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

 

Fact or Fiction: You can save 1,300 gallons of water by skipping your lunch burger

FactFictonThere’s an infographic floating around on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

It claims you can save 1,300 gallons of water if you:
– don’t flush your toilet for six months, OR
– don’t take a shower for three months, OR
– for lunch today, don’t eat one burger.

Turns out, this is FICTION.

Let’s look at how the cow (behind that burger) really measures up.

Continue reading

From Pasture to Pond

by Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

(Mooretown) – Chad Anderson might not be an avid outdoorsman, but he has a definite appreciation for natural spaces and the wildlife they support. On his cow-calf farm near Mooretown in Lambton County, Chad has invested in both new pasture and a new pond in an effort to improve the environment for wild birds as well as his beef herd.

The view of the Anderson farm from the duck pond

The view of the Anderson farm from the duck pond

Last year, Chad’s farm was in the middle of a transition. A section of cropland was being converted to permanent pasture for his animals. However, his pasturing plans hit a roadblock when they encountered a stubbornly wet section of ground just behind his barn.

“Part of the area we were seeding down to pasture was always a really wet and low lying area,” says Chad. “Leaving it like that and making it into pasture would have been an issue. I didn’t want my cows to get in it because they could get stuck in the mud, or get sick from drinking the water.”

In the interests of his herd’s health, says Chad, the area was going to have to be drained before it could be used. Continue reading

Celebrating soils

By Patrick Beaujot

Did you know:
• 95 per cent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils
• A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plant growth can limit crop yields
• By 2050, food production must increase by 60 per cent globally and almost 100 per cent in developing countries
• 33 per cent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, and compaction
• It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil
• Sustainable soil management could produce up to 58 per cent more food
• Experts estimate that we only have 60 years of topsoil left

Source: United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization
The United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. This is also National Soil Conversation Week so it’s fitting to consider what the soil and the earth provide.

Since 95% of our food comes from the soil, we should treat the soil with great respect.

To make sure our top soil is kept healthy and preserved for future generations, farmers have been changing their practices from using intensive tillage to conservation or no-till. Continue reading

Farmers: the original environmentalists

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day Love Copy

Soil or dirt? What’s the difference?

soil

Soil is a living environment and is ideal for growing crops.

Soil is a living environment and is ideal for growing crops.

Soil is alive; it contains small particles of sand and clay, decaying organic matter, earthworms, bacteria, insects and microorganisms.

Soil is a living environment and is ideal for growing crops. Dirt is basically dead soil, which can be revitalized by adding organic matter.

The texture and colour of the soil, how it looks, feels and even smells, depends on the amount of each component in the soil blend.

Sand – what you find on the beach
Clay – what you find at the bottom of a valley
Organic matter – decaying plants and earthworms, bacteria and other microorganisms
Loam – the perfect mixture of sand, clay, organic matter – ideal for growing crops.

Different types of soil? Really?

Farmers work with different soil types, depending on where they live. The type of soil found across Canada is directly dependent on glacier movement thousands of years ago. About 12,000 years ago, during ice age events, advancing glaciers slowly ground rocks into finer particles as they moved south. Then, centuries later, retreating glaciers deposited sand and gravel in a mixture with the soil they were travelling over. That, combined with the annual cycles of plant and animal growth and decay over millions of years, has built the soil in your region into what it is today.

(Farmer Profile:) Doug Chorney is a third-generation Manitoba fruit and vegetable farmer. His ancestors made a commitment to farming sustainably when they immigrated to Canada 100 years ago – and he plans on his descendants continuing that practice for at least another century. What’s his favourite part about farming? The smell of the soil! He explains, “For me it’s about living the great life that you can on a farm with fresh dirt and hard work….It’s the smell, the sound, the feeling you get when you’re out there. It’s very fulfilling.” Photo: Manitoba Canola Growers

Doug Chorney is a third-generation Manitoba fruit and vegetable farmer. His favourite part of farming is – the smell of the soil! 
Photo: Manitoba Canola Growers

What’s his favourite part about farming? The smell of the soil!

Soil by depth is broken into three groups: Topsoil (on the top) is rich in organic matter but lower in minerals. Subsoil, found below the topsoil layer has a higher clay and mineral content. Parent Material is made up of deeper rock, sand or clay with no organic content.

Scientists have created soil maps of Canada. On those, you’ll see local soil types like Brookstone Sand Loam or Staten peaty muck referencing types of soil found just in that area. The type of soil found on a farm will certainly influence a farmer’s crop choices and management systems.

