The Bread Debate: What’s Behind the ‘Not in Our Bread’ Campaign?

Do we really know what we’re putting in our mouths? Most of the time we overlook where our food comes from – this is why, here at the HBC, we are always happy to support initiatives such as the ‘Organic September’ campaign. This campaign, run by the Soil Association, targets a wider umbrella of issues to do with how food is produced, including ones that do not always reach the general public.

One of the most relevant campaigns the Soil Association has been focusing on recently is the “Not in our Bread” campaign, which aims to remove the weed-killer glyphosate from our bread.

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum weed-killer (which means it isn’t selective in the plants it kills) . Most people will recognise it under the brand name Roundup, but it is also sold under other names and in different formulations. It’s the most widely used herbicide in the world – over 8.6 billion kilograms have been used around the world since it was introduced in 1974. Glyphosate isn’t only used by farmers – it’s widely used in our gardens as well as on pavements and in parks and school playgrounds.

Last year, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, the IARC, declared glyphosate to be ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. Other animal-feeding studies support this conclusion, having found evidence of liver and kidney damage at ultra-low doses. Frighteningly, these levels were below the maximum levels permitted in food.

Georgia Farnworth, policy officer at the Soil Association says that “our campaign has taken this information to the public and to supermarkets, bread manufacturers and so on, in order to urge them to get glyphosate out of their supply chains. Even if we cannot say for sure that glyphosate is definitely causing cancer in humans, the evidence is sufficient enough for us to pause and push for action to be taken.

As you may know, supermarkets and supply chains are tremendously powerful in this issue, and the Soil Association believes that “retailers have a responsibility to the public to ensure that this potentially harmful chemical is not in our food.” In terms of their own actions, Georgia explains that “we started a petition, and we’ve written to the country’s biggest retailers and manufacturers, as well as to representatives of the milling and baking industries, urging them to take decisive action.”295_min

In the case of glyphosate, there is scientific evidence to give us cause for concern and there is no scientific consensus to show that it is safe.

It is up to the pesticide manufacturers and the regulators to prove that it is harmless. It is crucial to note at this point that an absence of evidence of harm is not sufficient – instead, evidence of absence of harm must be found.

Despite how it may appear at first, nobody is advocating pesticide-free farming; pesticides have been used for centuries. it’s all about quality and harnessing the natural sources we can rely on.

“Organic farmers prove that it is possible to farm sustainably and profitably without the use of chemical pesticides, and the methods they use to control weeds and insect pests – such as rotating crops and encouraging predatory insects – confer benefits on the environment, not just to the farmer”, says Georgia.

Whether it’s a weedkiller, a fungicide or an insecticide, these chemicals are designed to kill living organisms – it would be foolhardy to suppose that these chemicals don’t have unintended consequences. Since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in the 1960s, we have understood that pesticides can have far-reaching, devastating impacts on the wider environment. The book has become synonymous with the scandal of the insecticide DDT, and its decimation of wild bird populations – Silent Spring launched the movement which eventually saw DDT banned in the 1970s.

As Georgia goes onto reveal, “sadly we see history repeating itself with other pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids which are now widely acknowledged to be a principle driver of dramatic declines in bee populations around the world and which may well turn out to be implicated in the loss of other insects and bird species – the evidence is already starting to mount.”

Generally speaking, we are far from knowing of all of the impacts that chemical pesticides are having on the environment and on our health – as the current furore over glyphosate and neonicotinoids illustrates, what we once thought was safe can in fact turn out to be incredibly risky.

However, there are ways to ensure we make the best choices when bringing food to our table: “the best way to ensure that bread is glyphosate-free is to buy organic, but we firmly believe that all food should be free of potentially hazardous chemicals, whether organic or not”, concludes Georgia.