The problem with Glyphosate – a serious topic for the silly season

by Hans Wieland

By strange coincidence – an argument with a neighbour who sprayed weed-killer along a stone wall in front of his house, an article in a German newspaper (die taz) which fell into my hands on a recent visit to Germany, which reports Glyphosate levels in breast-milk up to 4 times higher than the allowed (!) level in drinking water, and then a recent phone call from an ex-colleague about possible Glyphosate contamination in tomato plants … brought it all to a head! “Hans, you have to do something!” my inner voice told me. Hence this article and my plea: Keep your garden weed-killer free!

If it’s in the soil it’s in the food: The problem with Glyphosate

The Organic Movement has proved that food production is possible without herbicides and pesticides and in the end it’s all about the quality of our soil. “If it’s not in the soil it’s not in the food” said Patrick Holden, the former chairperson of the Soil Association and one of the most respected organic farmers in the world at the Litfest in Cork. And if chemicals are in the soil most likely they are in our food. Currently the chemical that is causing the most alarm is the aforementioned Glyphosate. It is in most brands of weed-killer e.g. Round-Up and Moss-Out. The use of weed-killers containing Glyphosate is still widespread, from farmers to County Councils, in the grounds of schools and hospitals and around houses and in private gardens.

Damage to the environment and human health

Most of these applications are “completely useless” as our former head gardener Klaus Laitenberger put it in his recent newsletter, as they are not solving a problem and are merely a short-sighted eyesore. But more importantly there is more and more evidence that it causes damage to the environment by polluting the soil, getting into the water supply with adverse effects to fish and humans, destroying insect life and often wiping out feeding-plants for bees and butterflies.
According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Glyphosate is a “possible carcinogenic”. It is linked to infertility, anti-biotic resistance, digestive problems including coeliac disease and gluten-intolerance and kidney disease in areas with hard water. A recent report stated that 1/3 of all bread in the UK contains Glyphosate residues (the same probably applies to Ireland). Following the WHO report the Netherlands, France and Connecticut State in the USA have banned the sale of weed-killers containing Glyphosates and Brazil and Germany are currently trying to ban Glyphosate: Here in Ireland Dublin City Council is looking into alternatives to the use of Round-Up.

What can we do?

Well, I had an argument with my neighbour (and it took a lot of courage to stop the car and talk to him) but hopefully he will not use weed-killer in the future. Klaus says: “With all the research that has been published recently about the ill effects of Roundup I think it’s a crucial time to start a campaign to ban Roundup in Ireland. We have such a beautiful country and a green image worldwide – we should be amongst the first to act.” I think the campaign should be about banning Glyphosate and as the licence for its use is up for renewal in Europe it is a good time to get started now.

As gardeners we DO NOT NEED weed-killers and as consumers we can buy organic. Not for nothing is most baby food now sold under organic labels. In the end nature will strike back and wipe out those ugly brown areas that have been created by the use of weed-killers and one plant in particular will recolonise polluted ground: The horsetail, because it is a great cleanser and purifier and its purpose is to clean up the mess of glyphosate contamination. Look out for further information on our Facebook and website pages.

I also want to thank Klaus Laitenberger and Vivienne Campbell for allowing me to use some of their findings and information for this article.

The following references are courtesy of herbalist Vivienne Campbell from Clare:
References for further reading
WHO report in the UK medical journal The Lancet, Oncology.
Friends of the Earth report:
Possible link between use of glyphosates in areas with hard water and serious kidney damage:
Possible link between use of glyphosates and coeliac disease and gluten-intolerance:
Possible link to glyphosate use and antibiotic resistance
Potential damage to honey bees from glyphosates:

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