The Truth of the Monsanto Papers

Glyphosate has been a big story over the past 12 months: Dewayne Johnson’s multi-million dollar payout, numerous countries attempting to phase it out or outright ban it, and a new wave of certified “Glyphosate Residue Free” food labels. With this onslaught of pressure, it’s really not surprising that Health Canada had to reevaluate its previous conclusion of glyphosate’s safety.

In 2017, Health Canada undertook a “final re-evaluation” of the embattled product, in which it assessed the “potential human health risk of glyphosate from drinking water, food, occupational and bystander exposure, as well as the environmental risk to non-target organisms” (Health Canada). Their conclusion?

“The overall finding from the re-examination of glyphosate is highlighted as follows:

  • Glyphosate is not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk.
  • Dietary (food and drinking water) exposure associated with the use of glyphosate is not expected to pose a risk of concern to human health.
  • Occupational and residential risks associated with the use of glyphosate are not of concern, provided that updated label instructions are followed.
  • The environmental assessment concluded that spray buffer zones are necessary to mitigate potential risks to non-target species (for examplevegetation near treated areas, aquatic invertebrates and fish) from spray drift.
  • When used according to revised label directions, glyphosate products are not expected to pose risks of concern to the environment.
  • All registered glyphosate uses have value for weed control in agriculture and non-agricultural land management.”

Re-evaluation Decision RVD2017-01, Glyphosate. PMRA. 28 April 2017.

As a farmer, I knew all this. We have used this amazing product on our farm for over 40 years! It has been the single greatest contributor to the single greatest agricultural revolution in Western Canadian history: no-till (what is no-till? Read more here). It has saved thousands of tonnes of topsoil, along with all the nutrients and organic matter contained in it, and fundamentally changed the sustainability of Western Canadian farms.

Following the release of this decision, Health Canada received eight notices of objection, along with some questions about the validity of the scientific articles claiming glyphosate’s safety. So, the question had to be re-analyzed: is glyphsate safe? Or has the scientific community been unduly influenced by the much-maligned Monsanto?

Evil Monsanto?

For the record, I don’t and have never worked for Monsanto, and they have zero influence over what I choose to grow on my farm. Some of my crops contain the Roundup-Ready gene, including some of my canola and soybean acres, but they don’t force me to grow their crops – it is and always has been my choice!

Monsanto is often touted as the big bad of Big Ag, the lobbying powerhouse who controls governments around the world. Here’s a reality check: not only was Monsanto not the most powerful company in the world, it wasn’t even the biggest agriculture company. In fact, Monsanto no longer exists. Bayer bought them out last year, and even the Monsanto name is gone forever.

Many companies in the food industry are larger than Monsanto. Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon) has revenues several times larger than Monsanto!

So, the idea that Monsanto can influence government policy in any significant way is simply laughable. They are just not big enough.

The Re-evaluation Results

On January 11, 2019, Health Canada released a statement containing the results of the thorough scientific review they undertook to consider the objections raised to their 2017 paper.

“Our scientists left no stone unturned in conducting this review. To help ensure an unbiased assessment of the information, Health Canada selected a group of 20 of its own scientists who were not involved in the 2017 re-evaluation to evaluate the notices of objection.”

Clearly, they took the objections seriously and checked all relevant sources for information. They went to significant lengths to ensure no bias in their report. Here is their final conclusion:

“…we have concluded that the concerns raised by the objectors could not be scientifically supported when considering the entire body of relevant data. The objections raised did not create doubt or concern regarding the scientific basis for the 2017 re-evaluation decision for glyphosate. Therefore, the Department’s final decision will stand.” (read more here)

Why This Decision Is So Important

Science has been challenged in so many places in the last several years. Too often, governments give in to non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and so on, without considering real scientific evidence. It seems sometimes that the loudest voice gets the policy they want.

As farmers, we rely on scientists to help us understand what is safe, and to present that information to an increasingly concerned public. We rely on the scientific process; the process that created this amazing technologically advanced world we live in. The process that revolutionized medicine, travel, communications; the process that gave us clean drinking water, the lights you turn on every morning, and the car you take to work every day; the process that gave us the antibiotics and vaccinations that keep our children from getting sick.

