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

 

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

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

The Top 6 Roundup

We thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on The Real Dirt on Farming Blog in 2015. Here’s how they stacked up in popularity with you, our readers.

#6: Day in the Life – ‘Kidding-around’ with a goat farmer

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Hi! My name is Anna Haupt and together with my husband and three young children, we run Teal’s Meats – a provincially licensed butcher shop on our farm in Haldimand County, on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. I also raise a small herd of registered Boer goats on our farm, Springvalley Boer Goats. I enjoy showing, sell breeding stock to other producers and process our market animals for sale through our butcher shop. Our summers are extremely busy serving our butcher shop customers, so I like to kid out (giving birth) my does (female goats) in the winter months when I have a little more time to spend in the barn. Today on our farm…READ MORE 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.

Coded eggs stand out from most others produced in Ontario

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

By Treena Hein for Farm & Food Care

(St-Isidore) It’s easy to tell a Ferme Avicole Laviolette egg from others being sold in Ontario. Each one has an alphanumeric code that signifies the date of packaging, batch date and producer. Every time their customers see the stamp, they are reminded that Laviolettes take quality and accountability very seriously. The code is also an important food safety measure, helping make any product recall both fast and accurate. For being the first in the province to implement traceability that goes beyond the carton, Marcel Laviolette recently won a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

By 2012, the year Marcel implemented the automated egg stamping system, his business’s sales territory was quite large, including dozens of grocery stores, restaurants and food wholesalers in eastern Ontario and southwest Quebec. At that time, food safety and traceability were all over the media, and being discussed at dinner tables across the nation, within the government and within the food and agriculture industry. Marcel knew that his many customers would feel that much more comfortable if each egg was stamped, something that was being done in other jurisdictions. And for the local egg producers that use Laviolette’s grading station (and make up two thirds of his egg volume), stamping would provide added peace of mind. Lastly, having coded eggs should help increase sales, being a preferred product in terms of traceability and food safety concerns. “We wanted to stand out,” Marcel explained. Continue reading

Local company develops high tech, welfare-friendly pig feeding system

By Lilian Schaer, Farm & Food Care

(Brockville) – An Ontario-based company has developed a leading-edge electronic sow feeding system that it’s now selling across Canada – and it took just a little over a year to get from concept to market.

Curtiss Littlejohn is shown with Canarm’s new electronic sow feeding system

Curtiss Littlejohn is shown with Canarm’s new electronic sow feeding system

Curtiss Littlejohn, Swine Products Manager with Canarm, a privately owned company headquartered in Brockville, Ontario that produces ventilation and lighting systems, as well as livestock handling and management equipment, says the feeding system was inspired by information gathered from hog farmers across North America as part of a survey conducted last year.

“The survey showed that farmers in North America are looking for sow feeders that are built here, with durable components and integrated software, and by a company that has the depth to service them when something goes wrong,” explains Littlejohn. “Canarm had the ability to start to develop this and a year later, we had a functional unit on the show floor.”

More and more farmers are moving to loose housing for their sows – adult female breeding pigs – as the industry evolves to respond to consumer and food company demands.

This means farmers need new equipment to help them manage their animals in the barn. Continue reading

Cloudy skies? No worries. Farmers use technology to take bad weather in stride

By Matt McIntosh

Cloudy skies- No worries.Not so long ago, the beginning of the spring planting season was upon us, and many farmers in Southwestern Ontario were gearing up to plant corn as soon as they could. Weeks later and much to their disappointment, though, some farmers still don’t have any seeds in the ground.

Yes, it’s been one of those years for some farm families; although not particularly disastrous, cool and wet weather in various parts of the province this spring meant some grain farmers were not able to plant their corn crop at the most ideal time. That means a shorter growing season, or a smaller window of time for plants to grow and mature before the return of our famous –and infamous – Canadian winter.

Less-than-ideal weather is an age-old problem for farmers, however, and we’ve learned how to use modern technology to adapt to changing environments.

