Is Roundup Poisoning Us?

By Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Glyphosate is a herbicide — a type of pest control product used to kill plants. It is the active ingredient in the now infamous chemical Roundup, and is one of the most used agricultural chemicals worldwide.

Google glyphosate, originally released as the product Roundup, and you’re faced with results like ‘horrific’ “new evidence about the damage Roundup causes” and “Roundup chemicals are lethal.” One quick search and I can understand why society might have concerns about the pervasive use of glyphosate in agriculture. Reading these statements does lead us to question: is Roundup poisoning us?

Let’s examine the science.

A small amount (think: pop can) is mixed into a tank of water on the back of a special machine called a sprayer. Farmers use these machines to spray the mixture onto the weeds over a large area (that one pop can treats an area nearly the size of a football field) where it is absorbed by the plant. Once inside the plant, glyphosate binds to an enzyme (EPSP synthase), preventing it from building essential amino acids that a plant needs to live and grow. With this enzyme disabled, plants die. Now, the really interesting thing is that EPSP synthase is found only in plants and bacteria; humans and animals do not use this process.

Remember that Google search which told us glyphosate is one of the most toxic chemicals around? Not so. The general standard for acute (short term) toxicity is a value called an LD50. This refers to the median lethal dose, the amount of a chemical needed to cause death in 50% of the animals it is tested on. An LD50 is one way to measure the relative short-term poisoning potential of a compound. The lower the number the more toxic it is. For example, the LD50 of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, a common ingredient in baking) is 4220 mg/kg; table salt 3000 mg/kg; caffeine (as in our precious morning coffee) is 192 mg/kg; and nicotine (cigarettes) is 50 mg/kg.

So where does glyphosate fit? Glyphosate has an LD50 of 5600 mg/kg. Yes. It is less toxic than baking soda, table salt, and coffee.

Our entire world is comprised of chemicals. Water, salt, and vinegar are chemicals, and even our bodies can be considered walking, talking chemical bags.

You’ve probably heard the old adage of toxicologists “the dose makes the poison”. Even those regular household compounds like salt, vinegar or yes, even water can be toxic if ingested in high enough doses. When glyphosate is used as it is intended, just like salt, vinegar, and water, it has minimal toxicity to humans and animals because the amount used is small.

But how do we know we are not consuming high levels of pesticides? Health Canada scientists review the data from over 250 separate studies before they approve a pesticide for sale or use in Canada. As part of this extensive review before a chemical is approved for sale, they identify the amount of a pesticide that a person could be exposed to without any adverse health effects. These levels are then compared to the maximum amount of residue that might be found on crops after use of the pesticide (a value known as the Maximum Residue Limit or MRL) in order to ensure that consumers are never exposed to an amount that could pose a risk to health. Indeed, MRLs are typically 100-1000 times below levels that are still considered safe.

Thanks to the MRLs established by Health Canada, based on science, we can be confident that if small amounts of glyphosate are ingested through exposure in our food system, we know they won’t be at toxic enough levels to cause damage, even if they are consumed every day over a life time.

I should probably also mention that it is not just Health Canada that has assessed the science around glyphosate. Most other major regulatory organizations around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority, the World Health Organization, and the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency, have also reviewed data on glyphosate (available here).

Glyphosate is easily and relatively quickly broken down in the environment. It does not bioaccumulate, meaning it does not build up in the bodies of fish and wildlife (read an example of mercury bioaccumulation here). And finally, it is excreted by our bodies if ingested. Their overwhelming consensus? When glyphosate is used according to label directions, it poses minimal risk to people, wildlife, and the environment.

We need to evaluate claims on the basis of overall weight of scientific evidence behind it. The stronger the weight of evidence, the more confidence we can have in the scientific findings. Glyphosate has been investigated by many scientists from around the world, in hundreds and hundreds of studies (again, available here) all of which have determined that, when it is used as it is intended, it is safe for people, for animals, and our environment.