Everything we have, and everything we can achieve, is because of science. Without it, we are alone in a cold, dark and dangerous world. It is because of the scientific process that democracy can exist. Any one of us, following the scientific method of trial and error; of controls and experimentation; of recording our results and letting our peers try the same experiment to see if it works for them too, regardless of who we are or where we came from, can seek and find the truth. Science is the greatest gift we have as a society.

Health Canada’s re-evaluation initially worried me: giving in to the vagaries of activists? What if their result is influenced by them?

But as I thought about it, I realized there could be only one decision. Only one result could come out of this re-evaluation: that glyphosate, if used as directed, is safe. Because that’s what the science has been telling us all along.

This decision by Health Canada reaffirms the crucial importance of the scientific method. It cannot be influenced by money, power or even the government itself. Only by careful, meticulous research and experimentation can we learn the truth. And that is exactly what happened here: science won the day. Let’s hope it always does.

 

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Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer?

Glyphosate and cancer. This is something we are hearing so much about, seemingly all of the sudden, with major stories breaking in the last week. Just last Friday, a court case in California resulted in a $289 million dollar payment to a man named Dewayne Johnson, who claimed his years of using glyphosate (also known as Roundup) caused him to develop cancer. A few days before this story broke, glyphosate use was suspended by a judge in Brazil pending a government reevaluation of its toxicity.

What is going on here?

I am a farmer who uses glyphosate. My dad started using it decades ago, and it has absolutely been the single greatest invention in agricultural history. And it is unequivocally, fantastically safe. It is one of the lowest toxicity herbicides we use on our farm. It is less toxic than alcohol. Less toxic than caffeine. So what is all this about?

Why Do We Need It?

I am apart of a multi-generation family farm in southeast Saskatchewan, Canada. We grow canola, wheat, durum, peas, lentils, flax and soybeans, along with a few other crops. I farm with my sister, my mom and dad, my brother-in-law and my wife and two little boys. I love what I do.

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In my part of the Canadian Prairies, we farm in some pretty dry conditions. Our average growing-season rainfall is about 9 inches, or 225 mm. Snow and fall rains provide us with another 4-5 inches. This is semi-arid agriculture, where the next rain really can provide the difference between profit and loss. So, we work very hard to use every drop of moisture we get. We have to. That means we cannot allow weeds to grow, and we must leave the soil undisturbed as much as possible – we do not want to till our land if we can at all avoid it.

What glyphosate allows us to do is to kill every weed in the field before the crop emerges. In the days before glyphosate, my grandfather had the very same goal – but he only had one way to do it. He had to work the land, over and over and over. The goal was to make it absolutely black. That was the only tool they had, and sadly, it was the direct cause of the great dust storms of the Dirty 30’s. Why would we ever want to go back to that?

Moreover, glyphosate allows us to control weeds in certain crops as they grow. Canola and soybeans are two crops I grow that are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. This means we can spray it over the crops, while they are young and struggle to compete with weeds, to keep them clean. We use different chemicals in other crops to accomplish the same thing, but none have the broad spectrum control that glyphosate has – and few of them are as cheap, or as safe.

The introduction of Roundup-Ready crops, including corn, soybean, canola, cotton and so on, has allowed for safe, simple, very cost-effective weed control.

Is It Safe?

This is the big question, and if you follow the news at all, I could certainly understand if you don’t feel it is safe. You may think it causes cancer, autism, and any number of diseases. That is what you’ll find on the Internet.

Here’s the experience of a farmer.

I use glyphosate hundreds of hours every year. I load and run our sprayers (along with farm employees and my family) over thousands and thousands of acres spraying glyphosate. My son rides in the sprayer with me sometimes. And I don’t worry at all about glyphosate being dangerous.

