Morning thoughts (3): potatoes and glyphosate don’t mix

Potatoes and glyphosate were on my mind this morning as the dogs and I walked down Cathedral Drive to the touchstone.

That may come as no surprise in the worldwide community of Finding Hope Ness readers well aware of my continuing concerns about the risk vast quantities of weed-killing herbicide containing Glyphosate being sprayed on crops around the world may pose for human health.

And, yes, I have gone on and on about how much I like potatoes often enough, that some might shrug and say, ‘so, what else is new?’ and turn the page, so to speak. But bare with me.

I have taken it for granted that because I don’t use Round-up or any other herbicide containing the active ingredient glyphosate that my potatoes are free of it. But I bow my head. I confess, after all these years it has taken me too long to find out that may not be true.

So, the question now is: what to do? And the answer may be … Well, I won’t go so far as to say ‘life-changing,’ not in a world where ‘life-changing’ events have become an ongoing or sudden reality. Not being able to do the things you love and live to do because of Covid-related travel restrictions or because climate-change-related weather extremes have already destroyed your life’s work – that’s truly life-changing.

As a good friend has often said when something goes wrong, “it’s not the end of the world” if I have to stop growing potatoes. But I love doing it; and I take pride in the way I do it, especially my habit for the past 25 years of mulching the newly emerged plants with good, clean straw. As a result, I’ve never had to spray any kind of insecticide to control the Colorado potato beetle, the major pest of potato crops. Also, I’m old-fashioned when it comes to weed control. I never use herbicide, and nowadays that means products that contain glyphosate, the best known being Round-up. Developed by Monsanto, it was first approved by the U.S. 45 years ago.

Glyphosate has been increasingly controversial in recent years, with the big question being, does it cause cancer or doesn’t it? Several lawsuit cases in the U.S. have answered yes and ordered multi-million-dollar damages. Bayer, the current owner of Monsanto, has set aside billions of dollars to cover similar future judgements. Various regulatory agencies, in Europe for example, disagree on the answer to the fundamental question. A study done for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) from 2015 to 2017, with results published in 2020, concluded levels of glyphosate residue in food product samples taken from retail stores do not pose a health threat, based on Canada’s existing Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs). The study gathered 7,955 food samples from Canadian retail stores. of those samples, 3,366, or 46.3 percent, contained a “detectable” amount of glyphosate. And of those, 99.4 percent were within the Canadian MLR limit, while 46 samples were “non-compliant.”

“The high level of compliance (99.4% of samples with the Canadian regulatory limits) and the lack of a health risk for non-compliant samples indicate that, with respect to glyphosates, the food available for sale in Canada is safe,” the study concluded.

This past August Canadian officials decided after a period of public consultation not to go ahead with proposed increases to some MLRs until “at least” next year. Meanwhile, the government will look at enhancing its monitoring of pesticide matters.

Ah, the beautiful potato, fresh from the garden

In the best of all possible words, I would much prefer to consume no glyphosate. None at all, zero, nada.

Which brings me back to the beloved potato, that which my Celtic ancestors largely survived on; which Hope Ness pioneers, I’ve been told, had nothing else to eat except; and which originated in the Andes mountains a very long time ago, thanks to the indigenous people who lived there.

Winter is the time to start planning for next year’s garden crops. Every year I tell myself not to bite off more than I can chew, but rather, focus on the essentials, of which potatoes are one. So, with that in mind, as well as glyphosate, I went looking online for any possible concerns. Overdue, yes, I know.

I was surprised to find potatoes are, if anything, more sensitive to damage from incidental, wind-drift spraying somewhere else than I imagined. In fact, I thought I was far enough away on the Bruce Peninsula in secluded Hope Ness that it wasn’t a problem, despite the prevailing west and southwest summer winds. I assumed too much.

I found several online sources that spoke of the damage even a small amount of such incidental exposure to glyphosate can cause to potato crops. Most troubling was how glyphosate can travel down the parent-plant into the soil, and the daughter root ‘tubers,’ They are the actual potatoes that are marketed either as food, but most worrisome here, as seed potatoes.

“Tubers may have a normal physical appearance but have glyphosate in the seed that can cause a variety of germination problems the following year,” says a current article in Potato News, written by two associate professors at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.

I routinely buy seed potatoes from certified growers to plant in the spring. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for the federal Seed Potato Certification Program.

“The objective of the Seed Potato Certification Program is to supply Canadian growers of seed, table stock and processing potatoes with certified seed which is of high varietal integrity and is relatively free of tuber borne diseases,” says a CFIA web page. (my italics)

No offence, dear CFIA, but I think I may have to delve deeper into seed potato suppliers and how they deal with possible glyphosate contamination. As other on-line sources note, ‘organic’ is no guarantee regarding the effect of incidental drift.

I want to be able to say, “no glyphosate residue in potatoes grown at Cathedral Drive Farm.” Hopefully, that will be possible.”

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