Glyphosate — a wake up call

In our spring garden issue we featured a story about a link between spontaneous animal abortions and Roundup herbicide, uncovered by professor Don Huber. Don recently travelled to Australia and I spent nine hours at lectures and a dinner to discover Roundup’s effects on our gardens. Dr Huber is an international authority on nutrient deficiencies so his work on the world’s most prevalent agricultural chemical is most timely.

Don was formerly a consultant to Monsanto which is the owner of Roundup herbicide and Roundup Ready technology, but now he has now been banned from all Monsanto sites. His misdemeanour was to conduct research into the impact of the workings of the weedicide, its impact on soils, and the plants and animals that feed on them.

The chemical glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup) was actually discovered in 1964 by the Stauffer Chemical company as a chelator of the micronutrients copper and manganese. Twelve years later Monsanto introduced it as a broad spectrum herbicide that was then said to be benign, having no residual effects on soils but stopping the growth of all green tissue in rapid time.

Scott Kinear, Chairman, Safefood Foundation; Dr Huber and Clive Blazey

Scott Kinear, Chairman, Safefood Foundation; Dr Huber and Clive Blazey

How it works

The way it works is ingenious in that it ties up nutrient access thus forcing rapid plant death rather than by killing the plants directly. It acts only through translocation down through soils and in fact can only work by impacting on living soil organisms; so it is really a biocide that kills micro-organisms in soils, because if Roundup is applied to sterile soil it is ineffective.

Dr. Huber’s research over decades was presented at a masterclass conducted by Conexus Global during a visit to Australia in the first week of September, 2011. Relying on research from hundreds of universities over more than ten years, Don explained how the agriculture system was a complex interaction between soil biota, the genetics of plants, sunlight, water, nutrients and the impact of pathogens. The concept that there are “Silver Bullet solutions” to future food scarcity, which is propounded by biotech companies, is not only naive but profoundly misguided because agriculture is a complex system.

Roundup use in Australia

Roundup has now been used extensively in Australia for more than thirty years:

  • by farmers particularly following no-till wheat cropping and with GE canola
  • by orchardists controlling weeds in multiple row fruit orchards;
  • by councils in parks and highway verges;
  • by gardeners on garden beds and for weed control in paths.

So it is to be expected that its massive over-use would cause biological disruption and create unforeseen responses. If the genetic potential of a plant is 100 percent this is rarely reached because of the stress caused by less than optimum conditions including poor nutrition, by diseases, and by pests during its growth. It is the interaction of these factors that causes yields to be considerably reduced and less than optimum.

There are alternatives to glyphosate that will not harm soil biota and worms

There are alternatives to glyphosate that will not harm soil biota and worms

Alternative Weed Control

  • Regular cultivation with a Dutch Hoe
  • Boiling water is ideal to eradicate weeds that grow in between paving
  • Blow-torch weeding
  • The first principle of organics is to keep the soil covered
  • Planting a vigorous, dense and quick growing green manure crop in vacant beds
  • Mulching with straw or newspaper

Explaining GE yield declines

In the case of Genetically Engineered Roundup-Ready crops glyphosate has the effect of:

  1. Reducing nutrient uptake, compared with non-GM crops  causing yield drop off up to 7% fall in soy beans
  2. Remains during the life of the plant
  3. Increasing diseases and therefore increasing the need for greater fungicide use
  4. Reducing root growth, soil microbes and earth worms. It is not bio-degradable, particularly in sandy soils.

So its not surprising that Roundup-Ready GE crops give reduced yields compared with traditional non-GE crops.

In America where GE food dominates their supermarket shelves, GE corn and soy beans are to be found in seventy percent of food consumed. This has caused a ten-fold increase in herbicide use and still not one single law to label or manage GE has passed through Congress. In the case of canola, Canada rather than the USA is the place where GE canola is grown and because of seed contamination sources of organic and non-GM canola have been eliminated. Don Huber has not only explained why Roundup GE crops yield poorly, but also seem to be associated with an entirely new pathogen that transfers from corn or soy feed stocks causing spontaneous abortions in animals.

“The concept that there are ‘Silver Bullet solutions’ to future food scarcity, which is propounded by biotech companies, is not only naive but profoundly misguided because agriculture is a complex system.”

Australia’s most heavily used chemical

Fortunately GE corn and soy are not yet grown or fed into our Australian feed lots, but the results of Dr Huber’s research impact Australia in other ways. Glyphosate is Australia’s most heavily used weedicide which is clearly not benign, causing death of soil micro-organisms which increases diseases, and by reducing root growth and worms. It has been found to increase disease in:

  • Fruit – apple (scab), citrus, banana and pecans
  • Vegetables – beans, melon, tomato and potato
  • Alfalfa/lucerne – phytophthora, fusarium and brown rot

– as well as wheat, soy, corn canola and cotton.

GE companies prevent research comparisons

Of course rarely do we get to learn the real truth about yields or health risks of GE because agritech companies have a right of veto over research. Company control begins with a simple grower’s contract which has to be signed. It is called a ‘technology stewardship agreement’ – prohibiting research or to give it to someone else to research.

At Diggers we have grown thousands of varieties of open pollinated heirlooms and compared them with hybrids only to be astounded to find hybrids don’t give better yields and certainly reduce nutrition and flavour. We have never been able to compare GE seeds but one can presume from the lengths that they go to maintain secrecy GE companies know the comparisons are just as Don Huber has found.

The balance in our environment is reliant on relationships that man continues to interfere with

The balance in our environment is reliant on relationships that man continues to interfere with

We gave up using Roundup and its garden equivalent Zero years ago, switching to hand weeding and mulching for our beds and torch weeding for our paths. Glyphosate is used so extensively in Australia by gardeners and councils and no-till wheat farmers that Don Huber’s research will be an urgent wake-up call.

Reproduced from the Diggers Club website.

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