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Here’s the thing about spraying a chemical like glyphosate. An acre of land is 43,560 square feet, which is a little smaller than an American football field. On that acre, 360 grams of glyphosate active ingredient is sprayed. Put another way: 2 cans of beer of glyphosate sprayed over an area almost the size of a football field. That’s .015 mL of beer on each square foot – and that includes the solution the glyphosate active ingredient is suspended in. That is an incredibly low concentration. A standard “drop” of water is .05 mL. That’s less than a third of a drop of water!

Sure, some chemicals are highly toxic in even very small doses. Glyphosate is not one of those chemicals. Its LD50, or the lethal dose for 50% of rats in testing, is 5,600 mg/kg. The LD50 for caffeine? 192 mg/kg. Don’t panic about your coffee though – that’s still very safe!

Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer?

While I have explained that an acute dose of glyphosate is safe, that doesn’t really answer the cancer question. That is something that would accrue over many years, and may have little to do with the aforementioned LD50. Has this been studied thoroughly enough to be sure glyphosate is indeed safe? And has it been studied by independent organizations and scientists?

John Giesy, a professor and research chair in environmental toxicology at the University of Saskatchewan, would argue that yes, glyphosate is safe. He has quite the resume, as a professor or honorary professor at six other universities and is the most cited author in the world in the combined fields of ecology and environmental sciences. In an article you can find here, when speaking about the subject of cancer, he had this to say:

“Certainly you wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But whether it’s caused by glyphosate, in my opinion, is highly unlikely.”

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO agency, claimed that glyphosate was a  “probable carcinogen”. Glyphosate is hardly alone in this category, with such partners as high temperature frying, working as a hairdresser, red meat or shiftwork. Stuff that is actually carcinogenic on their list? Alcoholic beverages, sawdust and processed meat (to name a few). Yes, beer and hot dogs are considered more likely to cause cancer than glyphosate (source).

It was this IARC report that started all of this, and there are some real questions as to their methodology. In fact, according to the then- European Crop Protection Director, General Jean-Charles Bocquet,

“From the summary conclusions it appears that IARC has made its conclusions as a result of an incomplete data review that has omitted key evidence.” (source)

It was recently discovered that the IARC had removed findings from studies that concluded glyphosate was not a carcinogen before they published the final version. They also used the infamous, now retracted Seralini rat study in their analysis.

The fact is that numerous organizations conclude glyphosate is safe, including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Food Safety Administration, Health Canada, the German Risk Agency, and on and on. A massive study run on 89,000 farmers and their familes in Iowa and North Carolina since 1993 has failed to find any link between glyphosate and cancer. How much more evidence do we need?

I need glyphosate on my farm. It helps me be more sustainable, both environmentally and economically, it helps me protect my soil from erosion and build soil health, and it helps me sequester carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The fear over glyphosate is unfounded, and we need to slow down and have a real discussion about it. If you want to come to my farm and see how we use this contentious chemical, please let me know. My door is open for anyone who wants to have their questions answered.

Why I Decided To Run For SaskWheat

This week, many Saskatchewan farmers saw a yellow envelope appear in their mail. The SaskWheat election has started in full.

It was almost six weeks ago that I announced my candidacy for the SaskWheat Development Commission. I had actually been thinking about it for a lot longer than that, though. Running for a commission like this is a big decision; it requires a lot of time and energy, which the farm already demands in excess, and there is always the risk that you don’t win a seat at the table. Elections are inherently unpredictable.

So why run? Well, there are a number of reasons, which I will share with you now.

The Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SWDC) was started in June of 2013, with the first board of directors taking office on January 13 of 2014. All wheat (including durum) grown in Saskatchewan has “check-off dollars” taken off the sale price to go towards the commission, at a rate of $1.00 per tonne. The idea is that those check-off dollars will go toward research and market development to improve wheat’s value to farmers, which had previously been administered by the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).

As a wheat grower of a moderate-sized farm, I am well aware of the amount of dollars that come off my sales every year. I believe there is tremendous value in this, as it is the best way to develop new varieties, agronomic strategies, help maintain current markets and develop new ones. However, I believe there is room for improvement with how the current board is handling my, and other producers’, check-off dollars.

