Glyphosate, a Controversial Chemical with Systemic Implications

June 2015 - Community & Environment

In March of this year, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated the carcinogenicity of five pesticides including glyphosate or, Roundup. The herbicide has been around since 1974 and is used as a weed killer on cash crops like corn and canola.

Given our commitment to natural, organic, and healthy lifestyles we wish there was some groundbreaking news to share a result of the WHO summary. Something like: Chemically intensive farming practices and genetic engineering (GE) are harmful to our health (and our planet).

While we’re comfortable hanging our hat on that manifesto, unfortunately, the WHO report, and a subsequent Health Canada summary on glyphosate didn’t pack quite the same punch.

WHO’s publication reads: “The herbicide glyphosate and the insecticides malathion and diazinon were classified as probably carcinogenic to humans”. In response Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) summary reassures us: “The level of human exposure, which determines the actual risk, was not taken into account by WHO (IARC). Pesticides are registered for use in Canada only if the level of exposure to Canadians does not cause any harmful effects, including cancer.” And, when used according to proposed label directions, glyphosate products do not pose an unacceptable risk to the environment.

But what is an acceptable risk to the environment? And, are we separate from the environment?

“It’s what biologists call a wicked problem,” says Calgary-based permaculturalist, Adrian Buckley. “Chemicals, monoculture and conventional land-use patterns aren’t taking ecosystems into consideration.

Buckley explains pesticides provide temporary gains for a crop, but the use of products like Roundup creates a vicious cycle.

It’s the food web below the ground that allows plants to get the minerals they need. By manufacturing synthetic fertility and nitrogen on demand, you end up with an anti-ecological situation, where vital connections are lost, demanding further reliance on those chemicals. It’s the best business model really; the application of these substances then necessitates their further reliance. The farmer just becomes dependent on the manufactured cycle.”

Fortunately, there’s alternatives. Practices like organic farming, permaculture and agroforestry are all proven food production methods that work for ecosystems and our health, not against them.

It’s not too late to make your voice heard on the subject! Health Canada’s public consultation on glyphosate stays open through today, June 12, 2015. You can submit your comments by email – download the form here.

The results of the consultation will be made public, so we’ll be sure to report back on the findings.

 

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