Oat buyer says no to preharvest glyphosate

Grain Millers, a major oat buyer in Western Canada, will no longer purchase oats if the crop has been desiccated with glyphosate.

In an April 20 memo to Prairie oat growers, Grain Millers said the new policy was “driven by functional performance attributes of finished products manufactured from oats known to have been treated with glyphosate and by customer demand.”

Edgar Scheurer, Prairie Oat Growers Association vice president, said the decision is disappointing.

“It’s unfortunate because Roundup is registered on oats for pre-harvest application,” said Scheurer, who farms near Dugald, Man.

“Even in their memo… they said there’s no safety issues. They’re just giving in to pressure by certain groups even though there is no scientific backing to this decision.”

Terry Tyson, Grain Millers procurement manager in Yorkton, Sask., said the company has been considering this policy for a few years.

About three years ago they started to notice problems with oat groat quality, which resembled frost damage, but weren’t sure about the cause.

“When mills cut, flake or roll the groat, it is chalky, it’s brittle, it breaks apart and the finished product doesn’t make spec, in terms of granulation or absorption,” Tyson said.

“The groat integrity is affected much like an early frost affects groat integrity…. (But) frost damage you can see on the groat. You can control it… by rejecting a truckload or carload…. The damage with this issue is somewhat subtler.”

Tyson said the company discovered that glyphosate was the cause of the frost-like damage, through a process of elimination.

“It literally took the last two or three years (to figure it out).”

Scheurer said desiccating oats with glyphosate is a common practice in Western Canada. Of the growers who straight combine oats, about 40 to 50 percent use glyphosate to hasten and even up crop maturity.

He said oat quality would suffer without glyphosate.

“When you swath, you get rain and then you get mildew. Then you get downgrades,” he said.

If a farmer doesn’t desiccate and waits for the crop to mature before straight cutting, it increases the risk of shattering and the possibility of rain, which could cause quality downgrades.

In March the World Health Organization issued a report on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and four other pesticides. WHO experts concluded that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.

Toxicologists and pesticides experts have condemned the WHO decision, saying it contravenes four decades of science showing that glyphosate isn’t a threat to human health.

Scheurer said Grain Millers responded to pressure from activist groups, who want to ban agricultural pesticides

“They should base these decisions on science and not based on pressure from the Sierra Club or whoever.”

Tyson said Grain Millers didn’t make this decision because of customer or public concern about glyphosate residues. He added that company testing has demonstrated that glyphosate residues are not a problem for oats.

“In our testing in the last few years on this, we never once found a sample of oats with glyphosate residues in excess of the established maximum limits.”

Grain Millers, Inc. Glyphosate on Oats Policy memo to prairie oat growers:

This communication is to serve as official notification that as of harvest 2015 Grain Millers, Inc. will no longer accept any oats and/or oat products which have been treated with glyphosate. This change is driven by functional performance attributes of finished products manufactured from oats known to have been treated with glyphosate and by customer demand. This policy does not suggest any health or food safety concerns as reviewed and regulated by both the US FDA and/or CFIA/Health Canada.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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