Although you cannot change your basic soil type, there are many management techniques that can help maintain or improve soil structure.

Doug Chorney is a third-generation Manitoba fruit and vegetable farmer. His ancestors made a commitment to farming sustainably when they immigrated to Canada 100 years ago – and he plans on his descendants continuing that practice for at least another century.

What’s his favourite part about farming? The smell of the soil!

He explains, “For me it’s about living the great life that you can on a farm with fresh dirt and hard work….It’s the smell, the sound, the feeling you get when you’re out there. It’s very fulfilling.”

 

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

 

On-farm environmental improvements yield decades of benefit for watershed

By Lilian Schaer

(Chatsworth) – It’s hard to imagine a prettier spot in Ontario than Bob McKessock’s farm.

Bob McKessock is shown by his farm sign in Grey County

Bob McKessock is shown by his farm sign in Grey County

Nestled in the picturesque rolling hills of northern Grey County between Chatsworth and Owen Sound, the 100 acre farm where he raises beef cattle has been in his family for over 100 years.

About two decades ago, McKessock was one of the first farmers in his area to take part in a unique demonstration project designed to improve water quality in the Bighead River watershed where his farm is located.

Today, as the project has matured over time, the benefits of McKessock’s work and the proactive vision of the program’s leaders are clearly evident.

The Bighead River demonstration program was part of the Wetland, Woodland and Wildlife (3W) Program, which was designed to prevent potential conflict between agriculture, wildlife and fisheries.

The focus was on working with local farmers and land owners in the watershed to improve water quality by reducing livestock access to open water sources, controlling soil erosion, and rehabilitating fish habitat.

McKessock is fortunate to have several fresh water springs on his farm that served both his house and barn, as well as the cattle in his pastures.

As part of the Bighead River project, McKessock built two cattle watering stations on his farm and then fenced his stream and swamp areas off to keep the livestock out of that water.

Continue reading

Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones. Continue reading

Drinkable Water – from Livestock Manure

An article entitled “Drinkable Water – From Livestock Manure” received a great deal of interest when it was published in the Globe & Mail on June 26.  The story features a project that is one of four semi-finalists in the Globe’s  Small Business Challenge Contest.

The article starts off: “General audiences might cringe watching a video that shows Ross Thurston, president of Calgary-based Livestock Water Recycling Inc., drinking water produced from treated hog manure.

But livestock farmers will probably say, “Genius.”

Mr. Thurston’s company builds and installs systems that treat hog and cow manure, separating solids and phosphorus, extracting and concentrating ammonium and, finally, discharging water that’s clean enough to drink.”

You can read the whole article at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-growth/the-challenge/drinkable-water-from-livestock-manure/article12810772/#dashboard/follows/

Micah Shearer-Kudel, Environmental Coordinator for Farm & Food Care Ontario, is working on many water quality initiatives funded through the Water Resource Adaptation Management Initiative (WRAMI). He submitted the following letter to the editor to the Globe and Mail:

The editor:

Drinkable water from livestock manure seems like a bad sci-fi movie theme, but is really a practical example of how today’s farmers are innovative environmentalists.  For example, Ontario farmers have invested $220 million dollars in environmental improvements on their farms in the past six years through Environmental Farm Plan projects. 

Saving soil, planting trees or funding plant research doesn’t usually make the news, but they are all excellent examples of commitments made by farmers that help people, animals and the planet. 

 

It is Earth Day every day on Ontario's farms

by Kim Waalderbos

Share some Earth Day Love!  Here are ten things that Ontario farmers doing on their farms today and every day to improve the environment around them:

  1. Preserving Soil – Our very existence on this planet is dependent on a few inches of topsoil.  Over 2/3 of farmers use conservation tilling practices to help preserve that precious resource.
  2.  Reducing Greenhouse Gases – The carbon sequestered (saved in the soil) due to conservation tillage in Ontario equals 600 kilotonnes/year. That’s equivalent to taking 125,000 cars off the road each year. 
  3.  Environmental Farm Plans – Over 70% of Ontario farmers have taken a course, evaluated their farms’ environmental footprint and made improvements.
  4. Earth to Satellite – Our grandfathers couldn’t have dreamed that GPS satellites could map a field to show exactly what fertilizer or chemicals are needed in precise and reduced amounts, or sometimes none at all. Continue reading