Richardson Milling says glyphosate dessication acceptable for its oats

Richardson Milling, the largest oat miller in North America, has no intention of changing its policies on glyphosate.

Tracey Shelton, director of corporate communications with Richardson International, said the company would continue to buy oats that have been desiccated with glyphosate. The company operates oat milling and processing plants in Portage la Prairie, Man., Martensville, Sask., Barrhead, Alta., and South Sioux City, Nebraska.

Grain Millers, a major oat buyer in Western Canada, announced last month that it would no longer buy oats if the crop has been treated with glyphosate before harvest.

Grain Millers, which is based in Minnesota and has operations in Yorkton, Sask., had noticed problems with its oat quality and functionality for about three years. Oat groats were brittle and chalky and didn’t meet specifications. The problems were similar to frost damage.

Terry Tyson, Grain Millers procurement manager in Yorkton, said the company discovered through a process of elimination that pre-harvest glyphosate was likely causing the damage.

Desiccating oats with glyphosate has become more commonplace in Western Canada in the last decade. The herbicide evens up the crop and allows farmers to harvest a more consistent product.

Tyson said Grain Millers also learned that glyphosate was compromising beta glucan levels in oats.

Beta glucan is a soluble fibre linked to improvements in cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health. Food manufacturers can place a “Heart Healthy” claim on oat-based cereals because they contain beta glucan.

Tyson said an early application of glyphosate causes a shortcut to crop maturity, which may decrease the amount of beta glucan in the oats.

“In order to meet those (Heart Healthy) claims, beta glucan levels in the raw oats (have) to be in excess of four percent,” he said.

“Other factors can also adversely affect beta glucan levels, but our research demonstrates that premature application of glyphosate can have that effect.”

Shelton said Richardson Milling hasn’t observed or heard about changes to oats because of pre-harvest glyphosate.

“As a miller, we are not aware of any scientific assessment or findings that would suggest the quality or functionality of oat products are affected, when manufactured from oats treated with glyphosate,” she said.

“If we noticed something that was being affected, we would certainly address it…. We’ve seen nothing in terms of practical use … that would lead us to make any changes.”

A spokesperson for another oat miller in Western Canada, who didn’t want to be identified, said the company is sticking to the status quo. It will continue to buy oats that have been treated with glyphosate.

Grain Millers released its new policy about a month after a World Health Organization report classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans.

Grain Millers said its decision wasn’t a response to that controversial report. The company was studying and thinking about glyphosate long before the WHO classification.

In April, Reuters reported that food companies, scientists and consumer groups in the United States were asking laboratories to conduct more tests for glyphosate residues on food compared to previous years.

Shelton said Richardson Milling clients haven’t badgered the company about its policies, despite the intense interest in glyphosate.

“It’s not like we’re getting a lot of questions or requests (regarding glyphosate),” she said.

“Unless something drastically changes, if the regulations are changed, we will continue to follow (established) practices…. At Richardson we make science-based decisions…. They (pesticides) are only registered if the level of exposure to Canadians doesn’t cause any harmful effects.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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