Being a science geek, I follow facts. And the evidence tells me glyphosate is not the problem a cursory Google search might suggest. If you would like to know how glyphosate is used, the label (which is a legal document authorized by the Pest Control Products Act) can be found here. And if you still have questions, we want to hear them.

For more information/resources:

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/glyphosate/

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/glyphosate-in-food/

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-2012_en.html

http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/1287975/reload=0;jsessionid=osa7mo59kVxNtcafSkkP.18

http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2014/06/salt-vinegar-and-glyphosate/

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/jmprsummary2016.pdf

 

Reality Check: GMO vs. Non-GMO Crop Production

By now you may have stumbled across a recent New York Times article that outlined the “broken promises” of genetically modified crops (GMOs). This first-generation of transgenic crops was first introduced in to commercial production about 20 years ago. With traits such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, these GMOs were rapidly adopted by North America’s farmers.

(If you haven’t yet seen the New York Times article , you can read it here) 

In Europe, however, they don’t grow GM crops, though they do import products, such as meal or oil, from GMO crops. In the New York Times article, the author uses European vs. North American production and pesticide usage patterns to outline his argument that GMOs don’t offer the benefits they claim.

Stuart Smyth is an assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of Saskatchewan, and he wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the article (you can read it in its entirety here), correcting many of the falsehoods and half-truths of the above story.

As a quick summary, Smyth draws on actual research studies (not just data point comparisons) that quantify the economic and environmental impact of GM canola, corn, and even papaya. From, yes, reduced pesticide use, to a reduction in tillage (and thus diesel fuel use), and more, Smyth reiterates that GMO crops are safe to grow and eat, reduce the environmental impact of crop production, and benefit our farmers.

Still not sure? We’d be happy to connect you to an actual farmer who uses biotechnology on their farm so you can ask them first-hand how GMOs have changed (or not changed) how they farm. Just ask!

For more on biotechnology, GMOs, crop production, and more, read up in the Real Dirt on Farming.

Farming is Big Business with a Big Heart

By Serra McSymytz, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Throughout October, we have been celebrating Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, a province whose primary goods-producing sector is agriculture. The theme “Our Food Has a Story” has encouraged many farmers, ranchers, and industry employees to speak up and tell their farm stories. I grew up in the farming world and have worked in the industry and even I must admit I’ve been blown away by the caring and compassion laced through every tweet, post, and picture.

The people in this industry rely on the earth, plants, and animals to support their families, futures, and freedoms. Yes, agriculture has evolved over the last fifty years. Yes, fewer farmers are managing more land. Yes, when size dictates, it makes economic sense to incorporate your operation, but that doesn’t mean the family farm has been lost to history. 97% of all Canadian farms are still family owned and operated.1

big-business-image-2-farmingfood4uHere’s an alarming statistic: there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.2 That’s just within our borders, not to mention the hundreds of millions of tonnes of product we export to developing countries each year to help feed their people too. Talk about pressure to perform!

“…there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.”

Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to live in a country where science and innovation are encouraged and explored. Where farmers and ranchers have the knowledge, tools and technology to grow and raise safe, healthy and affordable food in an environmentally responsible manner. Today’s farming is big business, not the simple lifestyle our grandparents grew up with. Yet, Ben Parker had it right, with great power comes great responsibility.

big-business-image-1-a-iveyWe live in the age of science and technology, where information travels far and wide and everyone has access to the latest diet craze or scientific study. Unfortunately, despite agriculture’s enormous technological advancements in the last quarter century, we haven’t put much time or energy into promoting our impressive new tools and now we need to defend them.

To the 98% of our population that has no direct connection to the farm and no way of understanding what a Flexi-Coil 5000-57FT Air Drill is, why we use ivermectin on our livestock, or spray our crops with unpronounceable chemicals like difenoconazole or saflufenacil, farming sounds scary. But, to the remaining 2%, it means no top soil loss, healthy animals, higher yields and a cleaner environment!

