It is becoming ever clearer that we really do not know what is actually in the things we use, wear or eat. Not a day appears to go by without a product, formula or chemical being revealed as being ‘possibly detrimental to human health’ (note the possible, and the limitations on ‘human’). We live in a world of complicated concoctions with often untraceable foundations. But, for many, ignorance is bliss. What you don’t know won’t harm you. Well, quite possibly it will.
Glyphosate has long been outlawed by organic gardeners for the fierceness and obliterating chemical qualities it has on everything it comes into contact with, but a report issued this week from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has categorised the chemical as a ‘probable carcinogen’.
For some, this is no great surprise, but for many this has come as quite a shock, especially as retailers were quick to announce the removal of the products from their shelves. Given that glyphosate is the active ingredient in the majority of weedkillers, including Monsanto’s Roundup, it is far more common an ingredient than you may think, meaning that many gardeners and farmworkers are exposing themselves to the probable carcinogen each year.
So – will glyphosate be banned? Possibly not. There is (of course) a bit of an uproar from Monsanto (what a surprise), plus other European research groups have declared it safe for use, but this poses an interesting question. If there is some risk, is it worth it?
This same question is raised in ‘Ecological Intelligence – the coming age of radical transparency‘ by Daniel Goleman. An empowered consumer is one with the facts, so if there is risk, or a possibility of harm, that consumer may decide the risk is just not worth taking – even if the findings are disputed by others.
This is probably why the big box retailers acted so quickly and publicly when the report was issued on glypsophate. Even if there was the tiniest chance of risk, they certainly do not want to be seen to putting their customers in the firing line.
And what can we do, as the everyday consumer? Well, we can respond in the way that hits the brands the most. We switch brands and make it clear that we are not willing to take on the risk, however small. If we have a choice (and there are natural alternatives to weedkillers, like digging the blighters up), then we are in a position to affect a change. The safe and ethical brands will rise to the top and the Monsanto’s of the world will begin to sink.
Legislation is one thing, but for some, profits shout the loudest. Hit them where it hurts.