Hello. My name is Mary Lou McDonald, and I am a retired lawyer and president of Safe Food Matters Inc.(SFM). You may have heard of us: we are the not for profit taking Health Canada to Federal Court (on January 30, 2020) over glyphosate. I want to talk about “Regenerative Agriculture”, the buzz word of this time. But first a brief explanation of our court case: skip over as you’d like!
CasesIn 2019 the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) rejected the objections of SFM (and me) and seven other groups to the 2017 Decision of the PMRA to continue the registration of glyphosate in Canada for another 20-some years. The groups had made various objections that pointed out significant environmental and human health concerns with glyphosate and I made eight objections which are as follows: 1. Residues of glyphosate in certain crops areincreasing because of desiccation, to the point that residues exceed the maximum residue (MRL) legallimits in some cases; 2. Exposure to glyphosate in the current Canadian diet was not examined in the PMRA evaluation of health; 3. Consumption levels of foods with glyphosate have increased significantly;4. MRLs for glyphosate applied on crops sprayed under expanded labels (labels of chemical companies for conventional uses that PMRA expanded to allow for desiccation/pre-harvest on crops like chickpeas and mustard) are not valid; 5. The proposed changes to the spraying labels don’t address the risk; 6.Labels aren’t followed anyway; 7. Enforcement won’t work; 8. Health Canada’s own law admits labels don’t stop exceedances of MRLs.
PMRA rejected all of our objections, and did not even to speak to objections 5, 6, 7, and 8 made aboutlabelling. We thought we had met the requirement of “raising a scientific doubt” about the validity of the health evaluation of PMRA, and so are asking the Federal Court whether the rejection of PMRA was reasonable. Our court date in Toronto is January 30, 2020 at 180 Queen Street West for the full day, starting at 9:30 am (please come observe).
We expect and hope that the Federal Court will issue its decision within months and direct the Minister ofHealth to establish an independent review panel of persons who possess scientific knowledge about the issues. The panel is to review the 2017 decision to reregister glyphosate and recommend whether the decision should be confirmed, reversed or varied.
The terms of reference for the independent review panel will be set by the Minister of Health, and we will ensure that the public is made aware of these terms. The public can also be part of the process (sec.35 Pest Control Products Act): any person can make representations in accordance with the terms ofreference, and hearings are to be open to the public. We thank you for support received throughour GoFundMe campaign and fantastic positive social media and action-oriented support.
Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but when I see a phrase I don’t understand I go to its historical root, itsetymology. The etymology of “regenerate” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary is:
mid-15c., from Latin regeneratus, past participle of regenerare “bring forth again”
There are all sorts of definitions being bandied about these days for “Regenerative Agriculture” (as Dag Falck of Nature’s Path so aptly illustrated in his presentation at COTA’s Organic Summit inNovember). The concepts I like the best go back to the root of the word and to the first use in the farming context. The root or etymology of “regenerate” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary is:
mid-15c., from Latin regeneratus, past participle of regenerare “bring forth again”
And it appears that Robert Rodale from the Rodale Institute was the first to use the term “regenerative” inthe farming context. He indicated (as quoted at p7 in Rodale’s White Paper) that regenerative organic agriculture:
“takes advantage of the natural tendencies of ecosystems to regenerate when disturbed. In that primary sense it is distinguished from other types of agriculture that either oppose or ignore the value of those natural tendencies”.
To build on this, here is one approach for thinking about “regenerative agriculture”. I suggest that the purpose of regenerative agriculture would be to take advantage of the natural tendency of the soil ecosystem to regenerate; to “bring forth” healthy soil. The means or methods by which this purpose is accomplished is where things get interesting. Some say it is by organic methods, others point to permaculture, others embrace agroecology, and some even point to conventional agriculture. To my mind they are all valid provided the means have the desired effect and create real results.
What are the desired effects? At the most basic level of biology, I would think the desired effect is a soil that is built up or improved and not depleted. And, as I understand it, each of organic, permaculture andagroecology achieve the desired effects. Conventional agriculture might have this effect as well, to the extent it can build up and not deplete the soil. This will be a point of discussion going forward I’m sure.
If you will indulge me, prior to getting to the results, let me tell you a bit about how glyphosate depletesthe soil, which means it obviously has no place in the concept of regenerative agriculture which requiresa regenerated, not depleted, soil.
How Glyphosate Depletes the Soil (and ends up in our food)
Glyphosate was patented as an antibiotic and as a chelator. As an antibiotic it kills bacteria, and as achelator it binds with and immobilizes certain minerals. I found this series helpful in understanding this.
In its action as an antibiotic, glyphosate moves to the roots of the plant into the soil and kills beneficial rhizoshere microbes. Only 1/10 of 1 ppm is needed to kill the good bacteria, whereas it takes 4000 timesthat to start killing the bad bacteria, or pathogens. Because “nature doesn’t like a vacuum”, nature fillsup the void left around the roots with more pathogens. This obviously depletes the soil, and the plantweakens. It does not set as many seeds in its growing stages as it otherwise would, and yield drops.
In its chelating action, glyphosate does two things. First, it pulls minerals away from plant enzymes that are needed for the operating and immune systems of the plant, thereby weakening these plant systems. Second, it moves along with the minerals and gets translocated into certain foods we eat, asfollows. Prior to physiological maturity, a plant that is forming seeds is spending its energy pushing nutrients and minerals into the seed. When glyphosate is sprayed on the growing plant at this time, itchelates (binds with) the minerals, moves with them to the seed, and rests there. This is what is causing the high levels of glyphosate in grains and legumes (which is a basic argument in our Federal Court case).
As summarized by the Purdue scientists J.S. Dohal and Don M. Huber in their groundbreaking Glyphosate Effects on Diseases of Plants (at 150)
Glyphosate chelation of nutrients in the plant and soil can render those nutrients immobile and unavailable for plant use or uptake, while toxicity to essential synergistic and beneficial soil organisms (Purcell, 2001) further reduces availability of nutrients that are critical for a plant’s physiological defence to disease.
The Results of Regenerative Agriculture
Having looked at the purpose, means and effects of regenerative agriculture at the level of soil health, wecan look at the results. They are tremendous, of course, and resonate:
Perhaps this idea of “regeneration” as a “natural tendency of an ecosystem to regenerate when disturbed” could be applied to systems other than just ecosystems. A hot topic in medical journals isencouraging beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome as a way to prevent and resolve diseases.Regenerate the gut. In the realm of the society, many have been disturbed by the propagation ofdivisiveness, and are reaching out and creating community and relationships in new and myriad ways.Regenerate community. And in the realm of the spirit, the propagation of fear can be countered by aculture of hope. Given the results discussed above, regenerative agriculture is perhaps a platform forhope. Regenerate hope.
This month’s Buzz Builder is a contribution from Mary LouMacDonald who is a founding member and president of the Canadiannon-profit Safe Food Matters Inc. (SFM). She wrote SFM’s notice ofobjection (NoO) to the 2017 re-registration of glyphosate, and also wrotethe organization’s initial application for judicial review of Health Canada’s2019 decision to reject the NoO. Mary Lou has also worked on persistentorganic pollutants, in particular DecaBDE, a toxic fire retardant. Herpetition to the Auditor General of Canada argued the regulations wereflawed because they didn’t account for bioaccumulation through breathingair. She has also been published in the Journal of Environmental Law and Practise on the application of bioaccumulation criteria in Alberta regulatory hearings.
Learn more about Safe Food Matters here.