You’d be hard pressed to find a cattle rancher who doesn’t feed their family with meat from their herd, or a farmer who doesn’t bring his children along to check crops for disease and pests. That’s because farmers believe in the technology and production practices they use to grow our food and they want consumers to have confidence in them too.

When asked what they would like to say to non-farmers, the consensus was, “We care about our livestock, land and about producing safe food for you and your family. Wherever you’re from and whatever you do, everyone is dependent on food, so take the time to learn about how your food is really produced, from many different sources. Appreciate the efforts of farmers everywhere.”

Despite the new state of agriculture and the ever-evolving landscape of farming, our food still comes from families who care about their animals, land and growing safe, healthy, and affordable food.

1, 2 The Real Dirt on Farming, (Toronto: Farm & Food Care Foundation, 2014), 2-3.

From the Ground Up — August’s Faces of Farming family, the Van Laeckes

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care 

Like the seeds they sell, Rick and Angela Van Laecke grew their business from the ground up. They are the owners and operators of Horizon Seeds Canada Inc. — a Norfolk county seed producer, processor, and dealer — and a proud farm family.

Rick and Curtis Van Laecke are August's Faces of Farming family

Rick Van Laecke and his son Curtis are featured as August’s Faces of Farming. Their page is sponsored by SeCan

Along with their children Curtis (age 25) and Candice (age 23), the Van Laeckes are featured as the August 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar family.

Rick and Angela started farming in 1993 after purchasing 200 acres of cropland near Courtland. Originally growing corn for various seed companies (which process and resell grains for planting rather than for human or animal consumption), the couple eventually decided to try developing their own brand of ready-to-plant seeds. The company is called Horizon Seeds Canada Inc., and the passion they have for agriculture stems from both Rick and Angela growing up on their respective family farms.

“Our main crop is hybrid corn, which is made by crossing two distinct varieties,” says Rick. “We originally chose to grow seed corn because it was a perfect fit for the growing conditions. It works really well in our sandy Norfolk County soil.”

Now over a decade old, Horizon Seeds began when the couple started breeding their own corn, and acquired seed processing equipment that allowed them to dry, treat, and package their seeds — a necessary process when preparing grain for sale to other dealers and farmers. Rick and Angela have continued to vertically integrate their business since officially launching it, and now have over 1,000 acres of cropland; they grow corn and soybeans, all of which is marketed under the name Horizon Seeds Canada Inc.

The facilities housing their processing equipment are, as Rick describes, organized horizontally in a pseudo assembly-line fashion. This means they can move their product through the processing system efficiently while maintaining seed quality.

Van Laeckes One of the more notable aspects of their business, though, is Rick and Angela’s use of buildings previously employed for the drying of tobacco leaves.

“The Norfolk-area used to produce a lot of tobacco. We repurposed some of the pre-existing buildings for drying seed,” says Rick. “The conditions in the tobacco buildings mimic a natural drying process, which makes for a more vigorous seed.” 

We get a huge amount of satisfaction from growing and providing a premium product.”

The Van Laeckes employ 16 full-time staff, as well as approximately 200 seasonal staff comprised of local high-school students. For about two weeks each summer, says Angela, the students are tasked with removing the tassels (the brown top of a maturing corn plant) from designated rows in the field; this allows for cross-pollination between the plants, which produce the hybrid seeds sold by the family.

“We harvest our seed corn by removing the whole cob from the stalk, just like sweet corn. Not stripping the kernels off through a combine helps protect the embryo in the seed,” says Rick.

Rick and Angela’s life-long love of agriculture has also transferred to their son Curtis and daughter Candice. Candice holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Food and Agricultural Business from the University of Guelph, while Curtis holds a Bachelor in Plant Science from the University of Guelph and a Master Certificate from the University of California, Davis. Curtis is very involved in the breeding side of the business, and Candice works off-farm in an agricultural career.

