Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Will the EU Ban Glyphosate?

Why Europe may ban the most popular weed killer in the world - It’s not just about cancer, is it?

Why Europe may ban the most popular weed killer in the world
Without ​glyphosate, ​fighting weeds ​will get more ​expensive and ​more complicated.​
Chafer ​Machinery/​Wikimedia ​Commons ​

Why Europe ​may ban the ​most popular ​weed killer in ​the world ​

By Erik Stokstad Jun. 17, 2016 , 10:00 AM
It's hard ​to find an ​herbicide like ​glyphosate. ​It’s ​cheap, highly ​effective, and ​is generally ​regarded as one ​of the safest ​and most ​environmentally ​benign ​herbicides ever ​discovered. But ​a report last ​year that ​glyphosate ​could cause ​cancer has ​thrown its ​future into ​jeopardy. Now ​the European ​Union faces a ​30 June ​deadline to ​reapprove its ​use, or ​glyphosate will ​not be allowed ​for sale. ​Here's a ​quick ​explanation of ​the issues. ​

Who uses glyphosate?

Just about ​everyone who ​hates weeds. ​The herbicide ​is widely ​sprayed to ​fight weeds ​along railroad ​tracks, in ​backyards, city ​streets, parks, ​and elsewhere. ​Many kinds of ​agriculture ​rely on ​glyphosate as ​well—and ​farmers are by ​far the biggest ​users. (Sales ​skyrocketed in ​the United ​States and ​Latin America ​after Monsanto ​and other ​companies ​genetically ​modified ​soybeans and ​other crops to ​withstand the ​effects of ​glyphosate. ​That means ​farmers can ​easily kill ​weeds without ​harming their ​crops.) The ​herbicide has ​done more than ​benefit ​farmers' ​profits; ​glyphosate has ​also curbed ​soil erosion by ​facilitating no-​till agriculture,​ the practice ​of spraying ​fields before ​planting ​instead of ​plowing up ​weeds. ​

Why is it controversial?

Environmental ​advocates have ​long worried ​about health ​effects of ​pesticides and ​herbicides, ​including ​glyphosate. The ​U.K. Soil ​Association, ​for example, ​wants a ban on ​pre-harvest ​spraying of ​wheat fields, a ​practice that ​kills green ​heads of wheat ​and allows an ​earlier harvest,​ but also ​leaves residues ​of glyphosate ​in the grain. ​Trace amounts ​have been found ​in bread and ​beer, causing ​anxiety among ​consumers. If ​you're a ​chemical ​company selling ​herbicides in ​Europe, it'​s very bad news ​to mess with ​the perceived ​purity of food. ​

What makes ​glyphosate a ​big issue in ​Europe right ​now?

A bombshell ​report. Like ​other ​regulatory ​agencies, the ​European Food ​Safety ​Authority (EFSA)​ reviews the ​science on ​pesticides and ​herbicides ​every decade or ​so. If the ​evidence still ​suggests that ​the chemical is ​safe enough, ​EFSA allows ​member nations ​to decide ​whether or how ​they want to ​make it ​available. EFSA ​was in the ​process of ​reviewing ​glyphosate, ​when the ​International ​Agency for ​Research on ​Cancer (IARC)​—which ​independently ​gathers health ​data for the ​World Health ​Organization—​ declared glyphosate   a “​probable human ​carcinogen”​  in 2015. Nongovernmental ​organizations ​began a ​vigorous ​campaign to ​prevent the ​reregistration ​of glyphosate. ​Meanwhile, ​chemical ​companies and ​agricultural ​trade groups ​defended its ​safety record, ​pointing out ​that every ​regulatory ​agency had ​given ​glyphosate a ​green light.​  ​

Wait, why ​didn't the ​health reviews ​of glyphosate ​come to the ​same conclusions?​

One reason is ​that they ask ​different ​questions. IARC ​evaluates the ​hazard of a ​chemical—​in this case, ​whether it ​could cause ​cancer. It does ​not ask how ​likely that is ​to happen, or ​in how many ​people. ​Regulatory ​agencies like ​EFSA also ​evaluate the ​risk of harm, ​depending on ​factors such as ​the toxicity ​and the way ​people are ​exposed to a ​chemical. Given ​the trace ​amounts of ​glyphosate that ​people ​typically ​ingest, EPA and ​other ​regulators have ​concluded that ​glyphosate is ​not likely to ​cause cancer or ​other harm. ​IARC noted ​“limited ​evidence” ​of a cancer ​risk to farm ​workers, but ​regulators have ​not been ​convinced that ​glyphosate is a ​danger there ​either. ​

Is that the ​only difference ​between IARC ​and the other ​reviews? ​

There's ​also an issue ​of transparency ​and trust. IARC ​only considers ​peer-reviewed ​scientific ​papers and ​government ​studies. ​Regulatory ​agencies also ​look at ​unpublished and ​confidential ​studies ​conducted by ​and for the ​herbicide ​manufacturers. ​Industry ​critics are ​highly ​skeptical of ​such data. ​

