It’s Spring, at last, and the days are gradually getting longer and warmer. In the UK, the clocks go forward tomorrow and the Easter bank holiday is just a week away, a traditional time for many of us to start thinking about our gardens and allotments.
One of the first jobs to tackle will be the weeding: as always it is the weeds, nature’s opportunists, which have stolen a march over the winter months.
But before you reach for a bottle of Roundup, the biggest selling weedkiller on the market, you might want to know about a recent warning issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), that Roundup contains an active ingredient that may cause cancer.
The WHO advice follows a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, published a week ago, which found that glyphosate, a key component of Roundup is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
The qualification “probably” is unhelpfully imprecise, but the potential danger to human health is sufficient to have persuaded the WHO to release its warning.
So what happens next?
Surely, if there is a “probable” danger to human health the product in question will be recalled by the manufacturer. After all, if a car manufacturer discovers a potentially dangerous fault on a model it has produced it will issue a recall notice. Similarly, from time to time supermarkets will recall products where there is a risk that they may have been contaminated.
But we are not dealing here with a company with a good track record when it comes to protecting human health. The manufacturer of Roundup is the world’s biggest chemical company, Monsanto.
Monsanto is also the world’s largest manufacturer of genetically modified seeds (GMOs) and many of its GMO varieties are badged as “Roundup Ready”. In other words, they have been designed not to succumb to being sprayed with Roundup, having been genetically spliced with a glyphosate resistant bacterium.
So, all in all, Monsanto has a lot riding on Roundup.
Now, Monsanto happens to be the same company which used to manufacture the deadly pesticide DDT. When concerns about DDT began to grow throughout the 1950s and 60s, Monsanto’s response was to launch a propaganda campaign and to attack personally those who were claiming DDT was unsafe. But the claims were all true, and DDT was finally banned in the 1970s.
There is a similar story with PCBs, also manufactured by Monsanto. After years of health concerns being raised about them, PCBs were finally banned in 1979 after they were shown to cause cancers in humans and other species. Later, internal Monsanto documents revealed that the company had been aware of the serious health risks of PCBs for decades but had deliberately covered up the evidence.
So there is a fair chance that the WHO’s announcement about Roundup will be met with a concerted Monsanto propaganda offensive, alongside a campaign to discredit the scientific research behind the WHO position (here’s a brief video of a Monsanto apologist having his bluff called by a French TV journalist after he had rashly claimed that glyphosate is safe enough to drink).
In the meantime, Roundup has not been recalled nor has it been banned, and you can still buy it. It’s entirely up to you whether you prefer to trust Monsanto or the World Health Organisation.
There is of course a healthy alternative to weedkiller. It’s an age old tradition that takes a little longer but is actually just as effective. It’s called weeding by hand. Not only is it cost free, it is also chemical free. It provides a moderate form of outdoor exercise and, for me at least, provides the added bonus of an opportunity for quiet contemplation.
This recipe uses seasonal turnips and sweet potato in a robust, rustic, vegan dish where the rich flavours all work beautifully together.
It’s a combination which is delicious and filling all on its own, although (for non vegans) it also goes really well with a poached free range organic egg.
You can speed up the cooking process by using canned chickpeas, unless, like me, you prefer the taste of them freshly cooked.
sweet potato, turnip and chickpea hash
100 g chickpeas, soaked overnight then cooked until just tender, about 1 hour, and drained
1 onion, chopped
350 g sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1½cm pieces
350 g turnips, peeled and cut into 1½cm pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1. Pour the olive oil into a skillet or large frying pan which has a lid, and place the pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent.
2. Add the turnip, sweet potato, garlic and chilli, along with two tablespoons of water. stir to combine, then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and place the lid over the pan. Cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes, lifting the lid and stirring every so often, until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown slightly.
3. Remove the lid, add the cooked chickpeas, salt, smoked paprika and oregano and cook, stirring for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze over the lemon juice. Scatter with the chopped parsley.