The family enjoys boating in their spare time, and can often be seen cruising Lake Erie’s waters near Turkey Point. Candice competes on a synchronized skating team in London, while Curtis enjoys playing pool – he even played competitively for many years.

As for future plans, Rick says they want to expand their market presence by growing the Horizon Seeds brand, particularly into Canada’s western provinces. Rick and Angela both say it’s the unique lifestyle and the opportunities the industry provides their family that continues drawing them to agriculture.

“We couldn’t be happier that we got to raise our kids here,” says Rick. “We get a huge amount of satisfaction from growing and providing a premium product.”

Four Ways Farmers Promote Pollinator Health

By Mel Luymes, environmental coordinator, Farm & Food Care Ontario

This week is pollinator week, and all across Ontario insects are briskly buzzing about their business. Pollinators play an important role in agriculture and, in turn, Ontario farmers play an important role in protecting and feeding them.

Sam McLean farms in Peterborough County, and grows 175 acres of strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins, and other crops that rely on pollination. McLean is careful in his application rates and timing of pesticides, and understands that farming is all about creating balance. “We have a lot of hedgerows here, a lot of natural habitat for bees and other pollinators, so we don’t even need to bring in honeybees to pollinate our crops,” he says. 

Video Resource: Fruit farms and pollinators work together  

Sue Chan is a pollination biologist with Farms at Work and she has been working with McLean for years. “What I’m seeing is many, many species of native pollinators here, so he is obviously doing something right,” says Chan. She points to the plants in the hedgerows: basswood, sumac, elderberry, wild raspberry, even burdock and dandelions are great food and habitat for native pollinators, she says.

On the other end of the province is Mary Ellen King, a fourth-generation farmer in Lambton County who operates several hundred acres of wheat, corn and beans. “Ten to fifteen years ago we started to enhance our farms with trees, hedgerows, wetlands and native tallgrass prairie,” she says. “We need the birds and the bugs and the bees, it all works together to make a healthy farm. I like to walk around the farm in the evenings, it just sings!”

Video resource: Farmers plant cover crops for pollinators 

Kathleen Law is a master’s student at the University of Guelph and studied the ways farmers can and do promote pollinator habitat on their properties.  Farms have historically been great habitat for bees, she says. “As farming has changed and field sizes have gotten bigger, it means that farmers need to be intentional about enhancing pollinator habitat. Instead of having fencerows play that role, they can create habitat around buildings, ditches or woodlots,” she says.

“As an environmental researcher, it was really heartening to see how much cash croppers care about pollinators,” continues Law.  “Often the missing link was having the necessary information and support to go ahead with pollinator projects on farmland.”

Video resource: Riparian areas & Hedgerow Management for Pollinator Promotion

In Ontario, there are many resources for farmers interested in enhancing pollinator habitat. The Environmental Farm Plan addresses pollinators and the Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association supports projects through cost-share programs like the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) and the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative (GLASI). In certain areas, farmers may have access to the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program or Farms at Work.  Local Conservation Authorities can also be a great resource as well.

Law recommends that when farmers plant pollinator habitat, they should be more proactive in letting people know. “Put up a sign up that says who you are, what you’re doing and why,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate Ontario farm stewardship to your community and to society.”

An Open Letter and Invitation to Rachel Parent

By Lauren Benoit

Dear Rachel Parent,

My name is Lauren Benoit. I’m 21 years old and I have been following your story and your crusade against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for quite some time. You are a remarkably talented and accomplished young lady. I applaud your quest to provide people with more information about where their food comes from.

As both a farmer and someone who aspires to a career in science, I couldn’t agree more that the public deserves accurate reliable information about the products on grocery store shelves. Truthfully, the only place we disagree on is what actually qualifies as good information.

