Some seem to consider that it is OK to use toxic chemicals like herbicides in farming and that this may be consistent with Natural Farming.� I have no doubt that this is an erroneous view.
To increase awareness of the dangers of introducing toxic chemicals into the food chain I will post a number of articles that were circulated via other MLs in the last few weeks.
I will start with the case of contaminated manure in the UK that ruined numerous gardeners� vegetables.� This case illustrates well that toxic chemicals like herbicides don�t simply disappear.� It demonstrates how herbicide is passed on from the field it is applied to
��������� to the hey produced on that field,
��������� to the cows/horses that consume the hey,
��������� to the manure produced by those animals,
��������� to the soil that is fertilized with the manure,
��������� to the vegetables that are grown in the soil,
with the effect that the authorities had to issue a health warning to gardeners not to consume their vegetables.
Home-grown veg ruined by toxic fertiliser
Gardeners across Britain are reaping a bitter harvest of rotten
potatoes, withered salads and deformed tomatoes after an industrial
herbicide tainted their soil. Caroline Davies reports on how the food
chain became contaminated and talks to the angry allotment owners
whose plots have been destroyed
Sunday June 29, 2008
Gardeners have been warned not to eat home-grown vegetables
contaminated by a powerful new herbicide that is destroying gardens
and allotments across the UK.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has been inundated with calls
from concerned gardeners who have seen potatoes, beans, peas, carrots
and salad vegetables wither or become grossly deformed. The society
admitted that it had no idea of the extent of the problem, but said
it appeared 'significant'. The affected gardens and allotments have
been contaminated by manure originating from farms where the hormone-
based herbicide aminopyralid has been sprayed on fields.
Dow AgroSciences, which manufactures aminopyralid, has posted advice
to allotment holders and gardeners on its website. Colin Bowers,
Dow's UK grassland marketing manager, told The Observer that links to
their products had been proved in some of the cases, but it was not
clear whether aminopyralid was responsible for all of them and tests
were continuing. 'It is undoubtedly a problem,' he said, 'and I have
got full sympathy for everyone who is involved with this.'
He said the company was unable to advise gardeners that it was 'safe'
to consume vegetables that had come into contact with the manure
because of pesticide regulations. 'All we can say is that the trace
levels of aminopyralid that are likely to be in these crops are of
such low levels that they are unlikely to cause a problem to human
The Dow website says: 'As a general rule, we suggest damaged produce
(however this is caused) should not be consumed.' Those who have
already used contaminated manure are advised not to replant on the
affected soil for at least a year.
Aminopyralid, which is found in several Dow products, the most
popular being Forefront, a herbicide, is not licensed to be used on
food crops and carries a label warning farmers using it not to sell
manure that might contain residue to gardeners. The Pesticides Safety
Directorate, which has issued a regulatory update on the weedkiller,
is taking samples from affected plants for testing.
Problems with the herbicide emerged late last year, when some
commercial potato growers reported damaged crops. In response, Dow
launched a campaign within the agriculture industry to ensure that
farmers were aware of how the products should be used. Nevertheless,
the herbicide has now entered the food chain. Those affected are
demanding an investigation and a ban on the product. They say they
have been given no definitive answer as to whether other produce on
their gardens and allotments is safe to eat.
It appears that the contamination came from grass treated 12 months
ago. Experts say the grass was probably made into silage, then fed to
cattle during the winter months. The herbicide remained present in
the silage, passed through the animal and into manure that was later
sold. Horses fed on hay that had been treated could also be a channel.
Bryn Pugh, legal consultant at the National Society of Allotments and
Leisure Gardeners, said he was preparing claims for some members to
seek financial compensation from the manure suppliers. But it was
extremely difficult to trace the exact origins of each contaminated
batch. 'It seems to be everywhere. From what I know, it is endemic
throughout England and Wales. We will be pressing the government to
ban this product,' he said.