Corn, for example, comes in many varieties, each with different traits making it better at different things. Using our modern understanding of genetics, some farmers – when faced with the prospect of a shorter growing season due to cold, wet spring weather – trade the seeds they originally wanted to plant with other varieties that requires less time to grow.

It’s all about “Crop Heat Units” and “Growing Degree Days,” you see.

Crop Heat Units and Growing Degree Days, in a roundabout way, refer to the amount of time a plant needs at a specific temperature to grow and mature properly. Different crops, and different varieties of the same crop, can require different temperatures for a different number of days. In the case of this year’s corn crop, for example, a farmer planning on sowing a corn variety requiring lots of time at a higher temperature might have decided to trade his seeds for one needing less time at a lower temperature.

The trade-off, however, is that varieties requiring less time and heat to grow have a tendency to not produce as much grain. That is to say, if a variety requiring fewer hot days was compared in ideal growing conditions to one that required more hot days, the former would produce smaller corn cobs or fewer kernels.

Given how many things factor into successfully growing crops, though, it’s still possible for varieties requiring a shorter growth period to produce more. Indeed, if the growing conditions are ideal, it’s very possible the more cold-hardy plant will out-produce its more warmth-inclined cousins.

However, it’s impossible for farmers to know exactly what will happen weather-wise. Every grower is a weatherman in some form or another, and as we all know, even the professionals on television make wrong predictions every now and again.

When it comes down to it, growing grains, vegetables, fruits and other crops really is a gamble with Mother Nature, but technology helps minimize risk in a number of ways. Take examples like climate controlled environments in greenhouses, the use of fungicide to control leaf blight, or the incorporation of giant orchard fans to help fruit farmers try to keep deadly spring frosts at bay. All these things, and so many more, help give farmers an edge in creating a more beneficial growing environment for their crops.

Regardless of what Southwestern Ontario grain farmers have thrown at them, though, something always grows. While some years are definitely better than others, technology helps us ensure there’s always a crop of some kind – and that’s an important thing to remember when planting prospects still look cloudy.

The old adage often repeated – so I’m told – by my great grandmother Isabelle might be a useful reminder here. Indeed, “there’s always a planting season.”

Now and Then – Beef ranching in Saskatchewan

By Tara Davidson

My family and I run a beef cow-calf ranch in southwestern Saskatchewan, raising cows with their calves. The things that I love about ranching are too numerous of course to list! I love working alongside my husband, our three children, and other family members. I like the challenges that come with raising cattle, and I enjoy working in nature daily.

An interesting thing about our ranch is that we try to implement new technologies in several capacities. Yet in many ways, we still run our cow herd the way ranchers did decades ago.

Figure 1 The author’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

Tara’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

One “old school” method that still applies to our ranch today is the use of horses to check our cattle, to move cattle from one pasture to another, and to treat sick animals. Our cattle graze in large, remote fields with rugged topography that isn’t always accessible by vehicle. Using horses allows us to get cattle where we need them to go in a quiet, albeit old-fashioned, way.

Cattle respond to our movements on horseback a bit differently than when we approach them on foot or with a vehicle. As they say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and moving cattle is no different. We try to use our presence on horseback in relation to a cow’s “flight zone,” causing them to move in the direction we need them to go simply by moving ourselves (or our dog). It’s a subtle, yet effective way to achieve results. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to work as a team and have a horse’s additional set of eyes and another brain than solely relying on your own! Continue reading

Laplante Poultry implements award-winning product tracking system

A barcode scanning device used at Laplante Poultry (Photo courtesy of Laplante Poultry)

A barcode scanning device used at Laplante Poultry (Photo courtesy of Laplante Poultry)

By Treena Hein

(Sarsfield) – Food safety is something that the public takes very seriously – and so do farmers like Robert Laplante. Laplante is not just a broiler chicken farmer, he’s also the owner of a processing plant and it’s critically important that data input errors of all kinds are eliminated and that product recall times (if a recall was ever ordered) are as fast as possible. To do all this and more, the owner of Laplante Poultry and Feather Weight Farms implemented a completely automated product tracking system, one that won him a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. Continue reading