I am firmly in the pro-GMO camp. Biotechnology is a valuable tool for farmers that allows us to grow the abundance of safe and affordable food that we are privileged to here in Canada. The use of GM technology has several benefits, including reducing the need for tillage (which can cause soil erosion) and reducing the amount of fossil fuel burned on farm (and thus GHG emissions). More recent genetically-modified innovations, such as non-browning apples or bruise-resistant potatoes, are new options to help significantly reduce food waste.

The National Academy of Science recently released a report supporting the safety of GMO foods and cited no risk to the environment or humans — the future of science and biotechnology is bright.

Right now, you are choosing to continue your anti-GMO crusade despite overwhelming evidence that your information is flawed. I don’t know if this is because you distrust the more than 270 scientific bodies standing behind the safety of GMOs or because of the financial gain and social status that you gain from it. Either way, I feel for you. The empire that you have built on pseudoscience and fear seems to be crumbling.

For someone at the age where they are just beginning a career, I could understand if you’re afraid of what this means for you. Being 19 years old is hard enough as it is, and you have a lot of added weight on your shoulders right now. You started Kids Right to Know when you were 11 years old. You’ve spent 8 years — almost half your life — working on this cause, and as we continue to learn about GM technology, the facts are not in your favour. 

Even though we disagree on a topic very near to both our hearts, I do respect your drive and, if armed with accurate information, I think you have potential to become one of the great scientific communicators of our generation. I truly hope that you will listen to the science before it is too late and we see what could have become a wonderful career communicating science-based information disintegrate.

I would very much like to meet you and hear more of your story, if you’d be willing to meet — the coffee’s on me.

Yours truly,

Lauren Benoit

Lauren BenoitLauren Benoit is a 2016 BSc. (Agr) graduate from the University of Guelph who was raised on a grain farm just outside of Kirkton, ON. Lauren is currently working in crop protection research and has plans to begin an MSc. Degree in weed science at the University of Guelph in January 2017.

Guest Blog: Biotech Benefits for the Environment and You, Too

By Bob Bartley, grain farmer based at Roland, Manitoba.

I have been a farmer for 40 plus years and I have grown genetically enhanced (GE) crops since 1996. We grow corn, soybeans and canola, all of which are GE as well as other crops which are not. I have seen many benefits to this technology through the years, but what is in it for the consumer?

IMG_2241I really don’t consider the crops I grow to be ready-to-eat food, like apples, carrots or potatoes, but more like ingredients to make food products such as margarine, flour and feed for livestock. Government regulators and scientists have questioned the safety of GE crops right from the beginning. As a result, these crops have undergone testing far beyond that required for other new varieties. There have been about 2,000 published studies on GE crop safety, I’m told. The results say that the GE crops now grown are as safe as any others. Some reports say even safer. There have also been several studies showing that they reduce food prices too-a direct result of the higher farm yields. GE crops are one reason why North American consumers have the safest, highest quality and most affordable food in the world.

The adoption of higher yielding GE crops has allowed farmers to grow more without using additional land.  Every day, cities grow larger on some of the most productive soils in the world. Every day the world’s population increases. Farmers are tasked to produce more food on fewer acres and it’s not something we can do on our own.  Farmers need the help of innovative plant breeding tools to increase the capability of the crops we grow – innovations that increase production and allow our harvests to be used in many different ways to provide food for you and me.

The adoption of higher yielding GE crops has allowed farmers to grow more without using additional land.  Every day, cities grow larger on some of the most productive soils in the world

The discovery of the herbicide glyphosate and glyphosate-tolerant crops changed agriculture. They have allowed farmers to control perennial weeds in crops instead of depending on summer-fallowing, which requires no crop to be produced for an entire year.  Also, with the new technology, the crop stubble remaining after grain harvest is undisturbed and this allows for more moisture retention and reduced soil erosion due to wind and water. There is less fuel used on the farm because of the reduced soil tillage.

