Roundup, the chemical branded by Bayer-Monsanto, is heavily used in the United States and around the world. Many people do not know or understand the serious health and environmental issues posed by glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Glyphosate is a common herbicide (weed-killer) used in crop lands and residential areas such as home lawns and gardens. It was first registered in the United States in 1974 as the active ingredient in Roundup but is now available in a variety of commercial herbicide products.
How does it work?
Roundup kills a variety of plants including, weeds, grasses and woody plants, by disrupting the production of specific aromatic amino acids. These amino acids are essential to the plant’s life. Initially, Roundup would kill any weed or crop that it landed on so farmers would have to be very careful when applying the herbicide. However, in 1996, Monsanto developed genetically modified (GMO) seeds and plants that are resistant to gylphosate. This allowed farmers to spray their entire fields without worry of killing their crops. Its use globally has risen almost 15-fold since these genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant “Roundup Ready” plants were introduced.
Why is Glyphosate bad?
The major downside is the toxicity of the ingredients in Roundup. There are several studies that have shown that even the smallest exposure to these chemicals can cause irritation to the eyes and throat, eczema and even reduced respiratory ability. Long-term effects showed development of tumors in the liver, thyroid and pancreas. In a recent update of the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), glyphosate has been shown to raise the cancer risk of those exposed to it by 41%. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO), classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. With all of this data, Bayer-Monsanto refuses to study the link between cancer and the formulated Roundup product that so many people heavily use. Instead, they choose to open their wallets due to lawsuits from thousands of people alleging exposure to Roundup weed killer caused them to develop non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. In 2018, a couple was awarded $2 billion in punitive damages after concluding that sustained exposure to Roundup led to their cancer diagnoses. The couple will receive an additional $55 million for pain and suffering and to cover medical expenses. Another lawsuit related to Roundup that Bayer-Monsanto lost was of a school groundskeeper who was rewarded $78.5 million after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2014 . These lawsuits are just from people that have sprayed Roundup on lawns, but what about people that are unknowingly consuming foods that are contaminated with glyphosate?
What is important to understand is that glyphosate does not merely exist on the exterior of the plant. It is absorbed into the plant. So when crops like oats are sprayed before harvesting, these toxic chemicals are then transported to our foods.
An analysis was released in June 2019 by the Environmental Working Group’s Children’s Health Initiative found that 21 of General Mills’ oat-based cereals and snacks were contaminated with glyphosate and all but four products contained levels higher than what EWG scientists consider safe for children.
To limit your exposure to weed killer in your breakfast bowl, consider avoiding the cereals on this list. According to the EWG, these 15 cereals contain the highest levels of glyphosate. The numbers in brackets represent the levels of glyphosate found — parts per billion (ppb). The EWG children’s health benchmark is 160 ppb.
Glyphosate contamination cannot be eliminated by washing, and it cannot be broken down through the cooking or baking process.
The best way to avoid foods that have been sprayed with glyphosate is to look for products that feature the USDA Organic label. To obtain this organic certification, food producers may not spray foods with artificial chemical pesticides, including glyphosate. Unfortunately, the use of glyphosate is so widespread today the chemical can contaminate foods where it is not even directly sprayed, even organic crops.
A 2017 study found that Americans’ exposure to glyphosate increased approximately 500% since 1996!
Outside of the health effects, there’s also large scale environmental impacts. When these herbicides are leaked into our water sources, fish and other species have deadly reactions. Spraying plants can cause negative consequences on insects, birds and small animals. Not to mention the horrific impact on the depletion of our soil.
Over the last decade, about 6.1 billion kilograms of the herbicide glyphosate have been applied worldwide. Soils are the foundation of our food security and yet a recent global scientific assessment found that 33 percent of land is degraded due to the erosion and chemical pollution of our soils.
In knowing all of this information and data, WHY do we still choose to purchase and use Roundup? Why hasn’t this product been banned in the United States? Countries like Argentina, The Netherlands, Malta, Sri Lanka and parts of Europe have already banned glyphosate. France has banned glyphosate in public parks immediately and will phase out the use of glyphosate herbicides in agriculture and landscaping use over the next 5 years completely. We need to ask our Governors to protect our citizens as well!
17 Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) (2015) Status of the World’s Soil Resources available at http://www.fao.org/
documents/card/en/c/c6814873-efc3-41db-b7d3-2081a10ede50/ accessed on 4/3/16.
O’Keeffe M G, “The control of Agropyron repens and broad-leaved weeds pre-harvest of wheat and barley with the isopropylamine salt of glyphosate.” Proceedings of British Crop Protection Conference – Weeds, 1, 53-60 (1980).
Causes and circumstances of accidents in the EU (2008). European Commission Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, F4 unit. epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/health/documents/phase_3_causes_circumstances.pdf
Alibhai MF, Stallings WC. “Closing down on glyphosate inhibition—with a new structure for drug discovery”. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 98 (6): 2944-6. Bibcode:2011PNAS…98.2944A. doi:10.1073/pnas.061025898.JSTOR 3055165. PMC 3334.PMID 11248008 (March 2001
Joe Gardener, Organic Gardening
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