Monday, 29 April 2019

Fungicides move into the headlines. And not in a good way. Letter.

Dear Editor,

These are dark days for science. 

A chlorothalonil molecule.
Image by Jynto.
A month ago, the European Union announced it would ban the widely-used fungicide, chlorothalonil. Why? Because experts in its own Food Safety Agency suspected it was carcinogenic - or cancer-causing. It just so happens, that very same product is also used right here in Canada, and apparently in no small amounts, either! Yet our own Canadian "regulator," the PMRA, re-assessed the chemical less than a year ago.  While it imposed some restrictions, it will still allow its main use as a treatment for mold, mildew and blight in food crops, to continue.

Fast forward to today. The New York Times is now reporting that a new and deadly fungal infectionCandida aurus, is moving across the globe, with "numerous cases" reported in many countries, including Canada. The fungus is claiming many lives and proving to be well-nigh indestructible. Why? According to experts in the field of antimicrobial resistance, it is probably building defences against medical treatments because we are applying too many agricultural fungicides to our crops! 

(According to Stats Can, while it does not identify the specific kind, farmers here in my home province of Manitoba use fungicides more frequently than their counterparts in any other province!) 

So, could it be, in addition to the possibility that the infamous herbicide, Roundup causes cancer, we need to worry about fungal infections becoming resistant to available treatments, too?  I have no idea. But I would think my own government might! Yet, even though I've tried for a month now to find out how the EU and Canada could come up with such starkly different findings (regarding carcinogenicity), I've heard nothing back at all. And I  have no reason to expect there'll be any response this time, either.

This is disturbingly similar to the growing medical crisis surrounding the overuse of antibiotics in the world's intensive livestock industry. (Both the government of Manitoba and the hog industry's lobby group remained similarly silent when I asked them for information for a series I was writing on the government's fateful decision to de-regulate this already large industry, to allow it to expand.) I call it government by neglect. Arrogant neglect.

As one world expert on antibiotic resistance, Ellen Silbergeld, states, "Why on earth did somebody think that putting antibiotics in agriculture was a good idea?" Sadly, she is a scientist. And, in a "post-truth" world, science must take a back seat to profit and politics.

Meanwhile, the frenzied growth of this runaway industry - from Malaysia to Manitoba - continues unabated.

Larry Powell
Shoal Lake, Manitoba.

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