational approach with the increased understanding of modes of action and the need for safety to humans and the environment. This will provide an understanding of how chemistry has contributed to securing the food supply and how it can help meet the challenges of feeding the growing population in the future.


Chemical control of pests has been used since the first days of farming and the various techniques will be reviewed in the context of the chemicals used and the pests to be controlled. The review will cover the early days of chemical control through to the current day and the development of the low rate products that we see today. The review will look at how the development of pesticides has evolved which today includes the rational design of pesticides based on structure/activity relationships and mode of action studies. Aspects of safety to humans and the environment will be considered with the focus on the physico-chemical properties required to ensure that pesticides can be used without adverse effects whilst still maintaining their efficacy. The final part of the project will address the challenge of maintaining a secure food supply, with sustainable agricultural systems, as the global population increases. This will be looked at in the context of a continuing expansion of the pest management toolbox with interactions between chemistry, biochemistry and biology* and will include integrated pest management (IPM) and the use of genetically engineered crops designed to produce their own insecticides or which exhibit resistance to broad spectrum herbicide products or significant insect pests.

IUPAC, and in particular the sub-committee on crop protection chemistry, involving participants from academia, government and industry, is uniquely positioned, by virtue of the available skill set, to give an authoritative and unbiased view of how chemistry impacts on the food supply and is placed to help meet the challenges of the future.

*This integration of disciplines is a current theme for IUPAC and was discussed at the IUPAC led World Chemistry Leadership Meeting (WCLM) in Puerto Rico, with particular reference to the paper by Whitesides & Deutch (Nature 496, pp. 21-22, 6 Jan 2011;


Feb 2016 update – The project deals with the importance of chemistry in ensuring a secure food supply. The outcome of the project will be several chapters or sections detailing the role of chemicals and chemistry in food production from about 7500 years ago to the current day. At the moment several sections have been completed and are out for review.

March 2019 update – This project is almost complete. A chapter including all of the information dealing with chemistry and a secure food supply, has been prepared for publication in a book entitled “Sustainable Agrochemistry: A Compendium of Technologies” to be published by Springer Nature, Ed. Silvio Vaz.

May 2019 update – The book published by Springer Nature is available as ebook ; the chapter (first online 29 May 2019), titled The Battle for a Sustainable Food Supply (pp. 13-84) by John Unsworth, Yoshiaki Nakagawa, Caroline Harris, Gijs Kleter is an outcome is this project.

Last update published in Chem Int Oct 2019, p. 46

Last update 31 Oct 2019