By Graeme Sait
THE internet is pregnant with the potential to deliver us from apathy and misinformation. With the promise of an unlimited, uncensored smorgasbord of information, we should no longer live like mushrooms, fed dung in the dark. It seems that enlightenment is now within the grasp of everyone, but . . .
Although the net is our greatest democratic tool, there is a catch. Within the framework of this profound freedom, there is ample opportunity to muddy the water, and this has become a prime strategy for those intent upon preserving their territory.
Imagine yourself on the board of a multinational chemical company. You have used your massive advertising budget to create brand credibility, over several decades, and suddenly ‘digital people power’ threatens that credibility. Perhaps a social media maelstrom is jeopardising all of your hard-won gains. How do you respond when cornered by the digital truth-sharers?
It is so simple. You hire some talented spin doctors and beat the vigilantes at their own game. You can easily afford to ensure that credible arguments flow at equal rates from both sides of the debate. If you cherry pick the science, or your ‘experts’, you can usually demonstrate almost anything.
The consumer is the hapless victim, and they are often left floundering. What on earth do you believe when the conflicting evidence all seems so compelling? It is inevitably confusing, and often that was the intent. The most common human response to confusion is apathy. When you are rendered unsure, you simply do nothing.
The spin doctors and stooges have been wheeled out in force, following the recent revelations relative to the world’s most widely used chemical, glyphosate.
This was a chemical that has been intensively marketed as a completely safe chemical, a rapidly biodegradable weed killer. Salesmen, pushing the home garden version, purportedly drank from the bottle, to demonstrate the safety. Your beneficial gut organisms would theoretically biodegrade the chemical and render it harmless.
Glyphosate has recently been listed as “a probable carcinogen” by the super-conservative World Health Organisation (WHO). However, there is a growing body of research that suggests that the negatives extend well beyond this cancer link. In fact, there are those that are now calling this ubiquitous chemical “the new DDT”.
The glyphosate outrage
We were told it was the softest of chemicals, however, it is anything but. Here are just some of the findings:
- Bioaccumulation– there is evidence that the chronically ill amongst us will often present with unusually high levels of glyphosate in their blood. Most of us have a measurable quantity of this contaminant in our systems, because it is often found in our most popular food, bread. GM soy crops, which have been modified to withstand the herbicide, are often sprayed three times per season before they make their way into the soy flour that is a core component in most supermarket bread (including many Australian baked items). The Europeans boast that they wisely avoided the growing of GM crops. However, the production of protein crops in Europe has slumped in the face of the massive import of GM soy, as stock-food. They may not directly grow these problem crops, but glyphosate is deeply embedded in the food chain of every meat-eating European.
- Reduced nutrient uptake– ‘we are what we absorb’ and herein lies a problem. Glyphosate kills plants by reducing their capacity to uptake nutrients and it may well do something similar to us. Glyphosate-induced vitamin deficiency has recently been linked to cancer in children. If this research is credible, then surely we must think again when spraying off wheat crops with glyphosate for more rapid dry down (a practice that has virtually become industry standard in some countries). In Australia, the wheat usually dries down naturally, but glyphosate is sprayed on so-called ‘health foods’ like mung beans and fava beans to dry them off for harvest.
Similarly, we might reconsider the use of this chemical to kill off potato crops (the western world’s most popular vegetable) to ease their harvestability. I suspect that some of the conventional potato growers out there may well feel confronted because they do not use glyphosate for this purpose. They actually choose a worse chemical, called paraquat, to finish the crop and simplify their harvest. Google ‘paraquat’ and make your own call. It is a strangely apathetic world when consumers sit back and allow this serious contamination of our major food crops with barely a whimper of discontent.
- Glyphosate increases the risk of lymphatic cancers– in one study, contact with this chemical actually doubled the risk of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Another study, published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health involved a meta-analysis of 41 different papers. Several farm chemicals were linked to Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but it was found that there was a direct link between glyphosate and a form of this disease called B-cell lymphoma.
- Glyphosate creates digestive chaos– it is particularly harsh on beneficial gut organisms. The mode of action of this chemical involves the shutdown of the Shikimate pathway. This pathway is integral to all life on the planet. The perpetrators of this chemical have noted that animals do not depend on this pathway, so there is no problem. The fatal flaw in this argument relates to the grim realisation that the 100 trillion organisms that inhabit a healthy digestive tract, do have a Shikimate pathway. The consequent damage to our inner life force has been strongly linked to autism, celiac disease, gluten intolerance and other plague auto-immune issues. There are multiple studies where the use of GM soy as stock food has damaged the digestive tracts of farm animals and chickens.
