Sunday, June 20, 2010

ROUND UP - the DDT of our generation?

Recently, I've been reading more about the chemical herbicide ROUND UP and its dangerous and detrimental side effects on the environment and human health.

I'm a child of the 60's and 70's and I remember a time when a trip to the hardware store usually meant only finding a small area dedicated to herbicides and pesticides.

We certainly did not rely on these chemicals to maintain a healthy garden and it was rare that my father would even travel down that aisle, much less stop and buy something.

The smell was awful and I was told to wash my hands thoroughly if I touched one of the bags because these were clearly 'dangerous chemicals' (my father's words, not mine).

My first recollections of an intrusion into the status quo was the proliferation of fertilizer and herbicides in lawn mixes designed to keep you lawn 'healthy, green, and weed free'.

My father naively added these products to his summer routine in a futile attempt to keep up with our neighbors who were much more diligent and compulsive about their lawns, and as it turns out, much more damaging to the environment and possibly their own health.

Fast-forward to modern day. We are now bombarded with ads touting the benefits of a 'healthy' lawn and a weed-free yard. Based on the images of a 'healthy' lawn as defined by the chemical industry, it is a monoculture of one type of grass, deep dark green and completely devoid of 'weeds' and life.

So, lets ask the question - how many times in nature does one see a monoculture such as this? The fact is nature abhors monocultures and it is very UNnatural and I suggest damaging to try and create one.

Getting back to the brainwashing of America - 'smart' homeowners are shown 'shooting it out' with obviously less intelligent neighbors to destroy unwanted 'weeds' by using stronger and stronger, and more persistant chemicals.

The option of doing nothing or using a more environmentally friendly form of weed control never comes up.

Here is an excerpt from an Organic Consumers' Association interview with researcher, Don Huber, a retired Purdue Researcher, who discusses some of his findings when looking at ROUND UP and its effects on the environment and human/animal health:

Another French study found problems with ROUND UP's toxicity towards human (and presumably other animal) cells, in particular embryonic and stem type cells.

A joint study in Canada and at Harvard School of Public Health found children with higher than median levels of the pesticide malathion in their urine were 55% more likely to develop ADHD than children with lower levels of malathion in their urine.

Malathion is an organophosphate compound and is the most commonly used insecticide in the U.S. It can be found in significant levels on many fruits and vegetables commonly eaten by children and has been associated with developmental delay in children of migrant workers who pick fruit.

Malathion, like ROUND UP, is described as being rapidly degraded in the environment and having little residual effect. Hmmmm.....

Unfortunately, as outlined in the movie The World According To Montsanto, our government agencies responsible for regulating these industries and protecting us from dangerous products, have become compromised.

Compromised both by the power and wealth of these huge corporations and their lobbyists, and by the infiltration of these very same agencies by former lobbyists/corporate executives/attorneys who are then appointed to important positions within the USDA and other federal agencies because of their experience in modern agriculture. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the chicken house!

So what other options exist for handling true 'weed' and pest problems in the garden?

1. First of all, I would urge everyone to redefine their idea of what a 'weed' or a pest is and whether a monoculture of grass for example should be the desired endpoint for the perfect lawn.

Remember, 'pesticides' are equally deadly to beneficial insects in the garden. I prefer the word insecticide, because you must remember that whenever you reach for an insecticide, whether organic or not, you will be killing both beneficial and damaging insects.

So, it reminds me to think twice, three-times and to rethink my options - are there any other ways of controlling this problem? Am I contributing to the problem i.e. wrong plant, wrong place, wrong time of year?

2. There are many options for weed control that do not involve the use of dangerous chemicals such as:
Glaser 7" Stirrup Hoe Head
  • HOES: stirrup/glaser or dutch-type hoes are highly effective at cultivation large areas and keeping them weed free and are really easy to use. By regular hoeing, weeds eventually die and and the soil becomes soft and friable. Quick and easy passes of these hoes will clear large areas and render them weed-free, also improving water penetration and compaction problems.
  • SMOTHERING TECHNIQUES: highly effective at creating new beds, killing turf, and sterilizing large areas.
Newspaper can be used around the base of plants to smother weeds. Overlap thick layers, water into place, and cover with mulch to create an attractive, environmentally-friendly weed free area for new plantings.

'Biodegradable' plastics made from cornstarch are starting to appear on the market and can also be used to smother out larger areas, composting directly into soil over one season, then tilled in in the fall. There are some problems with these new products but my point is as demand builds and people BUY-COTT products, they will improve and hopefully replace more damaging products already in heavy use.

Here's an article from Mother Earth News discussing some of the problems with current degrable products on the market at present:

  • 10% vinegar, available very inexpensively at most asian grocery stores, can be used as a spot treatment and will also 'burn' larger areas prior to the use of smothering techniques. You should plan on liming after tilling prior to planting these areas unless planting acid loving plants like hollies and azaleas. These vinegar acids will be degraded quickly and buffered by the soil.
  • We use a Weed Dragon for areas around the barn and house. Highly-effective but obviously relies on natural gas to burn plants:
  • And of course, the old-fashioned hand digging techniques of weed control.
3. Solarization & 4. Bio-fumigation.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on these two techniques other than to say that they are very effective in particular for organic vegetable gardeners or sterilizing large beds prior to planting, but are not particularly useful for spot-weeding.

5. Natural substances for pest control:

There are a wide array of organic subtances that can be highly effective in controlling pest and disease problems such as: liquid detergent (dishwashing soap), oils (canola, olive, mineral), capsacin/hot pepper powder, liquid garlic (sold as garlic barrier brand at garden centers), sabadilla, pyrtherin, neem oil, kaolin clay, karanja oil, and the list goes on and on.

While you should not automatically assume these compounds to be benign, they are naturally-derived and have low-persistance in the environment. This requires more frequent application but seems to be associated with less environment toxicity and a more targeted effect on the desired plant and pest problem.

6. Beneficials: Parasitic and beneficial insects are becoming much more readily available and can be highly effective on controlling or eliminating pest problems. Many do not need to be introduced but will simply return if the gardener stops spraying chemicals that are equally-toxic to beneficial and damaging insects alike.

Two that we have used with great success on our farm have been beneficial nematodes (for japanese bettles) and parasitic wasps, for fly control.

Another beneficial = chickens: We had terrible problems with ticks when we first moved to the farm. Now, we rarely find a tick and we walk through brush, tall grass and under trees daily. Guinea hens are thought to be even more effective than chickens at tick control.

I could go on and on about avoiding or eliminating the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers in the garden. My point in making this post is to:

  • make consumers aware that these benign chemicals may not be as benign as we are led to believe,
  • that you cannot rely on the government to deny market access to companies like Montsanto,
  • and that there are good alternatives to the use of chemicals in the garden that will leave us all happier, healthier and richer in the end.
This is where the idea of a BUY-COTT comes in - the best way we have of effecting a change is by changing where and what we spend our money on.

So remember, buy wisely, ask questions, and don't believe anything you hear from corporate America!


  1. Thanks for sharing, Chin MW,

  2. Loving keeping up with the farm news through the blog. Now you just need a Facebook page! :-)
    Christine McVearry