Spray & Pray

David’s Epic Rant  about the awful allotment challenge show was spot on. Such programmes probably inspire people to live out the bucolic lifestyle, ignorant of the hard work and skills required. These telly visions, edited in soft focus with a jaunty Vivaldi soundtrack, are promptly eviscerated by the harsh reality that is the English climate. Turnover of plotholders is high as a result; not because there is anything intrinsically difficult about growing an abundance of food on a few rods of dirt, but because many are not well equipped for the task.  

On the subject of epic allotment-related rants, I can think of at least 2 others that can send me apoplectic within seconds:

  1. Chemical warfare
  2. Plastic

Plastic is such a pernicious part of the allotment landscape these days that it deserves its own dedicated and detailed rant, but first a heartfelt declamation on herbicides, pesticides and other chemical weapons of mass destruction.

The primary villain of this peace is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, because it is so ubiquitous, but it applies to any weapons deployed against nature in the growing of food. There are sadly too many to mention.  Neonicotinoids deserve a special mention for their role in the collapse of beneficial pollinator populations, and they are now being banned in many countries. 

There is a growing body of evidence on the deleterious effects of these chemicals. The World Health Organisation’s cancer research agency recently concluded that Glyphosate was ‘probably’ carcinogenic. The weedkiller has been detected in food, water and in the air after it has been sprayed

It turns out that Monsanto Knew of Glyphosate / Cancer Link 35 Years Ago. Despite that, Monsanto appear very upset that the WHO has deviated from the agreed script about safety. Another study recently found that  Roundup Herbicide Causes Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria

Perhaps most disturbingly, a senior research scientist at MIT has claimed that Half of All Children Will Be Autistic by 2025, and that evidence points to glyphosate toxicity from the overuse of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide on our food. she noted that the side effects of autism closely mimic those of glyphosate toxicity, and presented data showing a remarkably consistent correlation between the use of Roundup on crops (and the creation of Roundup-ready GMO crop seeds) with rising rates of autism. Children with autism have biomarkers indicative of excessive glyphosate, including zinc and iron deficiency, low serum sulfate, seizures, and mitochondrial disorder.

A fellow panelist reported that after Dr. Seneff’s presentation, “All of the 70 or so people in attendance were squirming, likely because they now had serious misgivings about serving their kids, or themselves, anything with corn or soy, which are nearly all genetically modified and thus tainted with Roundup and its glyphosate.”

Humans, for all their technological advances, have not yet evolved the ability to consume petrochemicals safely. This might even explain the increase in new health problems in recent years. Yet another study finds that glyphosate inhibits natural detoxification in human cells

Even as evidence mounts, Monsanto asserts that glyphosate is not harmful to humans, citing that its mechanism of action in plants (the disruption of the shikimate pathway), is not present in humans. This is not true. 
The shikimate pathway, which is involved in the synthesis of the essential aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan, is present in human gut bacteria, which has a direct relationship with the human body, aiding in digestion, synthesizing vitamins, detoxifying carcinogens, and participating in immune system function.
By inhibiting the body’s gut flora from performing its essential function in the human body,glyphosate heightens many health issues facing the Western world today.

These conditions include inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease, obesity, and even dementia and depression. Also, by restricting gut bacteria from absorbing nutrients, glyphosate voids the body of essential life-giving vitamins.  Dramatic Correlation Shown Between GMOs And 22 Diseases. Of course, the chemical weapon manufacturers vehemently deny all of these findings. They tend to carry out their own research, which consistently finds nothing to be concerned about. A lobbyist recently claimed that glyphosate was even safe enough to drink – until offered a glass, that is.

The acute toxicity of glyphosate is claimed to be very low. But by design it disrupts functions of enzymes, and the long term effects of bioaccumulation are not well understood. Even if you believe that glyphosate itself is relatively harmless, some of the products with which it is mixed are a different story. Marketed formulations of glyphosate generally contain a surfactant. The purpose of this is to prevent the chemical from forming into droplets and rolling off leaves which are sprayed. Some of these surfactants are serious irritants, toxic to fish, and can themselves contain contaminants which are carcinogenic to humans.

With more and more amateurs growing their own food, one might assume that allotment sites would have stringent rules against the use of such chemicals yet you often find that, on this issue, such chemicals are considered acceptable as long as they are applied ‘safely’. Going by some of the scientific studies quoted, the safest method would seem to be not to apply them at all

When i was handed the keys to my first plot in 2008, the Site President offered to Roundup the weeds (ie, the whole plot) for me. I was shocked that this was being freely offered for a plot where I was expected to grow food. To me, those nettles were a sign of soil fertility; to another they might represent an unwanted intruder, to be terminated with extreme chemical prejudice. For all I knew, that plot could have been sprayed with glyphosate for years if this complacency was the prevailing view. 

Even if you are committed to chemical-free gardening what is there to stop your neighbour from deciding that a good dousing of Roundup is just the ticket for his terrible weed problem – sure beats doing it manually, saves a lot of time, what’s not to like. As long as he does it safely. Unfortunately, these chemicals tend to drift; if you are using them on your plot you cannot guarantee they will stay on your plot.  Even on a still day.

With growing evidence of glyphosate’s dubious safety, isn’t it about time that allotment associations everywhere imposed a moratorium on its use? As Bill Mollison explained on the subject of weeds:

Plants are innocent.  They are all doing a job, and expressing that job to the best of their abilities.  To see a patch of thistle is to see a disturbance, and it’s being mended fast.  If you put a thistle under an apple tree, you can call it a glove artichoke, right?  You see, the soil under that artichoke will be twice as good and thick with worms compared to soil without the artichoke.  So, it’s a soil mender.  

If you have a weed problem there are easier ways to deal with it than chemical warfare. But that would involve us not looking upon nature as an unruly and intractable enemy that must be roundly defeated on all fronts just so we can better impose our own rules, aesthetics and geometries upon it. 

It would require us to collaborate with nature rather than to wage war on it.

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