Al Lehmann

And how was your food grown?

It’s farmers market time again. Local food is appealing, but are local farmers using the same chemicals as found in supermarket food?

We humans have a peculiar tendency to experiment on ourselves, often without even acknowledging the fact. We create some new environmental material or process and apply it with unseemly haste or unwarranted confidence.

New or old pollutants may (in small quantities) be readily absorbed or broken down by nature. However, we rarely do things by half measures, and the small quantities have a way of becoming amounts our world cannot adequately process.

For half a century, we have been pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, raising the concentration of CO2 alone by about 50 per cent.

Scientific consensus agrees that we’re creating (and ignoring) a terrifying problem.

Remember the old movie “The Graduate”? One of the older family friends had career advice for young Ben in one word: “Plastics!” Plastics are a marvelous invention with hundreds of uses. However, we’re creating so much of the stuff that according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, upwards of 12 million tonnes of it wash into the ocean each year, an amount projected to double over the next decade. With each mouthful of seafood, we’re likely getting a microdose of plastic.

Government regulators can’t possibly keep up.

The Chemical Abstracts Service shows the introduction of new compounds rising exponentially, with approximately hundreds of new substances being added each day.

Our steadily rising life expectancy suggests that we are coping with this vast chemical assault surprisingly well.

Nonetheless, there are critics. A site titled “Our Stolen Future” reports that between 50 per cent and 90 per cent of high production chemicals have not been tested for safety. Risks include carcinogenic activity, developmental neurotoxicity, and interference with reproductive and immune systems.

A high production chemical that has been fiercely marketed by its manufacturer(s) is glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup™. According to Scientific American, about 100 million pounds of it are applied to farms and lawns in North America each year. An effective weed-killer, it inhibits an enzyme that enables plants to grow.

Farmers are sold seed for their desired crops that has been genetically modified to make them resistant to glyphosate. Kill the weeds, not the crop. It’s a hell of a business plan, enabling the chemical companies to sell both the herbicide and the patented seed. Critics state that glyphosate interferes with gut bacteria that are essential to human health.

Thus although this herbicide may not directly affect humans, by disrupting essential bacterial metabolism, it may be indirectly harmful to us in numerous ways.

As retailed, glyphosate is mixed with other so-called “inert” ingredients that do not directly affect the targeted pest, but that may have harmful effects on humans.

Various formulations, when tested, showed these ingredients’ damage to embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells.

Presumably, foods that show significant glyphosate content also contain some of these harmful ingredients, and no final verdict is in on glyphosate safety.

Studies “proving” its safety have been withheld by corporations on the grounds that patents and intellectual property rights might be infringed if these documents were made available.

As recently as 2015, the World Health Organization reported that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer. Further, it is toxic to aquatic life and can cause irreversible eye damage.

However, the European Food Safety Authority has recently decided (based on human evidence and animal studies) that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”

Heading to the Farmers Market this summer? You might like to ask your local farmer about his use of glyphosate.

If chemicals bug you more than bugs or weeds, you might want to avoid it.

Retired English teacher Al Lehmann lives in Terrace, B.C.