It is no longer a secret there is a serious issue in the food supply. Toxicity levels in food are rising as conventional agriculture continues to be a leading cause of environmental pollution and destruction. Toxins may accumulate during plant growth, as they can be added during harvesting and processing or introduced during manufacturing.
One serious toxin in the food supply is glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. No other pesticide has come even close to the “intensive and widespread use” it enjoys in agriculture. As I’ve written in the past, glyphosate has been tested and found in breast milk, water, disposable diapers and honey.
A recent segment of 60 Minutes Australia called glyphosate a “toxic villain … likely to be sitting on a shelf in the backyard shed of most Australian families.” In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer,1 an arm of the World Health Organization, determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen.
Even Organic Wines Contain Roundup
Glyphosate use affects not only the crops being sprayed, but those in the vicinity as well. While the chemical is not allowed in organic farming, the results of one analysis revealed glyphosate in all bottles of organic wine tested. Dr. Rupa Marya, associate professor at the University of California San Francisco, spoke with East Bay Express about the pervasive nature of glyphosate.
She commented on a beer and wine study in which glyphosate was found in all organic bottles tested, as cited by the California Wine Institute on their website:2 “You can’t even buy organic wine that’s truly organic. All the organic wines tested contained glyphosate. It’s in our water table.”
Jay Feldman, director of the environmental group Beyond Pesticides, commented on the difficulty associated with linking chemical exposure to the onset of chronic disease. He points out the problem is the toxic soup in which we live, making it difficult to isolate a single chemical or pesticide that may trigger the problem.
The recent jury award in a lawsuit filed against Monsanto, now Bayer, may have broken through a roadblock that had in the past appeared impenetrable. The jury found Monsanto officials “acted with malice and oppression” when they sold Roundup, a product their executives had full knowledge of as being dangerous to the user.3
Glyphosate is used to kill the weeds around the vines; it’s not supposed to be sprayed directly on non-GMO grapevines as this would kill the plants. Organic wines may become contaminated when the pesticide plume drifts into vineyards, carried by the wind.
In addition, the chemical may remain in the soil for more than 20 years.4 Aaron Taylor has watched first hand as the past year’s application of glyphosate on adjoining farms keeps new growth from sprouting beneath the vines.5
Alameda County Counts Immediate Cheap Over Long-Term Cost
California has a large wine industry responsible for applying 300,000 pounds of glyphosate-based herbicide in 2017, according to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. In Alameda County, California, the wine industry used 1,634 pounds of the 30,000 pounds used across the county.6
Despite the growing mountain of evidence against glyphosate, and the recent lawsuit won by a school groundskeeper for health damage attributed to Roundup, Alameda County public groundskeepers continue to use the product to fight weeds.
Although Ed Duarte, pest management expert for Alameda County Department of Agriculture, said their policy is to use pesticides only when necessary, he also said,7 “It’s a cost-benefit assessment — what is the cost of using these pesticides, and what are the benefits?”
In other words, for Alameda County, the benefit of a weed-free park using Roundup is worth the cost. Kristie and Rick Knoll live in Alameda County,8 where they run one of the few farms that do not knowingly use pesticides and herbicides on their plants. But in this area, their attitude is the exception. Of the 2,600 acres of fruit trees and grapevines, only 200 acres are certified organic.
Even if you don’t use glyphosate-based herbicide personally, your health is still at risk since testing has revealed many foods are contaminated. Just as concerning is the fact that more than 70% of Americans have detectable levels of glyphosate in their body. The herbicide works by inhibiting the shikimate pathway in the plant, a pathway also found in human gut bacteria that plays a crucial role in human health.
Glyphosate is only one of many different types of toxins. As more people become aware of the damage to health and environment that stems from conventionally grown food, organic foods are growing in popularity. To read more about these issues and find a list of organizations to help you locate farm fresh foods in your area, see my past article “What Makes Most Food So Dangerous.”
Biodynamic Principles Surpass Organic Growing
In this interview with Elizabeth Candelario, we talk about biodynamic farming principles and how wineries were among the first farms to move toward biodynamic strategies.9 This happened as winemakers noticed some of the best wines were the product of biodynamic farming.
As Candelario explains the history of biodynamic principles and organic farming includes the work of Rudolf Steiner, who, in the 1920s, developed the idea of treating a farm as a living organism that could sustain itself by following the cycles of nature.
Seventeen years later, according to Candelario, “Lord Northbourne wrote a book in which he talked about the differences of chemical versus organic farming, coining the word organic from Steiner’s reference to the farm as an organism.”10
Biodynamic farming principles are now used in vineyards and farms across the country, treating the land as a single organism intended to function as a whole. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette call this “a holistic view of agriculture.”11 Just as recognizing the interconnectedness of systems in the human body improves overall health, biodynamic farming principles have resulted in the production of some of the best wines and healthiest foods in the world.
Effects of Biodynamic Farming on Food and the Environment
In February 2019, Candelario stepped down as the managing director of Demeter, where she served for nearly 11 years. Demeter12 is a global Biodynamic certification agency started by small farmers who were well versed in Steiner’s agricultural principles.
To ensure the standard would maintain integrity, they set up a strict certification program in 1928, and it has remained the oldest ecological certification organization in the world. As Candelario explains, organic farming principles are about what you do not do, such as using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Biodynamic principles maintain the core idea that the farm is a living organism, which means it meets organic standards.
The farmer seeks solutions to pest and weed control within the system, maintaining the idea the farm is a closed system. To receive an organic certification, a farm must not use prohibited materials on a specific number of acres, which may then be certified as organic acreage.
To receive a Biodynamic certification the entire farm must meet the standard. Animals are a core principle, as well as a focus on their welfare and the integration of soil biodiversity. The broader vision is to heal the planet through agriculture by transitioning from conventional to organic and ultimately Biodynamic.
One of the challenges has been the small number of Demeter certified family farms selling its products locally or regionally. Candelario began working with Whole Foods to select companies aligned with Biodynamic principles. For more information, see my past article, “The Effects of Biodynamic Farming on the Environment and Food Quality.”
Choosing Your Next Bottle of Natural Wine
When a wine is produced biodynamically, it usually means the vineyard is located nearby since production is part of the overall sustainability of the operation.13 If a wine is produced this way, you may assume it is also organic since the biodynamic certification has higher standards.
Look for certifications on the back of the wine label, including Demeter and SIP Certification, both of which speak to sustainability of the farm where the grapes were harvested. While Demeter certifies farms producing any crop, SIP Certification is aimed specifically at vineyards.14
The cost of certified sustainable wines starts at $15, which means you don’t have to break the bank to savor a glass that isn’t laced with glyphosate and other toxins. As the demand for healthier wines rises, wineries are producing nearly every type you may have purchased from a conventional winery, including red, white, rose and sparkling.
While Alameda County continues to embrace glyphosate, Sonoma County wineries have embraced Biodynamic principles.15 On the Sonoma County website16 you’ll find a list of farms implementing the biodynamic and organic approaches to wine making, along with their contact information and a little bit of history about each farm.