The Glyphosate Debate Rages On – But Not for Eureka Mills

By Deirdre McDonald on February 21, 2019 in Blogposts
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There has been a lot of media attention focused around the issue of glyphosate lately, not only in South Africa but throughout the world. According to numerous local news articles written about the subject, the vast majority of commercially made supermarket bread has tested positive for traces of this broadly used chemical. More and more South Africans are starting to question just what this chemical, which is now found in so many foods, may be doing to their health. Their concerns are legitimate, particularly in light to what is happening further afield.

In a landmark ruling on the 15th of January 2019, a French court cancelled the license for Roundup, a glyphosate-based weed killer, after citing human safety concerns. Despite the European Union's approval of this widely used agri-chemical, the court in Lyon took into account various scientific studies that have proven it to be potentially harmful to human health as well as that of aquatic organisms.

The French government's plan is to completely ban and phase out glyphosate based products by 2021. This however, has caused an uproar across French farming communities, who insist that it will take a lot longer to phase out glyphosate as they claim there is no viable alternative. They argue that the ban will have far-reaching negative impacts on the agricultural industry. Environmentalists however, believe that the  impacts on both human health and that of our environment, pose a far greater and insidious risk.

Without a doubt, the use of glyphosate and Roundup in particular, is a hotly debated topic throughout the world, which is showing little or no sign of abating.

So what exactly is glyphosate and what is the controversy all about?

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, which means it basically nukes all plants that come into contact with it (except those that have been genetically engineered to survive direct applications of the product). This active substance prevents plants from making certain proteins that are essential for plant growth and stops a specific enzyme pathway (called the shikimic acid pathway), which is necessary for plants and some micro-organisms to survive.

It was first introduced in the U.S. in 1974 by US agri-giant Monsanto, and today it is one of the most widely applied herbicides in the world. Since its introduction to the market, it is estimated  that 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate has been used in the US alone.

Despite its increasing use worldwide, the safety of glyphosate has been under the microscope in recent years, particularly after the scientific body of the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that it is “probably carcinogenic”to humans. This was hardly a welcoming declaration considering its prolific use.

Despite the manufacturers insistence that glyphosate has been rigorously tested for safety,  thousands of people insist otherwise. It fact, the number of lawsuits brought against Bayer’s newly acquired Monsanto (bought for a whopping $63 billion) has risen to about 8,000.

One of the biggest challenges faced by researchers and scientists trying to get the the bottom of the issue, is that glyphosate is not used in isolation, but rather as one part of a complex chemical cocktail. “These formulations are potentially far more dangerous”, says Dr Robin Mesnage of Kings College London. He believes that Roundup, the commercial name of glyphosate-based herbicides, contains so many other chemicals, that when mixed together are far more more sinister than glyphosate on its own. Companies that produce the stuff are not legally bound to disclose exactly what is in their formulations, which makes researching them  costly and difficult. So, whilst glyphosate has been tested on its own, not a hell of a lot is known of the effects of the formulations as a whole.

The agrichemical industry argues that our global population could not sustain itself without the use of pesticides and herbicides, but the opposition warns that our human health is at a greater risk if we do not return to more natural methods of agriculture.

With so much uncertainty surrounding glyphosate, along with the chemical formulations that it can be found in, more and more people are starting to question just how much of these substances can be found in food we eat. All things considered, it is a reasonable question to ask.

For those consumers that are concerned about the Eureka Mills product range, we have good news. The wheat that we mill, which is grown in the Overberg Region of the Western Cape,  is NOT sprayed with Roundup during the growing phase or when harvesting. The majority of the farmers in the region have adopted a contemporary approach to working the land, in what is referred to as ’Conservation Farming’. Crop rotation is one of the extremely important practices of Conservation Farming. While wheat and barley have very short root systems, canola has a long tap root and by planting this crop it helps to loosen the soil and also helps to break disease cycles. Farmers have also introduced lupines into their planting strategy, as this plant naturally builds nitrogen back into the soil. It is all about maintaining that important balance found within nature. For these farmers, it is important to think holistically.

Conservation Farming has led to a reduction in the need for these pesticides and herbicides and farmers are finding that soil conditions and crop yields are increasingly improved as well as being less sensitive to the erratic weather conditions of the Southern Cape. Even during times of drought, farmers using this method are still enjoying decent yields. And, not only are the yields better using this system, but the actual nutrient value of the grain is higher.

In November last year, to quell any possible fears that our consumers may have on this issue, we sent flour samples to the Hearshaw and Kinnes Analytical Laboratory (Pty) Ltd. The analysis confirmed that no glyphosate was detected in the flour sample.

Whatever the final outcome of the glyphosate debate might be, our Eureka Mills customers can rest assured that not only is our wheat GMO free, but it is also free from glyphosate.

Blog contribution and fotographs courtesy of Lisa Leslie