The numerous tracks snaking through grain and canola crops highlight what has become a common practice of desiccation. Seven to 10 days before harvest, glyphosate is applied to dry up the crop, kill weeds and speed up harvest.
Glyphosate is a weed-killing chemical developed by Monsanto in 1970 and is the key ingredient in the company’s “Roundup” label of herbicides. With its patent expiration many other companies are now in the business of making similar chemicals.
Manufacturers of glyphosate, Alberta Agriculture, Health Canada and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. all subscribe to the common theme that this herbicide is effective, economical and environmentally benign. They argue that glyphosate only blocks the production of aromatic amino acid, a process active only in plants and not in animals.
Not surprisingly, other studies, including some from reputable German and American universities, argue that ingesting trace amounts of glyphosate over a long period of time does lead to health issues.
There have been many things in our past, such as PCB’s, asbestos, cigarette smoke and DDT, where governments were very slow to deem harmful to human health. So it’s fair to say the jury will be out on the use of glyphosate to speed up harvest for some time to come.
Yet there are a few interesting asides that are pause-worthy. First, the seed structure has been changed enough that beer cannot be made from barley that has been desiccated. As well, producers are told not to use glyphosate on any crop that they want for seed, as germination and plant vigour can be severely reduced. At the very least it could be argued that desiccation reduces or removes food value from the end products.
We may be smart enough to play God and do harvest on our time rather than nature’s, but the jury is still out.
Today, we are told by Health Canada that there is inadequate evidence to state whether or not glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer. Yet common sense suggests spraying chemicals on grains just prior to entering the food chain may be suspect.
Typically it’s the corporate, mega-producers that need to use speed-up methods to get their mega acres harvested in time to beat winter. Many smaller producers continue to do it the old-fashioned way – sun and time – but unfortunately most of their crops end up co-mingled with the desiccated crops.
Big industry and corporate farms will continue the practice of desiccation for as long as it makes money. Governments will endorse this practice until there is iron-clad research to show an absolute correlation between this chemical application and human health.
In the meantime, for those consumers who would rather be safe than potentially sorry, you may just have to substitute your bread for beer!