Don Huber has become the darling of organic farming fans and notorious among farmers and scientists for his opposition to glyphosate and genetically engineered crops.
The retired plant pathologist from Purdue University, who has a long and distinguished CV, laid out some of the science — and his personal beliefs — for stance for attendees at the recent Farming Smarter AGM.
Huber offered some evidence that glyphosate may limit uptake of micronutrients, but he added a myriad of plant, human and animal health problems to the issues he attributes to the use of the herbicide. In 1975, a year after the introduction of glyphosate to the herbicide market, Huber said he noticed wheat diseases weren’t responding to management techniques that had kept them under control before. “I saw diseases like scab (fusarium) that hadn’t been a problem for 20 years, re-emerging the year after glyphosate was introduced,” he said.
“There are no silver bullets. As farmers, we have to make sure that the environment favours plants, allowing the abiotic and biotic environment of the soil to suppress pathogens that take away the potential of the crop to efficiently capture the sun’s energy in sugars.”
Glyphosate stops a step in a metobolic pathway called shikimate used by plants and microbes to produce amino acids to build proteins, he said.
It’s at this point that Huber’s views diverge from those of most plant pathologists. He says the herbicide acts by chelating micronutrients in plants and in micro-organisms in the guts of healthy animals and humans. (Chelation binds metallic ions tightly so they are not available to link with other compounds.)
According to Huber, glufosinate, the active ingredient in Liberty, is so similar to glyphosate that both were included in a single patent for a mineral chelator. He described glyphosate as a powerful antibiotic, but said antibiotics used in medicine “target bad guys” and glyphosate targets beneficial micro-organisms such as lactobacillus, trichoderma, and bifidus bacteria.
“Glyphosate increases bacteria that are insensitive to it and cause infections in humans and animals,” he said.
Huber also claimed there are 40 new, re-emerging, or more virulent crop diseases — such as Goss’s wilt and take-all, — that are on the rise because of changes in soil biology and reduced mineral availability linked to the impact of glyphosate on soil organisms.
From the Grainews website: Managing herbicide resistance
He quoted several research papers and presented slides that contrasted side-by-side comparisons where part of a field had been sprayed with glyphosate and the other was not sprayed. However, he did not have any data from replicated plots, disease nurseries or from planned research.
Huber also said he believes herbicide-resistant crops are less healthy than those of conventionally bred varieties and glyphosate causes disease, premature aging, and reproductive failure in humans and livestock. He listed a number of diseases — including sudden infant death syndrome, Parkinson’s, arthritis and cancer — that he claimed are linked to glyphosate use.
He also claimed feeding GM corn to livestock increases yellow fat and results in premature aging. And he attributed sudden deaths and abortion storms in cattle herds to feeding of crops grown in the presence of glyphosate, which resulted in reduced levels of manganese and other micronutrients in fetal tissues.
But he didn’t mention his most notorious claim — that he has extracted and grown a previously unknown disease organism that has no DNA or RNA and is not a prion. Huber made headlines three years ago when he sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack claiming he had evidence of a newly discovered “micro-fungal-like organism” linked to glyphosate. He has since refused to provide any studies or even any data to back up this claim.
In a column in the Feb. 17 edition of Alberta Farmer, Farming Smarter general manager Ken Coles called Huber’s unsubstantiated theories “bad science,” but said he invited him to the AGM because farmers “need to understand why Huber’s message finds such a receptive audience.”