For those of you who still believe weed killers containing glyphosate are harmless read this!
For those of you who still believe weed killers containing glyphosate are harmless read this!
For many years I have wanted to read Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” but have not got round to it mainly because I thought it would be a bit too full on. Well it is and it is not! First impressions are that considering it was published in 1962 it feels like it was written yesterday.
What has changed in 58 years? Everything and nothing. We are now more deeply committed to high input agrochemical farming and even more reliant on pesticides and other chemicals that have invaded every part of our daily lives.
I was asked recently what is the best thing we can do to increase biodiversity in gardens. My answer is simple, stop using insecticides. There is no excuse for blasting everything with a spray just so it looks nice and kills all those supposedly nasty insects and then wonder why there are so few birds around.
This year Spring in our garden was better, the number of birds seemed to have increased and the dawn chorus returned. Then lock down ended and the birds stopped singing and spring became silent again.
I am left with the feeling that the only thing we have done since 1962 is to speed up trashing everything we depend on. It feels like we are on an increasingly steep downward spiral that will lead to the total destruction of the planet that gives us all we need unless we do something.
So, what can we do? We can find the courage to be different and not be part of consumerist society where status is determined by ownership of the latest toys. We can find an alternative to factory farmed food soaked in chemicals and wrapped in plastic. That might mean spending a bit more on what we eat and less on holidays, mobile phones, or other non-essential goodies we are coerced into accepting as the norm. Or we do nothing and take it on the chin and leave the next generation with little but a dying planet.
The choice to downsize, consume less and eat organic food is no where near the hair shirt mentality touted by those who want to retain the status quo. It can be liberating, joyful even, like a release from always having to follow the crowd, to keep up, to gain status by being seen to buy the right stuff.
It took a brush with death for me to make new choices 30 years ago and yes, I did see my whole life flash in front of me like a failed B movie. You don’t need to go through that to realise there are better alternatives. Learn from others who have done it be proud to be different. Relax and enjoy what we have right in front of us. Now is the time to change and live differently, seize the moment.
Now that glyphosate is being phased out there is a huge for safe alternatives. This research has: “… identified toxic levels of undeclared ingredients such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in some new alternatives to glyphosate-based herbicides…”
So how do we deal with weeds? First, try to get over the desire to have the neatest, tidiest garden possible. Accept that will be plants growing in places we don’t want them to grow. Nature does not follow our rules so stop fighting it. Learn that gardening is not a battle and if you treat it as one you will never win.
If you must remove weeds then pull them out or use a basic weeding tool, just like we used to do a few years back. There is absolutely no need to blast everything with chemicals.
Most of all remember that there is no such thing as a totally safe weed killer as this new research shows.
The use of weed killers has become normalised in everyday life. They are available on supermarket shelves ready to drop into your trolley when you do the weekly shop. it is becoming a major problem in agriculture and gardening; the reliance on a quick fix without any real understanding of the consequences.
It is claimed that glyphosate weed killers are neutralised when they hit the soil but there is of evidence to prove otherwise. There is a research to shows that it can persist in soil and that it damages vital soil organisms.
The other misunderstanding is in the way that it is used. Glyphosate is a contact herbicide meaning that it has to fall on the fall the plant to kill it. Spraying it on, say the cracking in paving slabs will not prevent weeds from growing.
If the ground is has lots of weeds it will kill them but soil contains thousands of seeds waiting for the right conditions to germinate. So there is an endless cycle of killing top growth, seeds germination, more weed killer applied and so on. That’s good for sales but bad for the soil.
We need to change our attitude to keeping everything neat and tidy all the time. Pull weeds out by hand, use a hand weeder, try an oscillating Swiss hoe in the garden and compost the weeds!
Ever wondered where those bags of bright green lettuce come from? The answer is from massive fields harvested by big machines.
Notice how perfect they are. How is that done? The answer is simple by repeated application of pesticides including insecticides and fungicides plus lots of artificial fertiliser to make then look very green.
Modern pesticides are systemic which means they get into every cell of the plant. They are designed to poison any insect that bites the plant. Systemic pesticides cannot be removed, no amount of washing will get them out.
The government sets the maximum amount of residual pesticide for each pesticide in common use. But there will a cocktail of different pesticides in every plant. There is no limit to the number pesticides used. There is little research as to of effects on human health of regularly consuming pesticide cocktails, even if the residues for each individual chemical stays within the limits. Nobody knows how they might react with each other. Things are changing as concern grows about the food we eat, see this report.
Lettuce are fed a lot of artificial fertiliser to ensure that they grow quickly and look very green. That produces more problems. First, not all the fertiliser is used, the surplus is washed into ditches, then rivers and then the sea. Excess nitrogen in water is a big problem yet is virtually ignored.
The other concern is that the soil used on farms has become depleted. It does not hold together well so get washed off in heavy rain or blows about when it is dry because it contains very little organic matter. Soil loss from erosion is a massive issue for the UK and the world with a prediction that we only have about 40 years of topsoil left. What then?
