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COLUMN: Do I really need to eat organic for my health?

In her weekly column, nutritionist Nonie De Long takes a deeper look at the question of how organic foods can affect your health
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Dear readers,

After writing for you for over a year now, the format of the column is changing slightly. Instead of a long form question, I'll reduce the question to a simple line. Readers will still submit their questions by email and I will answer the question. This week's question was submitted not by a reader, but by a client. She was concerned that there isn't a great selection of organic foods in her community and she isn't prepared to pay the premium price for them.

My answer on this has changed over the years, as I've learned more about the pesticides that are now being sprayed on almost all commercial crops (and animal feed). I now believe glyphosate – the most common commercial herbicide and desiccant used today – is extremely carcinogenic and dangerous. As such, I advise clients to consume organic produce whenever they can.

While the food industry, farmers, and consumers were all assured glyphosate was safe when adopting it, when you look more deeply it becomes evident there was a lack of long-term data on exposure in humans and wildlife to accurately make that claim.

Indeed, a 2019 article published in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information titled, “The Evidence of Human Exposure to Glyphosate: A Review,” looked at the data to date on both occupational and general exposure.

It begins, “Despite the growing and widespread use of glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide and desiccant, very few studies have evaluated the extent and amount of human exposure.” That was in 2019. Glyphosate was adopted for public use in 2006.

So evidently we were told it was safe before there existed data to support the claim.

So what does the data say?

More recent data shows the safety claims were trumped up. One 2017 study has shown that since 2006 when glyphosate was introduced, human levels have gone up 500 per cent. Lawsuits and class action lawsuits abound. In a fact sheet released in June of this year, USRTK published safety concern statements from several scientific groups:

The fact sheet goes on to list the data on cancer risks and the pressure from Monsanto to block and redact those studies to direct favourable (to them) agricultural policy. One after one health organizations globally have buried the concern about cancers, although lawsuit after lawsuit finds the chemical responsible in at least one form of cancer. The data set to explore why continues, despite strong pressure to the contrary. Glyphosate has been classified as a probable cancer-causing chemical by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization.

Moreover, glyphosate is a known endocrine disruptor. Fertility is an unprecedented issue here in the West now. The data sheet lists the data that links that to glyphosate use.

Studies abound to demonstrate the pesticide's toxicity to fish and mammals.

Health Canada set to increase glyphosate levels

Despite this, Health Canada is right now in the midst of increasing our maximum residue levels (MRLs) for glyphosate – to bring them closer to US levels – for trade purposes. The deadline for public input was supposed to be July 20, 2021, but has been quietly pushed back. Readers, have you even heard about this in the news? These changes would be reflected in your country's food policy for years (maybe decades) to come. It involves a very controversial chemical. Have you even heard about it?

The proposed changes would allow significantly increased levels of glyphosate in commodities such as oats, lentils, and beans. There are many more that would be impacted. For a full list and description of the changes proposed by Health Canada, click here.

How that impacts organic produce

The Canadian Organic Trade Association (COTA) is concerned. Why? The suggested changes also affect the organic sector because its protocol is essentially 5 per cent of the MRL.

This means even your certified organic foods can contain higher amounts of glyphosate. And your non-organic foods will contain MUCH higher amounts of glyphosate in many cases.

The new deadline for citizen input has been extended by 45 days. It's unclear to me how consumers can share their concerns in anything I've read, but contacting your MP and/or creating and circulating a petition might be a good start.

Forest fires also linked to glyphosate

You may not realize the link between the raging forest fires and glyphosate spraying. It has become common to spray forests to kill certain species of trees to make other trees grow better for easier harvest. Isn't it convenient for Monsanto/ Bayer that it also increases sales of glyphosate products? But I digress.

Since that inception we have seen an exponential increase in huge scale, uncontrollable forest fires. Scientists have been speaking up about the link since at least 2019.

New Brunswick is one community where citizens are starting to fight back. The New Brunswick Environmental Network has been collecting signatures and putting pressure on local agencies to stop spraying the forests.

Other regions have started to take action, realizing Health Canada is not listening to citizens on this issue. On April 6, the Quebec city of Laval initiated a bylaw banning the use of glyphosate, “to protect human health, pollinating insects, wildlife and natural spaces.”

One bush pilot and environmental lawyer in Foleyet, Joel Theriault, has spent about 20 years now petitioning the provincial government to stop spraying glyphosate over Ontario forests. His petition has fallen on dead ears. And dead trees, as certain species are wiped out by the spray. Theiault insists the wildlife are killed by the product, too. He says he won’t observe any living species in sprayed areas for a good time after the sprays. The Ministry defends the practice, saying the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has determined glyphosate is safe to humans and the environment.

It begs the question when people will believe what is right in front of their faces.

In May of this year, Green MP Jenica Atwin tabled a private member's bill to ban the use of glyphosate in Canada.

Eating organic is essential

So, to answer your question, I fervently recommend organic produce consumption wherever possible and even better - growing your own food at home in organic, composted soil. In coming weeks I will elaborate on systems to do that and how to get started – even in small spaces indoors. If this is something you're interested in, you can reach me by email. As always, if you have a question you can direct it there also. Readers can find more about me online.

Nonie Nutritionist