I believe it is crucially important to work with other organizations and commissions. Currently, SaskWheat does not work with Cereals Canada, which needs to change if farmers are to have a voice at the national and international level. Canada exports 60% of the wheat it grows; market development is critical, and farmers are the best people to share our story with the world.

If I’ve learned anything from my years writing this blog, and from my recent (fantastic) trip to the Global Farmer Roundtable and World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa, it’s that people want to hear our story. Nobody knows more about what we do than we do. Accordingly, when there are trade disputes, who better to speak than farmers? We, as farmers, need to be at the table of the biggest discussions in agriculture. How else can we ensure that our needs are being looked after?

There are so many major issues ahead of us. We face the real possibility of a carbon tax, continual transportation issues, trade barriers, and a public increasingly concerned with our production practices. One only needs to look to the turmoil with glyphosate regulations in the European Union. What impact will this have on pre-harvest glyphosate applications? We need to work together, with all farmers and organizations, to promote science-based decision making. SaskWheat cannot operate in isolation.

Wheat is not an easy crop to derive a profit on. Research and innovation must be SaskWheat’s highest priority to make wheat competitive, which is why I support both public and private research into wheat breeding. Not only do we need to increase yields, but we also need to reduce our risk to Fusarium and maintain the high quality characteristics we are known for.

I want Saskatchewan to be the number one destination for investment in Canadian wheat research dollars. I want farmers to be excited to grow wheat again. I will not let ideology stand in the way of good policy. If I’m elected, your voice will be heard.

I believe, if we as the SaskWheat commission listen to farmers, and stay open-minded to new ideas, we can move our industry forward. The past is behind us, and the Canadian Wheat Board is not coming back. If we are to truly make things better for wheat in Saskatchewan, we need to be willing to listen, collaborate, and advocate for our needs as wheat growers.

Whether or not you support me in this election, please remember to vote! The basis of our democracy is the freedom to choose the people who can serve us best.

Watch for the yellow envelope in your mailbox. If you grew wheat in the last two years you will be eligible to vote. You can fill out the paper ballot or do it online. Voting closes on November 24th.

Let’s create positive change for SaskWheat!

Find out more at the SaskWheat website (here) and find my, and other candidate bios, here.

The 2017 Global Farmer Roundtable

Next week, I will be attending the Global Farmer Roundtable in Des Moines, Iowa. I will meet with 14 other farmers, from countries around the world, to discuss the biggest issues facing modern agriculture. I have been asked to represent Canada at this event.

I cannot even begin to describe the honour I feel in being invited to participate in this roundtable. The farmers I will be engaging with are extraordinary individuals, from countries like Argentina, Denmark, India, South Africa, and many more. I will also have the opportunity to attend the World Food Prize Laureate award ceremony, considered by many to be the Nobel Prize for food, agriculture and related research.

The idea of the roundtable is that despite the tremendous differences in our various backgrounds, cultures, climate and so on, farmers generally face many similar challenges across the world. Bringing a group like this together allows us to recognize the common goals we all have for our farms, our families, and for access to technology and trade.

I look forward to sharing what I learn from this incredible event, and I can’t wait to go!

You can learn more about the Global Farmer Roundtable and the Global Farmer Network here.

An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau on Tax Fairness

September 5, 2017

Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

My name is Jake Leguee, and I am a farmer in Saskatchewan. I am writing this letter to express my grave concerns with your plan for what you refer to as “tax fairness”. While I am not an accountant or a tax expert, I know enough to be apprehensive about the changes you and Mr. Morneau plan to enact.

I take offense to being labelled as a tax cheat. I, along with my parents, my sister and my own young family, along with our two full-time employees (one being a brother in law), all work together in this wonderful business we call farming. We grow food, we work hard to improve our community, and we are excited about the prospect of a fourth generation someday having the opportunity to take over this farm.