- Links to liver and kidney damage– Sri Lanka and Ecuador have banned glyphosate following conclusive evidence linking the weedkiller to increases in liver and kidney problems. In 2012, French researcher, Gilles-Éric Séralini, published a damning study called “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize”. The damage control spin doctors attacked the research, despite multiple and rigorous peer reviews, and successfully had it withdrawn from publication.
Séralini had capably demonstrated that the original short term studies, submitted by Monsanto, were suspect when longer periods were involved. The French researchers found serious issues when the feed study was extended out for two years. The regime involved feeding rats GM maize, featuring glyphosate levels that were lower than that allowable in drinking water. Séralini’s team discovered substantial kidney and liver damage associated with this food over a longer period and they also noted a marked increase in tumour development amongst the ‘treated’ rats. Thankfully, in a victory for real science, the Séralini research has recently been republished.
- Direct links to reproductive problems and spontaneous abortion – Dr Michael Antoniou and his research team demonstrated that low doses of glyphosate cause malformations in animals. They found that there was a four-fold increase in birth defects in one state of Argentina following the introduction of Roundup Ready® crops. Glyphosate and its more persistent metabolite, AMPA, both cause cell death in human umbilical, embryonic and placental cells in dilutions far lower than those used in agriculture.
- Glyphosate kills multiple beneficial organisms thereby compromising farm resilience. In separate studies Schneider, Benamu and Griesinger and their respective associates demonstrated that glyphosate has an adverse effect upon some earthworms and several key IPM insects, including green lacewings, predatory mites, ladybirds and spiders. In fact, it is now understood that glyphosate also impacts a variety of beneficial soil life. It destroys the organisms responsible for delivering manganese and iron into the plant. Two key creatures, mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing organisms, are both negatively affected and it also kills an important protective organism called Pseudomonas fluorescens. Iron and manganese are critical for plant immunity, as are the exudates of these other damaged organisms. In one study, Professor Don Huber has now linked long-term use of glyphosate to increased likelihood of 40 soil diseases.
In my recent visit to Ireland, scientists at a research centre where I was speaking described the ‘dead zone’ they are monitoring, following long-term use of glyphosate beneath the trees. In orchard situations, this root zone should be the most fertile region on the farm. The tree roots are constantly pumping exudates out to their supportive workforce. You do not need fancy equipment to recognise the mistake here. Just smell the soil in your herbicide zone and you will detect the lack of life.
- Widespread environmental contamination– the French Government claim that the compelling evidence of endocrine disruption associated with glyphosate is equally important as the new WHO findings relative to cancer. The huge concern is that this chemical is everywhere in our environment. It is absurdly destructive and restrictions are essential and long overdue. Glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA were found in 100 per cent of rain samples from agricultural regions of the US. Tank water becomes a liability in this context but the groundwater is not much better. Slack et al report glyphosate residues in surface and groundwater in the US, the UK, China, Germany, Argentina, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Norway and Canada. The countries that have embraced GM are obviously worst placed, because the cash crop is sprayed three times per season with this toxin.
Time for Action
It is simply unbelievable that, in the face of such overwhelming evidence, there are members of the scientific community that are still supporting this abomination.
One can only wonder about their integrity. Professor Don Huber has made available details of over 300 published studies quantifying links between glyphosate and many of the plague degenerative illnesses.
Why do we stand by and allow our councils to spray common areas, our farmers to pollute our food, our billionaires to peddle Roundup Ready® crops across Africa and our politicians to do nothing? We all have family and fears for the next generation and we owe it to them to stand up to be counted. Lobby your officials, mobilise your digital people power and experiment with alternatives if you are a food producer.
At least the tide is turning in some regions. Supermarket chains across Europe are now seizing the initiative and removing the weed killer from their shelves. The EU has recently refused to renew the license for glyphosate so, unless appeals are successful, it will no longer be allowable in that major group of countries. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning.
Be ahead of the game, because changes are inevitable
Despite the flood of question marks associated with this ubiquitous farm chemical, I am sure there are many no-till farmers who will strive to retain this weed management option. They believe it has revolutionised broadacre farming and they are right. Effective weed management has driven no-till success. There is a widely held belief that no-till would flounder without the glyphosate. However, it is increasingly obvious that, at some point, the call will be made. When this happens, those without a Plan B will undoubtedly struggle. Smart operators are exploring options like competitive cover cropping, mechanical management strategies and the use of crimp rollers in broadacre farming.
There are some changes that will come sooner rather than later. It is no longer acceptable to finish off your potatoes and wheat with a proven environmental and human toxin. Surely we can come up with a desiccant to dry off our cereals and spuds, that does not involve dousing food crops in a known carcinogen.