Glyphosate and neonics—herbicides and pesticides contested as benign by most of big ag and big gardening— were in the news again. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has stated that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans; its evidence came from human agricultural exposure as well as from lab and cell studies. This is the latest in a series of studies that indicate harm of some kind—but each is always disputed as soon as it appears.
Neonics (or neonicotinoids) have been in the crosshairs for a while; it’s under dispute whether they cause harm to honeybees. Pick your study on that one—there are many. I tend to go along with this op-ed, particularly its last line: “absence of evidence does not always mean evidence of absence.”
There are angry debates aplenty over all this, including a famous televised incident where a Monsanto lobbyist refused to drink a glass of Round-Up. As for the bees, a different culprit for CCD emerges on a regular basis. These compounds are widely used, however; the US gets through 280 million pounds of glysophate a year, and even if you avoid neonic-containing sprays, they may already be present in plants from big commercial growers. (Home Depot is now labeling its neonic-treated plants.)
It would be nice if those who can’t get along without these sprays could explore safe alternatives. But the culture of spraying is engrained and is still vehemently defended by many. I’m pretty sure that if I did use glyphosate—which I never have—I’d likely be fine. But given everything I’ve read so far, I do not find this soothing. It’s the big commercial uses that pose the biggest risk, and I can’t support that by buying it. Anyway, mechanical means are preferable to chemical means in gardening situations (and most others).
Sadly, how people line up on this too often depends on the strength of their connections to the big green industries. And those connections run deeply through the culture.
P.S. Happy birthday, Susan!