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Glyphosate spraying and wild foods: a letter to Minister Mark Furey

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – On April 11 Craig Hubley wrote the following letter about the lack of information on glyphosate buildup in wild foraged foods to Mark Furey, MLA for Lunenburg West and the Minister of Business and Service Nova Scotia

Dear Mark,

I would appreciate a brief response regarding any plans for the province to actively investigate glyphosate residue & buildup in Nova Scotia wild foods, or those harvested near glyphosate-sprayed areas, or to at least identify which wild or cultivated foods might concentrate glyphosate more than others.  This information is of great interest to the wild food gathering / forage industry.  As you may know, recently the use of foraged foods has become extremely important to food & ecological tourism.  I point to the example of Noma in Denmark, see Anthony Bourdain ate an insane ‘foraged’ feast at Noma and NOMA first and best restaurant in the world (video).

This emphasis on wild-foraged foods – including spruce tips and other foods not traditionally thought of as intended for human consumption – has implications for how we manage our forests here in Nova Scotia.

According to CBC, glyphosate (Monsanto “VisionMax”) spraying has continued on 1000-2000 hectares/year in Nova Scotia through 2016.

[From that story:] “Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, said there is no evidence that glyphosate creates a risk to human health if used properly.”  However, this seems to abuse the phrase “no evidence” since other agencies do see a connection – the word “properly” is a hedge word one hopes not to see in a medical opinion.

Nor is human health the only concern, as the combination of clear-cutting plus glyphosate alters forest regrowth, and in the long run may alter or dose non-timber forest products such as mushrooms, and certainly in “timber” products like spruce tips (eaten by deer & human).

That same CBC story cites a detailed specialist opinion: “Glyphosate residues have been found in California wine, in menstrual pads, in German beer, in the urine of 99.6 per cent of Germans tested…. [and may]  mimic a naturally occurring amino acid, called glycine, and prevent proteins in the body from working properly.”  These may be at higher dose levels, or via a pathway through the [very few] ingredients incorporated in German beer.  I submit we have not investigated this risk, specifically, as it relates to our use of such products in Nova Scotia.  Such as wild apples, mushrooms, forest lichens and mosses, to say nothing of spruce tips directly.  Nor have effects on fields been ruled out.  And certainly no one has studied glyphosate levels in deer.

Were this to affect our wines, the loss would surely outweigh any gain.

All sources agree that dosage levels are key to determining toxicity: but those dosage levels could skyrocket if a particular edible from the forest floor, one eaten directly by humans or by game animals, were to concentrate a toxin.  If a toxin survives even the brewing process, then it is also likely to survive wine-making.

Given the primary/only use of glyphosate is to suppress hardwood growth after clear-cutting, perhaps the clear-cutting itself is the ultimate problem, and it should be minimized or eliminated on all Crown lands.  Genetic stock is poorly maintained by clear-cuts, although some nearly-clear-cut techniques (leaving one or two large trees to dominate the re-seeding) have a place in modern forestry.

I’ve signed the petition advising a ban as the doubt doesn’t seem worth the risk.  While the jury remains out on what Monsanto did or did not suppress, they are known to very closely control research.

Without evidence regarding concentration in wild mushrooms, spruce tips and downstream crops, it seems likely we will hear about some glyphosate buildup in one of more Nova Scotia food products soon.

The details ‘refuting’ claims about concentrated doses aren’t very reassuring:  “The statement about 0.1 ppb being the lower limit for harm to human health is controversial, as only one of the studies listed as providing support for that claim actually tested an amount that low; the test was performed on mice, not humans, and it used the word “potential”, not “probable”.”.  This may let Monsanto get off in court, but it won’t reassure anyone who eats a long-lived forest mushroom.  And it may keep spruce tips off our menus entirely.   No Nomas here?

Those who question Monsanto, with its history of attacking farmers, denying genetic drift clearly proven by scientists, hiding research & using GMO patents to inhibit independent studies, should not have to worry about this.  And it certainly should not be affecting perceptions of health of our Nova Scotia wild foods, and thus negatively affecting our tourism & farmer’s markets.  And, potentially, our wine industry as well.  Just as inland drumlins have been identified as potential growing areas… these doubts may even discourage opening new grape fields.

I haven’t heard this particular concern within the wine industry yet, but I know that widespread spraying in Annapolis Valley has negatively impacted their tourism, arts community, and perception of the health of spending a lot of time there.  I hope that none of that happens here.

Glyphosate use tends to spread and is under extreme scrutiny in NB, see: Anti spray group launches campaign to ban glyphosate and Herbicide use in Nova Scotian Crown forests panned by Ecology Action Centre.

I’m not seeing the gain in continuing even a limited use of glyphosate.  There are other ways to suppress undesirable trees or ensure that the genetic stock that re-seeds nearly-clear-cut areas is robust softwoods.
Notably, by leaving the big ones standing to do that reseeding onsite.

There are many other matters I’d rather discuss in person, so this will be my last communication on this matter directly.

You’ve been a champion of our wild foods & farmers’ markets before & I hope you continue to be, even if this decision isn’t one we agree on.

Craig Hubley

See also: DNR drops acclaimed forestry certification program in Western Nova Scotia

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One Comment

  1. As a student of health over fifty years I delighted to forage wild foods across Canada, including my years in N.S. As a person with MCS and, like you, deeply concerned for the environment I
    do congratulate your very well worded and researched letter. Keep up the good work on behalf of all creatures, including us foraging humans! Thank you for your concern and action.

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