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

 

Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

By: Farm & Food Care staff

MarshnewCanadians planning on camping with family and friends may feel a little less jovial this summer as late-spring cold has devastated much of the country’s marshmallow crop.

For the first time on record, it looks like frost and freezing rain will cause everyone’s favorite fluffy confectionary to jump significantly in price, and drop in availability.

“2012 was a devastating year for fruit growers, and this year we have that level of damage on our crop,” says Robyn Smore, a marshmallow farmer near Erieau Ontario who specializes in producing large white marshmallows for the retail market.

“We have almost two-hundred acres planted with marshmallows […] there’s damage to well over three-quarters of that.”

The marshmallow plant – formally known as the perennial Althaea Unofficinalis – has been used as both a medicine and foodstuff for thousands of years, and varieties of the plant exist in many areas across the globe. In Ontario, most marshmallow varieties originate from Scipio Africanus, or varieties native to Northern Africa, largely due to its sweet taste and high plant productivity. While these varieties can handle cold weather if temperatures transition slowly, they are not suited to sudden climactic changes. Buds and flowers are particularly vulnerable, and will not produce harvestable marshmallows if damaged.

This year, a spurt of warm weather early in March saw many Canadian marshmallow growers reporting earlier-than-expected budding; some farms even reported seeing plants in full bloom. Last week’s hail storms, freezing rain and heavy morning frost caused significant damage to farms across Canada with the impact of harsh March conditions was felt as far east as Prince Edward Island.

“We’re going to have to change our plans and basically cancel our early harvest altogether,” says Smore. “It just looks bad all around.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the marshmallow plant’s plight either. The unseasonably warm winter experienced by growers south of the border has also led to resurgence in Mallow Beetle populations – a pest which burrows into and consumes the sugar-laden buds of miniature-marshmallow plants – meaning an even wider shortage in the coming year.

Smore believes the loss of prime production areas in Canada and the United States will raise the retail price of marshmallows across North America, perhaps as much as 30 or 40 per cent.
Still, Smore says she is hopeful that they will be able to recover their losses next year.

“There’s always a sticky year between a few good ones. We just hope not to get burned the next time,” she says.

As for the rest of us, now may be an appropriate time to replenish summer stocks. Not having any on hand during the annual family camp-out would certainly be playing the fool. Read more

Updated: Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

Marsh jkHappy April Fool’s Day!

Farmers definitely don’t grow marshmallows on bushes. Today’s sugary treats are made from a mixture of sugars, egg whites and gelatin beaten together. Although they used to be made of ingredients from marshmallow plant roots and there are accounts of ancient Egyptians making candies from marshmallow root and honey.

Now you know.

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

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

Sustainably raising crops and cattle

By: Matt McIntosh

2010 calendar(Ripley) – Wanda Snobelen has had a stake in agriculture and the beef business ever since she bought her first Charolais cow at 12 years old. Since then she has significantly expanded her beef herd, and delved further into a diverse farm life.

The third-generation to be raised on her family’s Ripley-area beef farm, Wanda took her first foray into raising beef cattle as part of a 4-H beef club project. Now she helps harvest nearly 5,000 acres of farmland — and raises 120 Charolais cattle of her own – on her husband’s family farm in Ripley. She is also the new face for March in Farm & Food Care Ontario’s 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by DeKalb Canada.

“We moved to Ripley in 2000. My in-laws had a business in Tiverton that I worked at for a few years, but [my husband] Sam and I have farmed full-time ever since,” says Wanda. “When I moved, the beef cattle came with me.” Continue reading

Cheerios now have no genetically modified ingredients – Fact or Fiction?

FactFictonFACT: It’s true that General Mills recently announced its “original Cheerios” would have no genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

However, the main ingredient in Cheerios is oats – and there are no genetically modified oat varieties grown in North America, so with the exception of corn sweetener and a few other minor ingredients, Cheerios have always been GM-free.

Now you know!

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

Greenhouse technology could see Ontario strawberry farmers plug in for year-round production

By Lisa McLean for Farm & Food Care

strawberries(Thamesville) – Ontario strawberry farmers have a new way to grow strawberries, thanks to an innovative production method from a Southwestern Ontario nursery. The good news? If the system takes root, it could help lead to a year-round growing season for local Ontario strawberries.

Sandra Carther, owner of Thamesville-based Carther Plants began developing a new nursery system for strawberry plants in 2009. The system produces “plug plants” or plants that are grown in cell packs that are ready for transplant into the ground or a greenhouse.

Traditional strawberry nurseries produce “bare root” plants, which are grown outside. These plants are grown in the field and harvested in the fall, and then stored through the winter. Strawberry farmers in Ontario have traditionally planted dormant, frozen bare root plants each spring. Continue reading

Aylmer-area fruit and vegetable farmers as calendar models

By Resi Walt

2010 calendar(Aylmer) – The Howes are a multi-generational farming family who enjoy the time they get to spend together on the farm, growing fruits and vegetables for their farm market business.

Glenn and Monica, along with sons Ryan, Rick and Kevin, Ryan’s wife Jill and their children Emma and Cohen grow a large acreage of strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelons, squash, pumpkins and beans. They also grow vegetables.

