Farmer Fights Spray: Calves Born Without Eyes

Farmer fights spray: Calves born without eyes

17.12.2002 - 
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council cut a fence belonging to Haumoana farmer Dexter McGhie yesterday after police could not talk him into letting a council digger get access to a drain crossing his land.

Mr McGhie used a tractor to block a gate as a protest to the council's use of the herbicide on drain verges throughout Hawke's Bay.

He blames glyphosate, a common herbicide chemical, for causing deformities in calves born on his farm.

Over the last two years he has padlocked his gates to keep the council off his land. There had been no deformities in that time, he said.

The council yesterday used the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941 to gain compulsory access to his land, so a digger could excavate the drain to allow for run-off from properties upstream.

Mr McGhie is a qualified chemist, has a background in agricultural science, and is a member of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry. He is concerned at the amount of glyphosate deposited on the grass and drinking water consumed by cattle, he said.

Eight of his calves were born deformed in the ten years preceding 2000. Some were born without eyes or blind and others had suffered from arthrogryposis, meaning they were born without knee joints or deformed legs.

He has taken a calf to Massey University for analysis, but tests proved inconclusive, he said. He also sent a video of the calves to the regional council.

"These guys [regional council staff] are not scientists. What they're doing is just really, really dumb. The glyphosate they use can break down into formaldehyde, a known tetrogen, which is capable of reorganising the genetics of an organism in the early stages of fetal development," Mr McGhie said.

"I've worked with thousands and thousands of animals all over the world, particularly in Europe. I've never seen incidences as high as here. It's not unusual to have small abnormalities like an extra teet, but these are major neurological disorders," he said. He is also concerned that glyphosate would access groundwater aquifers from which people draw their drinking water.

Mr McGhie said the incidence of cancer and neurological diseases in residents of the Haumoana-Tukituki area had been high, naming seven people who had died of cancer, two who had developed cancer, and three who had developed multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.

Regional council assets manager Mike Adye said the council had been aware of Mr McGhie's concerns for several years, and had asked him for results of tests that showed any link between glyphosate and the deformities.

"We're talking about things like RoundUp here. One of the world's most commonly used herbicides. It seems funny that all these things have happened on his property and not elsewhere around New Zealand.

"He's got to provide some information to support his argument. We've asked him for it. It hasn't been provided yet, which indicates something pretty clear to me," Mr Adye said.

ęCopyright 2000 NZ Herald

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