Your tax changes will severely challenge our ability to pass on this farm. You will penalize my parents for passing their land on to me. Land that they paid for a long time ago; land that I will never sell. I will never realize the capital gains on that land. Why should my parents be taxed for passing it on? Why should I be taxed for someday passing it on to my own children?

Farming is a tough business. We rely on the weather to provide for us; even if we do absolutely everything right, one bad storm can take it all away. It is very difficult to manage a farm well enough to have the opportunity for the next generation to take over, even without having to worry about taxes. Notice how drastically the number of farms has collapsed over the past century?

Don’t get me wrong; all small businesses have similar challenges. Succession is hard. Passing along a business to your children should be celebrated by government. Small business is the backbone of this great country. They provide jobs, and innovation, and growth for all Canadians. We small business people don’t have pensions, or employment insurance, or health benefits. We must cover all of that on our own. Furthermore, we provide those services to our employees, who also work hard in the community and provide for their children. So much rides on the success of our businesses.

You talk about closing loopholes, and creating tax fairness. What you are missing is that the playing field already is out of whack. Employees have a lot of benefits that we small business people don’t have. And that’s okay. We can live without these benefits for the opportunity to build something. We aren’t just out there to make money – we do what we do to build a legacy. We do it to provide jobs, and look after our employees. We do it to give our children the opportunity to take the next step, and do amazing things we could never even dream of.

As a child, I spent most of the time I wasn’t in school helping out on the farm. It was hard work, but I loved it. It was how I could spend time with my Dad, who worked seemingly every hour of every day. The farm didn’t pay me to save money on taxes, it paid me because I earned it. This taught me the value of hard work, and how to save money and prepare budgets for it. None of this had anything to do with cheating taxes.

My farm provides a living for seven people, not to mention my own little son and our next child that is on the way. But our farm does far more. As we grow, we purchase equipment, tools, parts, inputs, and so many other things our farm needs. Along with the other farms in this area, we provide jobs for hundreds of people, from mechanics to engineers to biologists and sales people. This farm isn’t a tax haven; it, along with every other farm and all the other small businesses around us, are powering Canada’s future.

Don’t take that away.

Mr. Prime Minister, please reconsider your tax fairness proposal. The future of this great country we call Canada depends on it.

Sincerely,

Jake Leguee

The Worst Drought in Decades

It has been two months since I posted “One Storm Can Change Everything“. That was the last – and only – significant rain event we have seen this year.

Making things worse was the incessant, unrelenting heat, burning up what little water we had. Want to know the best way to tell that farmers have a tough crop this year? Great beach weather! All those hot, dry days in July and August, while great for going to the lake, make for terrible growing conditions.

Make no mistake: I’m in an area that has at least received at least some moisture this year. We have gotten 88 mm (3.5 inches) of rain so far this year. While this is extremely low – less that 40% of our average rainfall to date – many farms further south and west of ours have seen even less (some have seen much less). So I’m not going to complain and say we are worse off than anybody else, as that is simply not the case. We are fortunate to have the crop that we do.

I think it’s important to understand the situation for farmers out there this year. Nothing anybody did caused this drought to happen, and we farmers do the best we can to utilize every drop of rain we can get in years like this. There’s just very little you can do if it doesn’t rain.

We can give our crops the best chance, with the best genetics, the best crop protection products, and get every job done right and on time. But if the rains don’t come; if the weeks slip by without a drop of moisture, with unceasing heat sucking water out of the crop like a sponge; the crop will fail. Sometimes the weather outweighs everything else.

Adding insult to injury is that sometimes droughts aren’t recognized as a problem by the markets. A world awash in wheat and soybeans doesn’t care about some poor crops in Western Canada. Grain buyers don’t care that we need $13 per bushel canola prices to break even. If the market determines the price should be $10.50 per bushel, that’s just the way it is.

