Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Toki Oshima drawing

By Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

Anyone reading The MOF&G is unlikely to knowingly use or ingest glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) or neonicotinoid insecticides ("neonics"). These are synthetic pesticides that are not allowed in organic production.

But what about unknowingly? In the United States, Roundup is the most widely used herbicide, and neonics are used on almost all the non-organic corn (and many other crops) grown – and both are systemic. That means they are taken up by and translocated throughout plants, and residues of these toxicants and their metabolites may exist in plants and soils and waterways and air … in you and in me.

Reuters reports that residues of glyphosate have been found in honey, soy sauce, breast milk, infant formula and flour. If you consume non-organic foods, you are likely ingesting these residues.

Independent lab tests by Friends of the Earth Europe of urine samples from people in 18 countries found traces of glyphosate in samples from all countries, with 44 per cent of samples containing glyphosate.

And neonics? Last year Harvard researchers found that all produce they sampled, except nectarines and tomatoes, tested positive for at least one neonic, and most fruits and almost half the vegetables sampled had residues of at least two neonics.

Should you worry? A new review from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer says that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. MIT researcher Stephanie Seneff and her coworkers have found correlations between glyphosate and neurological disorders in humans – and have explained how modes of action of glyphosate may cause those diverse disorders. The list of potential health and environmental effects goes on and includes possible harm to wildlife, including birds and insects and aquatic life.

Neonics may disrupt brain development in humans – and, of course, are strongly implicated in the decline of honeybees and are toxic to other pollinators and beneficial insects. Two years ago 50,000 bees died in a parking lot in Oregon after they were exposed to neonics applied to linden trees there. Oregon now bans the use of four neonics on linden trees and their relatives.

Organic growers have proven that we don't need neonics and we can do without Roundup. Same for other synthetic pesticides. When the EPA granted Florida citrus growers an emergency permit to us a neonic, Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides said, "EPA should be requiring growers to adopt integrated organic systems to manage pests, as a part of an emergency permit." That would be one small, important step in the right direction.

What can you do? Consume organic foods. Grow your own or buy them from certified organic growers. Demand that ornamental plants you buy have not been treated with neonics or other harmful pesticides. If your friends, neighbors, relatives or municipalities use Roundup or neonics in their landscapes, thinking them benign, let them know it's just not so.