Millet groats – the food we all love in Poland, no matter if we are omnivore or vegan. The food the Slavonic culinary heritage is based on. The food the Polish language is tightly connected to. But this is also the food that nobody suspects it may be dangerous if eaten on a daily basis.
And that is how often many people eat millet groats, especially as a result of the very popular “Eat Groats!” campaigns sprouting all over Poland these last years. Unfortunately, none of these campaigns, whose only aim is to sell a product, mention these groats should be purchased only from local farmers and glyphosate-free organic cultivation. It is time we say ENOUGH!
Millet groats are an ancient food of the Slavonic people, but are now amongst the many grains sprayed with glyphosate right before harvest.
For many years, the Polish press has mentioned the risks that glyphosate poses to our health, linked with the consumption of conventional and highly processed food products. All are concerned: meat-eaters, fruitarians, vegans, vegetarians.
In the Polish language, the word for “food” is “żywność” [zhyvnoshtch], which derives from the word “życie” meaning “life”. In this way, the word “food” means “giving life”. Yet, it is difficult to see how these grains coming from an agricultural model based on monoculture, synthetic chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, including glyphosate, in addition to the exploitation of workers, can be considered as “giving life.” This reality is more and more common worldwide, and in Poland where buckwheat groats once called “tatarka” and which have become very popular, as they are gluten-free, are also treated with glyphosate.
The presence of glyphosate apparently surprised him, especially as it was 14 times higher than the normative amount. Bustowski’s shock led him to alerting the local media, along with the residents of his area.
Bustowski’s message became more noticed after the unfolding of 2 events: firstly, a batch of buckwheat was withdrawn from stores due to the detection of glyphosate, and second, the January 2019 report by the Supreme Audit Office (“NIK – Najwyższa Izba Kontroli”) listing a staggering number of Polish food products containing a dangerous level of food additives, and alarming of the very low level of controls.
This revelation was startling enough to wake up many consumers who were used to the “comfort” of buying highly processed products in conventional stores, avoiding local farmers’ markets or organic stores run by locals. The report showed the average consumer absorbed over 2kg of various chemical additives per year. It also underlined that the food approval processes, and food control activities must take into consideration that a consumer may accumulate a high number of additives. In small amounts, the report says these chemicals are harmless (although we would argue with this statement) but eaten on a daily basis, they undoubtedly lead to a dangerous accumulation and can lead to a cocktail effect, and risks for people’s health.
Lower Silesia (“Dolny Slask” in Polish), a region in the southwest of Poland, was once famous for its pork sausages – “kiełbasa jaworska” or “kiełbasa śląska” are also made today but from the lowest quality meat of animals fed with GMO soy, one of the agricultural monocrops that consumes the most glyphosate.
The laboratory tests for chemicals are expensive in Poland: 160 PLN each (nearly 36 Euro), which equals almost 15 labor hours paid 11 PLN per hour (approximately 2 Euro per hour – official minimal gross payment in 2020). This means that few can afford to take this test in order to know how much glyphosate rests in their body. Bustowski decided to negotiate with laboratories to lower the price of testing, to make it more widely available to common consumers.
However, in 2019, Bustowski realized tests were not enough; the only way to have “clean” food widely available in all stores, is by making a change on the parliament level. This is what Slow Food is trying to do through its advocacy work and awareness-raising all over Europe about the issue of pesticide use, for example in its participation in the #StopGlyphosate campaign In the late summer, Polish people celebrate Dożynki [dozhynkee], harvest festivals which were traditionally focused on good, clean and fair food, including local grains, flour, vegetables, and seasonal fruits. Nowadays, industrial products, often imitating the traditional ones and often imported from abroad, dominate the festivals. However, in each country, Poland included, we have the possibility of demanding changes to be made to our laws and to put an end to the use of harmful chemicals.
In 2020, Bustowski launched a fundraising campaign to support residents to get children tested for the presence of glyphosate in their bodies. Citizens were further shocked to hear that all the children from local sports clubs who were tested for glyphosate in the spring of 2020 were found to have it in their urine. Bustowski gathered 100 people who were found to have a level of glyphosate exceeding the permissible levels and began demanding compensation for damages to their health. Glyphosate-based herbicides have varying levels of toxicity but could be fatal in humans. At lower doses, they have been shown to be toxic to human cells. Evidence has also been found that glyphosate may disrupt the human endocrine system, which can cause irreversible effects at particular life stages, such as during pregnancy.
During the pandemic, messages from local activists, with Bustowski as their leader, were sent to local and national governments. The outcome was far from satisfactory, a lack of action possibly risking citizens’ health. The continue use of glyphosate and many other harsh chemicals costs our country in terms of health, environmental impact, biodiversity loss, and food sovereignty.
In these terms, it is understandable why many people are interested in finding alternatives to industrial food options and begin to consider foraging wild greens and fruits. This is why we launched the “Slow Foraging” project for the Slow Food network worldwide within this year’s extraordinary edition of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. As our contribution, starting from October 8th, together with the Chwastozercy Group, Slow Food Breslavia, and Slow Food Community for Central Poland Culinary Heritage Promotion, we will launch a series of Foraging Tours (plus online activities too) to increase awareness of chemicals used in the countryside and urban areas. The aim will be to raise awareness about historical, native, uncultivated, edible plants that were once food, but are not considered food anymore. We are going to shout out the glyphosate danger.
As consumers, we should all urgently tend to change the content of Codex Allimentarius and highlight that what is sold as food in Poland (żywność) is not really food: it is a bread-like loaf (not bread), milk-like white liquid (not milk), a tomato-like thing (not tomato), flour-like powder (not flour), etc. What is nowadays available in thousands of conventional groceries and shopping malls, is not food indeed, in terms of nutritious, social, ethical, and environmental values.
Anna Maria Ruminska
architect, cultural and food anthropologist, culinary reenactor & curator, chef forager & consultant
“Slow Food Dolny Śląsk” Convivium, Poland