Cracks in the Wall: The Fall of Glyphosate

great wall of china

When I was young, folks claimed (quite often, actually) that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made structure on earth visible from the moon. Astronauts have since declared this particular statement to be false. But it’s a claim that has a lot of parallels to the current glyphosate debate. Chemical companies are like the symbolic equivalent of the Great Wall—certainly Monsanto and their popular cure-all product, Roundup (which is glyphosate in a bottle) qualifies. Roundup was once touted as the savior of chemical agricultural production here in the U.S. and around the world. Monsanto claimed it was safe, both for humans and the environment, with the assurance that glyphosate breaks down in the sunlight and upon contact with the soil—harmless components with no health risks. But none of these supposedly tested and verified claims are turning out to be true—serious and detrimental cracks in the “Great Wall” of chemical agriculture.

One such crack in the Great Glyphosate Wall came about recently in California following the court ruling that glyphosate caused school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, to have cancer—a verdict that cost the supposedly safe chemical giant more than a quarter of a billion dollars! Following the trial, an expert witness observed that the unanimity of the jury and the size of the punitive award made this an historic turning point for chemical companies that think they can control their version of science. It’s also going to be very hard to challenge on appeal because the judge sided with Monsanto on virtually all objections, driving the plaintiff attorneys near crazy. And ninety percent of the hard evidence regarding Monsanto’s dirty tricks wasn’t even presented to the jury, yet they still found the company’s behavior reckless. So much for Monsanto’s claim that glyphosate has no health consequences.

That same week another crack in the Great Glyphosate Wall appeared when a publication by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) commented on the concerning amount of glyphosate in breakfast cereals. Many of these are common cereals we’re feeding our children and grandchildren, and they’re showing heavy glyphosate contamination! Even some of the organic cereals had traces of glyphosate, which is something we have seen in some of our organic grains, despite having never been sprayed.

Since 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” and the resulting PR battle with chemical companies, like Monsanto, has raged ever since. Dewayne Johnson’s victory exposed Monsanto’s half-truths and lies and provided a showcase of further scientific evidence to support the World Health Organization’s evaluation.

While Monsanto and other chemical companies continue to insist their products are safe, or that they break down in the sun and soil, our studies have even found glyphosate in our rain water! Reports of glyphosate contaminating waterways and soil have been around for a while, but glyphosate in the rain is relatively new. And even more alarming are the growing reports of contamination in our food supply.

Recently, my son, Adam, attended a food safety course in Great Falls, Montana where one of the grain company representatives said their local elevators would no longer accept grain sprayed with glyphosate. This is likely due to a growing number of export customers who will only accept grain that is not contaminated with glyphosate—and wisely so!

Years ago, when I visited the Great Wall of China, I found a section of the wall that hadn’t been restored. Hidden over a rise, out of sight and yet just a few feet from the restored area, were the ruins of the original wall. It was worn and weathered, crumbling and full of cracks—nothing like the solid stone wall on the other side of the rise. The Great Glyphosate Wall is like the Great Wall of China: supposedly solid, supposedly safe. But if you step over that rise, you see the real wall, the real cost to farms, farmers and the environment. You see the cracks in a contaminated food supply and the deterioration of human health. I believe the days of glyphosate are numbered, that we are at the beginning of the end of the experiment with chemical agriculture. And it is my hope that more USDA research can be channeled to sustainable, non-chemical weed and pest control systems because the Great Glyphosate Wall will continue to crumble as more people see it for what it is.

The Organic Revolution: The Future of Food for the World

When I was young, the world was a buzz with the prospects of the “Green Revolution”—a movement intended to feed the world through the industrialization of agriculture with the promise of higher yields using large inputs of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. The Green Revolution officially began after World War II, was first characterized in 1968, and Normal Borlaug is credited as the father of this movement. The original focus was India, where famine and food shortages were almost a way of life.

If you focus solely on the total increase in production, you would say the Green Revolution was a rousing success. But if you look closer, there are more questions than answers. More hidden costs of cheap and plentiful food that promoters of this system don’t like to discuss. The long-term problems associated with this high-input, unsustainable, artificial system are starting to cast a deepening shadow over the short-term advantages.

Questions regarding the unintended costs of the Green Revolution, and the adoption of alternative, more sustainable agricultural systems, began as very small, isolated voices soon after the movement was heralded as the future of mankind. In recent years, these small voices have grown in number and volume, becoming a large and significant chorus from all around the world—a new revolution. And interestingly enough, talk of this new “Organic Revolution” is strongest in India—the very country targeted as the cradle of the Green Revolution from my youth.