A drought like this one hasn’t been seen on the Prairies in quite a long time. Comparisons are being made to 1988 in many areas, one of the worst droughts in recorded history in the Prairies. It is because of the changes in production techniques that we even have a crop at all. No-till (means the ground is rarely, if ever, worked) is a big part of the reason we have the crop that we do, and no-till only works if we have access to the best crop protection products. Genetically modified crops like canola allow for the minimization of tillage by allowing the use of broad-spectrum herbicides like glyphosate or others. We need every tool in the toolkit when conditions become challenging.

In times like this, we don’t ask for your sympathy, nor do we ask for hand-outs. We ask only for your understanding; that maybe it’s okay it rained on the weekend, possibly derailing lake plans. We ask that maybe you give us a little more room to complain about the weather. We ask for a bit of extra patience in dealing with us, with the extra stress that so many farmers are struggling with right now. The Farm Stress Line is very busy right now. Stress is very real in times like this, and don’t be afraid to ask how your farm friends are doing.

Farming is a complicated and stressful business, and droughts like this one certainly add to the burden. Farming is a long-term, generational business, with next year always at the forefront of our minds. I already worry for 2018; with severely depleted soil moisture, we will desperately need a recharge for the next crop year. If we don’t get it, we may remember 2017 as the deep breath before the plunge.

For now though, my main focus is on harvest. As the combines roll along, we are seeing decent yields coming off the fields. The winter wheat and peas are in the bin, and we should be back at harvest in a couple of days. Lentils are next, and canola and durum will soon follow. Given the limited moisture, I am satisfied with the yields we’re seeing.

There is a lot to be positive about. Just because soil moisture is low now doesn’t mean next year will be a drought too. There have been many flash-in-the-pan droughts (see Midwest USA drought in 2012), and there will be many more. Agriculture is an amazing way of life, and the silver lining of a slower year like this one is more time to spend with my wife and son – and the new little one joining our family in January.

 

One Storm Can Change Everything

One of the driest springs in decades finally ended two nights ago, with a rain we have been waiting for what feels like an eternity. Seven weeks passed with virtually no rain, and an unceasing wind drove what moisture we had into the air. It was beginning to look like we were entering what may have been a devastating drought. All that changed on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday night, anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 inches of rain fell across our farm. Only 20170615_075256 a few years ago this kind of rain would have been a serious problem, with saturated soils unable to absorb it; this time, our parched ground soaked up almost all of it, with only a small amount pooling in low-land.

This post is a recurring one on my blog, but this may be the first time I have written it in a positive sense. Usually the “one storm that changes everything” is a torrential rain that causes all sorts of problems. This time, this one rainfall event saved our crops from certain failure.

When you talk to farmers like my dad, who started farming in the late 70’s, it seems they are always afraid of the next drought. I started farming in 2009, in one of the wettest cycles this area of the Prairies has seen in centuries, so my first concern is always too much rain. This is the first time I have seen what the beginning of a real drought looks like, and we had the benefit of high subsoil moisture to carry us through to the rain. Farmers that farmed in the 1980’s know very well what a drought looks like.

Dad often talks about the 80’s, about the summers hauling water for the cattle from any source he could find. They would run pipe for miles from a random deep slough that just happened to have water, just to get enough to keep the cattle going. The crops, in several years, were near write-offs, wilting and dying before they could even produce a single seed.

The worst of them all was 1988. Scorching heat and wind in early June, with temperatures regularly in the mid-30’s, obliterated a crop that was already struggling to get out of the ground. That is a year many farmers will remember for the rest of their lives. It didn’t help that grain prices were poor and interest rates were ridiculously high. Many farms didn’t survive this terrible time, and I am glad I have no memories of those days (I was born in 1988).

So, when we get a dry period like we had, that is the mindset farmers of that generation go to. There are few things in farming more terrifying than a drought. It is a dark reminder of the exposure we all have to the whims of Mother Nature.

This rain was a tremendous blessing, and saved the year for this farm. Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky, and many areas are still in desperate need of rain. Maybe this storm will move us into a wetter cycle. For now though (as soon as it dries up), we will be very busy out in the fields, applying fertilizer, killing weeds, and protecting what is now a crop with real promise. This is what farmers like me live for – raising crops to their full potential.

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