When the lettuce will be ready to harvest they are picked by hand and packed into plastic bags ready to be shipped to the retailer. Supermarkets will control the whole process from telling the farmer what variety to grow, how to manage the crop and how many bagged lettuce they want on a certain date. The field becomes an extension of the shop floor, part of a mass production process geared to make the maximum profit for the retailer.
All this because consumers have been led to believe that the cheapest, mass produced factory food is best. Bur cheap food comes with hidden costs – read about mineral deficiencies in modern food.
People often ask why bother to pay the extra for organic produce. The answer is simple, choose food that is grown in rich fertile soils without the use of pesticides that produces more nutrient dense food that is much more sustainable or stick with factory farming. It’s you choice!
This is a link to a lettuce table we made a few years back where you can grow your own even without a garden. We are about to make another so stay tuned – video to follow.
Time to start taking life seriously and stop using all pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
Yet another study showing that insect numbers have declined. This time it is a ten year study which found that insect biomass declined by 40% in grasslands. The full article can be found here.
Should we be worried? Quite simply a massive YES because we depend of flying insects for pollination. Also, because the decline is down to the use of pesticides in food production and although the companies that make them will argue that they are safe nobody can convince me that ingesting eating small amounts of poison on a daily basis can be good for us.
We are locked into an agricultural system that is driven by supermarkets who control everything from seed to the checkout. The way food is grown depends on total control of the environment and the elimination of everything that could affect profits. This is one of the consequences of the cheapest possible food – we destroy the environment that keeps us alive.
Things have to change and quickly. We need to move to a different way of growing food. If not, the whole system will collapse and leave us with nothing.
The amount of chemicals used on lawns is staggering. In the US it can be nearly four times that used on agricultural land. The only reason is to make lawns look nice. Visual appearance is the key factor!
There are no figures for the UK, but it is likely that they are very similar. The British are obsessed with lawns and spend millions every year to get the right effect. The typical front garden is still a lawn with flower borders.
Grass grows and lawns need to be mowed, usually every weekend. The first signs of spring used to be marked by the appearance of migratory birds but now it is the song the lawn mower and the strimmer that heralds the new season.
It takes a lot of work to keep the grass looking pristine. That includes the application of chemicals including selective weed killers, insecticides to kill unwanted bugs and fungicides. They may be combined into one product under the ‘weed and feed’ banner. You can also add cats and dog repellents to avoid unwanted dead patches of grass.
Are Lawn chemicals toxic?
There is evidence to show that garden pesticides are dangerous especially to children. In the US many homeowners have lawn care packages which includes mowing, strimming and the applications of chemicals. In some areas local bylaws (ordinances) insist that front garden (yards) look pristine all the time.
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, (See the PDF here) 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.
A study in the US used markers were added to common lawn treatments to track where it went. Scans of the homes of participants found chemical residues on door handles, floors and carpets. What was even more concerning they found the markers in the stomachs of children who had played on the lawns.
While the results are shocking, they are hardly surprising. If you spread pesticides on your lawn and then walk, sit, or play on them residues will be transferred.
The big questions are why does the visual appearance of a patch of grass outweigh the health effects of using chemicals? And, why is there such a strong desire to conform to an antiquated definition of a nice garden? It is rooted in a post war return to decorative gardens after using them to grow food. That created the huge garden centre and garden products industry that we now have.
“Ornamental horticulture and landscaping in the UK made an estimated £24.2billioncontribution to national GDP in 2017.
Around 568,700 jobs across the country are supported by ornamental horticulture and landscaping, equivalent to 1 in every 62 jobs!
There is a move to grow food in front gardens. In some US cities the rules have been relaxed and people are growing veg ‘out font’.
In the UK there is generally nothing to stop homeowners growing whatever they want except the usual quiet disapproval of neighbours but it takes a certain amount of guts to ‘rock the boat’ and stand out as being different.
The other alternative is to grow wildflowers. They can be sown in irregular swathes across the lawn or replace all the grass. The big advantages are no more mowing, strimming and no need for weed killers and other toxic chemicals!
The German government just announced it will be banning glyphosate by the end of 2023 in order to protect the environment and the health of the public.
This follows on from research by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) that concluded that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic. The report also stated:
IARC also concluded that there was “strong” evidence for genotoxicity, both for “pure” glyphosate and for glyphosate formulations.
Glyphosate based weed killers are available in UK Supermarkets. It has become just another domestic chemical like washing up liquid and carpet shampoo. Consumers need to be aware of the risks they take especially when it is used on lawns where children play.
Sales of pesticides have become so normalised that it was even shelved next to food in a local branch of Tesco earlier this year.
It is time for a Europe wide ban, including the UK!
There has been lots of research over the years that showed that glyphosate does not break down on contact with soil, as was claimed. It now looks as if it also damages soil and the human gut.
The latest study was carried out by a team led by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen. The researchers suggest that glyphosate use could be behind the recent spike in gut disease noted in industrialized nations that genetic reasons alone have failed to explain.
People ask me why I grow/buy organic food, this is the answer. And it is on sale in many supermarkets next to household cleaning products and sometimes next to food. It should be banned.