Aminopyralid is popular with farmers, who spray it on grassland
because it controls weeds such as docks, thistles and nettles without
affecting the grass around them. It binds itself to the woody tissue
in the grass and only breaks down when exposed to bacteria in the
Shirley Murray, 53, a retired management consultant with an allotment
near Bushy Park in Hampton, south-west London, said several of her
allotment neighbours had used the same manure bought from a stables
and all were affected. 'I am absolutely incensed at what has happened
and find it scandalous that a weedkiller sprayed more than one year
ago, that has passed through an animal's gut, was kicked around on a
stable floor, stored in a muck heap in a field, then on an allotment
site and was finally dug into or mulched on to beds last winter is
still killing "sensitive" crops and will continue to do so for the
next year,' she said. 'It's very toxic, it shouldn't get into the
food chain. You try to be as organic as you can and we have poisoned
ourfood. I've been everywhere, emailed all the right people, but
nobody will speak on the record to guarantee what is safe to eat. We
all think it is a scandal. Not to mention what it has cost in time
Pesticide expert Professor Vyvyan Howard, a toxico-pathologist at
Ulster University, said it was 'a very powerful herbicide' but in his
opinion was 'unlikely to pose any human health risks'. However,
advice about its use should be strengthened, he said. 'I think the
thing that is going to drive this is the commercial damage that could
be done to market gardeners,' he said.
Guy Barter, the RHS head of horticultural advisory services, said
they were receiving more than 20 calls a week. 'Our advice is not to
eat the vegetables because no one seems to have any idea whether it
is safe to eat them and we can't give any assurances,' he said. 'It
is happening all over the country. A lot of cases we are seeing is
where people have got manure from stables and the stable have bought
their hay from a merchant, and the merchant might have bought hay
from many farmers, possibly from different parts of the country. So
they have no idea where the hay came from. So finding someone to
blame is quite difficult.' Weedkiller in the soil should dissipate by
next year, but in stacks of contaminated manure it might take two or
more years to decay, he added.
Dow is planning a major publicity campaign to reiterate warnings to
farmers over usage, and to encourage allotment holders to check the
provenance of manure that they put down in an effort to prevent the
problem escalating. On compensation, it was less forthcoming. 'There
is no easy answer to that,' said Bowers. 'The first port of call is
always where the manure comes from. From that point on, I can't
'The chain is horrendously complicated. In the cases we have managed
to trace back, we might find that the farmer who supplied the manure
didn't spray anything himself, but he might have bought in a couple
of bales of silage from one of his neighbours, and that farm might
Robin and Christina Jones spread a large amount of manure over their
flower garden and vegetable patch at their home in Banstead, Surrey.
When the potatoes failed, Robin took a sample to the RHS, which
identified aminopyralid. His neighbour, who bought from the same
source, suffered the same problems. 'We have lost 80 per cent of our
vegetable patch,' said Jones, 65, a retired sound engineer.
Raspberries, French beans, onions, leeks, even a newly planted robina
tree were all affected. 'We are distraught. But what worries me is
that the courgettes look very healthy. Had we not had the problem
with the potatoes, we might never have realised. Now we are advised
not to eat them.
'This is a very serious issue, and people must be made aware of the
advice not to eat vegetables grown in contaminated manure.'
Sue Ainsworth, 58, an education consultant, said around 20 allotments
at her site in Hale, Cheshire, had been affected. 'We first noticed
with the potatoes. As they came through, they were deformed, all
curled over and rotten underneath. But the worry is that the
courgettes also planted on the manure are fine - but are they safe to
eat? This must have affected thousands of people. I am really worried
about this product and really think it should be withdrawn.'
She said the farmer who supplied the manure said he had used nothing
unusual. 'But he may have bought in the straw and genuinely knew
nothing about the herbicide used.'
Susan Garrett, 57, an IT consultant, said 20 plots were affected at
her allotment in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. 'And that is just the
plants we can see are damaged. We are angry it has been allowed to
happen - not with the chemical company, but because there doesn't
seem to be any protection for us or anything to stop it happening
How to deal with the problem
Do you have contaminated manure?
Tell-tale symptoms of crop damage include distorted foliage, with
cupping of leaves and fern-like growth. There are no remedies once
damage has occurred. Susceptible crops include potatoes, tomatoes,
beans, peas, carrots and lettuce.
How should you deal with the affected area?
Experts say rotavation is the best practice, or forking over several
times as soon as possible. This incorporates the plant tissue into
the soil, where it will decompose and the chemicals will eventually
be degraded by soil microbes. Repeat the rotavation in late
Should you replant this season?
No. The plant residues need to be given time to break down. The
advice is not to replant for a year.
Why has the chemical lasted so long?
Aminopyralid, like other herbicides, works by binding strongly to
plant tissues. Once the plant's tissues decay, the chemical breaks
down in the soil. If manure is stacked it takes far longer.
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday June 29 2008 on p8 of
the News section. It was last updated at 00:07 on June 29 2008.
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