Bob BartleyInsects have always been a threat to our crops and thus to our livelihood. The Bt gene in the corn we grow, gives the crop resistance to the European corn borer. In earlier years, we used insecticides to kill the borer but they also killed beneficial insects such as lady bugs. Bt is pest specific and only kills the corn borer. Insecticide is not applied now which saves another trip across the field.

Farmers have always been stewards of the land using the tools available to them.  We strive to leave our land with the same or increased production capability compared to when we started farming. Carbon sequestering in farm soils, through no-till and reduced tillage, results in a reduction of green house gas (CO2) levels in the atmosphere.

What’s in it for the consumer? Society’s buying habits have leaned towards being environmentally friendly and sustainable. So here it is!  Better air and water quality due to reduced erosion and reduced tillage. Fewer pesticides applied and less fossil fuel consumption resulting in lower greenhouse gases. Drought-resistant crops that produce with more efficient use of water. Protection of beneficial insects. It turns out that what’s good for me as a farmer is also good for you the consumer.  Some call that win-win.

This post first appeared in the Financial Post, April 13, 2016, and is used with permission. 

More than Farming: What’s a crop science regulatory consultant?

By Matt McIntosh

MorethanFarmingWhat career possibilities were you indoctrinated with as a child? Did your parents or others suggest you become a lawyer? A tradesman? Perhaps even an engineer of trains or mechanical design? What about a crop science regulatory consultant?

To that last one, I suspect your answer is no.

I know that, for my own part, I never heard such a title in my younger days. Considering I grew up a farm kid and have been working in agricultural communications for years now, I’m willing to bet very few of my less-agricultural peers have heard of it either.

What is a crop science regulatory consultant you ask? In short, it’s an individual that assists companies in registering new products – insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides for instance – with the government. Governments, as we know, need to regulate things, and registering agricultural products for sale and use within a given political jurisdiction involves long, rigid certification processes – this is particularly true in Canada, which has some of the strictest food safety regulations in the world.

Someone has to know the process, after all, and be willing to complete the associated paperwork.

Continue reading

There’s a new void to fill in science communication

By Dr. Maria Trainer, Managing director, science and regulatory affairs, chemistry, CropLife Canada

Maria-Trainer-768x1024As scientists we generally aren’t renowned for our communications prowess, particularly communications with the public. Many of us would rather work away in our laboratories and communicate with our peers than actively seek out opportunities to talk to the public about our work. Particularly when our work is in the field of, to use the vernacular, “genetic engineering”.

Dr. Kevin Folta ─ Professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida ─ is different. A geneticist by trade, Kevin has dedicated a huge amount of his own time and energy to educating the public about the science of biotechnology and so-called “GMOs”. He’s good at it too, as you can see here in a recent address he gave to a public audience at McGill University during the 2015 Trottier Science Symposium.

The downside to being good ─ really good actually ─ at talking about the science of biotechnology is that it annoys people. Specifically it annoys those people whose cause is served by preserving and promoting widespread ignorance on the topic of GMOs. These people, and the groups they represent, depend on the public not really knowing what GMOs are but being “fairly sure they’re a bad thing”.

Since the scientific consensus on the safety of currently deployed biotechnology applications is solid, these groups have had to resort to personal attacks on the handful of scientists, like Kevin, who have been brave enough to speak up.

Read more here about how Kevin became a lightning rod for the anti-science community and the breaking point, which has left a big void to fill in science communication.

Re-posted with permission.

A Day in the Life – a Saskatchewan grain farmer at harvest

By Jean Clavelle Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

DayintheLife

I spoke to Rob Stone today from his grain truck in central Saskatchewan where it’s harvest time. See what he has to say about their family farm and being a grain farmer in Canada.

Tell me about your farm.

I’m part of a family grain farm in Davidson, Saskatchewan. I’ve been actively involved since graduating from the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan in 1999. The first order of business when I came back was to expand the farm, and we’ve been able to triple our acreage base over the last 15 years to reach the 7,000-8,000 acres we farm now. Continue reading