Very recently, mid-summer this year, the German TV broadcaster, ZDF, aired a story they had co-produced about the paradigm shift of agriculture in India. The program included a story about the first 100% organic state in India—all 65,000 farmers were converted to organic! The nearby country Bhutan is still working on a similar goal, which will make it the first country in the world to be 100% organic! Another federal state in India, Uttarakhand, has also made the commitment to convert to 100% organic. There are 1.6 million farmers in Uttarakhand! Earlier this summer, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh announced its intent to convert all farmers to 100% pesticide free, which is very close to organic. In total, just in India, we’re talking about 6 million organic farmers! This is not just a paradigm shift but an agricultural revolution—or perhaps a better term might be “evolution,” as it must continue to evolve if it is to be sustainable.

But what is driving this Organic Revolution? I believe it has the same drivers all over the world—the high cost of producing, processing and eating cheap food. (More on the high cost of cheap food, feeding the world using regenerative organic agriculture and the reduction of food waste to come.) The goal of the Green Revolution was to feed the people of the world; the goal of the Organic Revolution is to nourish the people of the world and heal the earth where we live.

Join me and the millions of voices—farmers, gardeners, consumers and businesses—who believe in nutritious, sustainable food, for today and for the future. Support the Organic Revolution and take control of your health. #organicrevolution

Folks on the Farm: Trevor Wilkerson

Trevor Wilkerson Oil Barn General Manager

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Trevor Wilkerson. I grew up in Utah and I’ve lived in Montana seven years but I’ve also lived in Idaho, Arizona and other places in the west. I served a mission in Brazil for two years and studied Electrical and Computer Engineering with a math minor at BYU in Provo. I also took a few business and accounting classes in high school.

What is your position here in Big Sandy, Montana?

I’m the general manager at The Oil Barn® and the bookkeeper for several of Bob’s local enterprises, including Sand Coulee Farm & Ranch, which leases land from Bob, and Big Sandy Organics® (Kracklin’ Kamut®).

What are your overall responsibilities?

As the general manager, I make sure that we have enough oil for our customers. I make sure we have growers that are growing seed for the coming years harvest. And I make sure the seed is in good quality, which includes having the appropriate lab tests done. I track whether it’s too high in free fatty acids for our cooking vendors, and that it’s high enough in oleic acid for our soap manufacturers. And I make sure we have enough bottles, containers and supplies to keep The Oil Barn® going.

How long have you worked with Bob?

I’ve been working for Bob and his enterprises for a year as of this month. I started as the bookkeeper for Big Sandy Organics®, Quinn Farm & Ranch, and a couple of Bob’s smaller local entities. Then I started working with Andrew at The Oil Barn® as a sort of assistant, cleaning seed and filters and things like that. So I learned a lot of The Oil Barn® processes before Bob’s son-in-law, Andrew, left in April.

How did you become aware of Bob Quinn?

About ten years ago, I met Jerry Taylor—Bob’s daughter, Allison’s, husband—at church in Helena, Montana. I became good friends with Jerry and his family and a little over a year ago they’d mentioned that Bob was hiring a bookkeeper here in Big Sandy. So I applied and got the job.

What’s your favorite part of your job so far?

I like that it’s all organic. I like the rural community, the small-town feel. And the people I work with are great.

What sort of changes or additions would you like to make in your current position, and why?

I would like to develop a way to make “organic” as economic as possible, while still maintaining the quality our customers have come to expect in what is really a healthy, excellent product.

What goals do you hope to help Bob achieve in your work?

To strive to be profitable, I think is always a goal for a growing business. But we also want to be able to provide more jobs here in Big Sandy. And, of course, enjoy the work.

Did you grow up on a farm?

My dad was a farm mechanic in Roosevelt, Utah, so everything he fixed was tractors and trucks for local farmers and ranchers. But that was as close to agriculture as I got growing up.

What do you enjoy about working for Bob?

Bob has a great attitude! He’s upbeat and personable and he cares about what you’re doing. He’s also quick to share fresh fruits and veggies from his garden, orchard and dryland plots, which is always a bonus.

Were you familiar with organic farming before working for Bob?

Not specifically. I’d read about organic farming a bit and I’ve done some of my own research. But I hadn’t known anything about organic agriculture until I’d met Jerry and Allison about ten years ago and they started to introduce me to things.

What are your thoughts on organic farming?

Frankly, I think it’s the only way to farm. I think that if you do it any other way you’re not being a good steward of the land, which is something Bob mentions in his business mission statements. I try to buy as much organic as possible, not only to support the organic economy but to promote my own personal health; if it’s organic I don’t have to worry about what I’m eating.

In conclusion, has working with organic farmers changed your perceptions about farming and food supply?

Yeah. With my initial introduction to organic ten years ago, it’s become a key part of my outlook on health. I knew organic farming was good. But I didn’t realize how much effort went into organic farming or understand the practical application of how it all came together—with the green manure crops and everything. So that’s where I think I’ve learned a lot here and from Bob’s blog articles. It’s been really good to learn more about those practices.