It’s ​not just about ​cancer, is it? ​

No. Many ​Europeans are ​worried about ​ the environmental impact as well. And ​glyphosate has ​come to ​symbolize ​industrial ​agriculture and ​corporate ​control of food ​and farming. ​Europeans who ​value locally-​owned ​agriculture and ​organic farms (​which can’​t use ​glyphosate and ​other synthetic ​agro-chemicals) ​are more likely ​to support a ​ban, regardless ​of whether ​glyphosate ​causes cancer ​or not. ​ But the only ​“​easy” ​legal mechanism ​to clamp down ​on glyphosate ​is because of ​its alleged ​human health ​risk. ​

What happens next?

So far ​there's ​been a deadlock.​ The decision ​was in the ​hands of the ​Standing ​Committee on ​Plants, Animals,​ Food and Feed (​PAFF), which is ​made up of ​representatives ​from the ​European ​Union's 28 ​member states. ​But PAFF has ​failed to reach ​a majority in ​several past ​meetings, even ​as the ​proposals were ​scaled back to ​ever-shorter ​reapproval ​periods for ​glyphosate. ​ On 23 June, ​an appeals ​committee will ​vote. It may ​decide to renew ​the approval ​for a short ​period, say 1 ​year, to keep ​glyphosate ​available while ​the debate ​continues. ​Without a ​qualified ​majority ​deciding to ​renew, the ​approval will ​expire on 30 ​June, and the ​compound will ​have to be ​taken off the ​market in all E.​U. countries. ​

And what would happen then?

Industry’​s Glyphosate ​Task Force ​warns of dire ​consequences, ​such as rising ​food prices, ​falling exports,​ and crop ​yields dropping ​by 5% (for ​oilseed rape) ​to 40% (for ​sugar beets). ​Environmental ​advocates point ​to alternative ​strategies for ​weed control, ​including ​mowing, plowing,​ and rotating ​crops. Other ​herbicides are ​available, but ​they're not ​as effective. ​Without ​glyphosate, ​fighting weeds ​will get more ​expensive and ​more complicated.​   ​

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Zoysia Turf Growth Slows

June is here as well as the much cooler weather, here in the Southern Hemisphere.

While tropical Australia is still hot and seems to have no cool weather coming anytime soon, much cooler weather is now predicted over the coming week for much of temperate Australia - say Brisbane and south.

This probably signals a cessation of growth in zoysia turf until spring.  It has been a great run while the warm weather lasted, but it seems as if it might be over!

The met bureau is predicting cool to cold and wilder wet weather from the weekend........and the zoysia turf growth will dramatically slow down.  It is true that soil will tend to remain warmer, so some root growth will continue but with weather in the daytime likely in the teens.........growth will virtually stop.

Some agronomists suggest a very light fertiliser application, probably should have been last week, but if not then, very soon.  This ensures accumulation of plant food stores ready to allow growth in spring, and an improved turf colour, even if growth is low in cool weather.

While okay to mow and remove weed growth, try to avoid cutting the turf low in cool weather, when light levels are low, as the removal of leaf will be hard to replace by the now struggling warm season grass.

And if weather gets really cool - the zoysia turf may discolour to a bright golden colour.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Allergy Free Peanuts Now Seem Possible

The issue over nut residues in food products is quite serious, with potential life threatening consequences.  Whether it be related to nuts in school lunches of children or with peanut residuals affecting adults.  Presence of specific genes in peanuts have long been assumed to be the problem.

Scientists from The University of Western Australia have joined a global research team that have identified genes in peanuts that when altered will be able to prevent an allergic response in humans.

The world-first finding was carried out by scientists from UWA and several global research organisations including the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

The scientists identified the genes by decoding the DNA of peanuts. The discovery will also lead to increased crop productivity and nutritional value.

Peanuts are an important global food source and one the most economically important crops. They are grown in more than 100 countries, with approximately 42 million tonnes produced every year.

Peanut allergies have a high prevalence in Australia, affecting approximately three per cent of the population and can cause a severe allergic response if not treated quickly.

Professor Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director- Genetic Gains from ICRISAT and also Winthrop Research Professor with UWA’s Institute of Agriculture and School of Plant Biology played a lead role in the study.

Professor Varshney said the findings were an important achievement for the agricultural industry and farming community.  “This discovery brings us that one step closer to creating peanuts that will have significant benefits globally,” Professor Varshney said.  “We will also be able to produce peanuts that have more health benefits with improved nutritional value.”
Professor Varshney said the next step would be to alter the genes the researchers had identified in the study and test the results in geocarpy (the productive process in the peanut), to develop new varieties of peanuts.

The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).