Some good news about glyphosate… but does it matter?

A recent report out of Ontario tells a good news story about the much beleaguered herbicide glyphosate. Put simply, the rumours are true — the massive move to herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) genetics in corn and soybeans in Ontario has drastically reduced the total amount of active herbicide ingredients applied per acre, even while corn and soybean yields have increased.

What’s more, while total active ingredient per acre has declined, the rate of glyphosate use has skyrocketed. One is directly correlated to the other. And this is good news, as glyphosate is far less toxic to humans, animals, and the environment, than other herbicides, says Christopher Dufault, principal of Christopher P. Dufault and Associates and senior Agri-Trend agri-coach.

The tricky part, though, is that what those in agriculture view as “good news” may not play out quite so rosy in the court of public opinion.

Dufault used Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs data to compile the report (Ontario (OMAFR) Long Term Glyphosate), co-authored with Rob Saik, founder of Agri-Trend. The data is public, Dufault simply put it all together with some handy graphs to show just how significant an impact the introduction of herbicide tolerance and glyphosate use has had.

For anyone concerned about environmental and human impacts of herbicide use, this is a good news story — a compelling one, at that — but my concern is that the context of its significance will be completely lost in the noise of the current “off with its head!” mentality towards glyphosate.

And that’s too bad, as the findings are quite staggering. Between 1983 and 2013, the total amount of herbicide used in field corn in Ontario declined by 39%. In the same time frame, yields increased 74%. For soybean, the story is similar, with a 188% acreage increase happening with only a 47% increase in herbicide use. Here too, yields have increased (by over 50% per acre) despite reduced total herbicide usage, relative to acreage increase.

This is significant, as the report also highlights a secondary benefit to reduced total herbicide use — not only have farmers reduced grams per active per acre, they’ve also moved away from more toxic chemistries (toxicity being a function of exposure level, over time).

Ontario has published a report on the environmental risk associated with pesticide use, using an Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) to estimate the hazard associated with the use of each pesticide recorded in the survey. The EIQ is an indicator of the potential of a pesticide to cause harm to farm workers, consumers, and ecosystems. In this case, the lower the EIQ, the better. Out of all the pesticidal active ingredients identified in the survey as having been used in Ontario in 2013, glyphosate ranks 10th lowest.  More good news

As Dufault explains further and in more detail in the audio below, we have substantial science to affirm that glyphosate is safe to use and is not a carcinogen. It is, in fact, one of the more benign choices farmers have, and farmers are using the product in the place of more harmful options. Again, all good news.

But for all the good news, I’m afraid that most who already fear the word “Roundup” will focus only on the increased use of the herbicide, not what the product replaced.

I’m afraid this is good news come too late.

Listen below to Christopher Dufault discuss the report entitled, “Some good news about glyphosate.”

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