The majority of the Howes’ produce is sold to a larger grocery store chain, which then supplies the broader Canadian market. About ten per cent of their crop is sold to the local market through the Howe Family Farm Market, which is open from June to November of each year.

In 2015, the Howe family appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their family’s entry was the winner in a contest launched to select one farm family to appear in the calendar. Their submission was chosen from almost 30 entries by a panel of judges and they participated in a photo shoot in August.

Ryan, Rick and Kevin are fifth generation farmers. Their great-great grandparents William and Esther arrived from England and settled in Elgin County, south of Alymer, Ontario. The Howe family continues to farm in the same area, and is growing many of the same crops as their ancestors.

Monica is proud of the food being grown on their farm, “I love promoting what we produce, because I believe in the wholesomeness of it. We’re lucky to live in southwestern Ontario and be able to produce such a bounty.”

The Howes all agree that farming together as a family is their favourite aspect of life on the farm. They run their business as a team, with each person utilizing their skills to contribute to the overall success of the farm.

Ryan manages the farm’s sales and incoming orders, and can also often be found repairing machinery. Kevin handles the greenhouse, and does research and development work to keep the farm innovative and moving forward. Rick works as an agriculture consultant off farm and helps in the family business when he can. His expertise is in providing information about fertilizer, crop protection and soil inputs.

Glenn, the patriarch of the family, is the voice of experience and reason, his kids say. He guides the farm in the right direction and helps to keep things in perspective for the family. Monica, a natural organizer, is in charge of the farm market. Jill works off the farm as a physiotherapist but helps when needed too. While the family’s sixth generation, Emma and Cohen, are too young to help yet, they love spending time with their parents, uncles and grandparents on the farm.

The family is very involved in the community. Kevin is a director on the Ontario Berry Growers’ Association, replacing Ryan who had previously served on the association. Rick and Kevin both serve on the board for the Elgin Federation of Agriculture. Monica, a retired teacher, volunteers at a local school and involves the students in growing and harvesting a school garden. The Howe family’s commitment to their community also shows through donations of produce to churches, school, sport groups, service clubs, food banks and nursing homes.

The family’s received several awards in recognition of their sustainable and environmentally responsible farming practices. In 2005, they were presented with a Conservation Award from the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority for being the first farmers in the area to use drip-tape irrigation to conserve water.

A few years ago, Ryan tried a no-till approach to growing pumpkins. This innovation resulted in reduced labour costs for weeding, less herbicide use, and better soil health due to decreased erosion. For his efforts, he was presented with the prestigious Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovations Excellence in 2013.

The farm has also become known for hosting nature tours. Nature walks include a tour of Glenn’s bird sanctuary. Glenn, a passionate aviculturist (or birder), has raised many species of birds from all over the world. Sometimes birds are brought to him for special care because they are endangered in their native countries.

The Howes have a lot to be proud of – their farm’s history, their team work, their community involvement and environmental stewardship – and the fact that they’re doing it all as a family.

The tenth annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, featuring the theme of Home Grown and Hand Made, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. Copies can be ordered online at www.farmfoodcare.org. A list of retailers selling the calendar is also located on that website.

Renovating the family farm business

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care

Scott Douglas stands next to his combine.

Scott Douglas stands next to his combine.

(Leamington) – It was in the midst of the Great Depression in 1935 that Scott Douglas’ grandparents first purchased 50 acres of farmland on a small concession road just north of Leamington, Ontario. Now, after 80 years, two generations and several major farm changes, the Douglas family farm is going stronger than ever.

The now 1,800 acre farm, known as Cloverview Farms, produces corn, soybeans and wheat, and features a small hobby operation usually containing a couple of beef cows, a few pigs and some chickens. Scott farms alongside Jennifer and parents, Harold and Linda. Scott and Jennifer also have three children – nine year old Graydon, seven year old Shannon and five year old Cameron – who help with the small number of animals. Continue reading

Crop farmers showcase December in Faces of Farming calendar

By Resi Walt

Annette MacKellar Faces of Farming calendar page

Annette MacKellar Faces of Farming calendar page

(Alvinston) – When chatting to Annette MacKellar about her family and their farm, you can see her eyes shine with pride and happiness.

In 2015, Annette appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Her page is sponsored by SeCan and she is featured for the month of December.

Annette grew up on a crop farm and remembers, “I was always with my dad, working right by his side.” She then met her husband Dave in high school. Dave was raised on a century farm dating back to 1875 that his parents still call home today. Annette, Dave and their children all live within a few kilometres of this farm today.

After high school, Annette went to nursing school in Chatham, while Dave studied agriculture at Ridgetown College. Dave was already farming with his father when he and Annette were married in 1982. When asked if they ever considered pursuing different careers, Annette replied emphatically,

“We’ve just always wanted to farm and raise our family on the farm. There’s never been anything else.”

Today, Annette and her family have a crop farm and own a registered seed processing plant in Alvinston, Ontario. Annette and Dave farm with two of their three boys – Adam, the oldest, and Jacob, the youngest. Their third son Paul works off the farm. The crops grown on the MacKellar farm include soybeans, corn, wheat – and more recently – edamame beans. Continue reading