The Growing Weight of Glyphosate
Weeds are tough, they grow everywhere, with little need for water and nutrients. If left alone, they proliferate and take over. Anyone who tries to keep a neat, green lawn can tell you that weeds are a threat to that endeavor. Any farmer will tell you that weeds present a challenge to producing the food we eat. The solution to that challenge, both for the lawns and flower beds of our communities, and for the vast food-growing fields, has increasingly been the use of herbicides. The most common herbicidal ingredient, well-known for its use in Monsanto’s Round Up, is glyphosate.
According to Wikipedia, glyphosate “is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate.” John E. Franz, a Monsanto chemist, discovered it’s herbicidal properties in 1970 and Monsanto held a patent on it until 2000. RoundUp remains the most common herbicide containing glyphosate.
Glyphosate works by prohibiting a plant’s production of a growth enzyme, known as the EPSP enzyme, which then causes the plant to be unable to produce essential proteins needed for growth. When the plant can no longer continue to grow, it withers and dies. When it was initially discovered and approved for use, glyphosate proved to be highly effective and was considered to be safer than other herbicides. It’s use has been widely adopted around the world for home weed control, in agriculture, and even in wild lands to control invasive species.
Monsanto states the following on it’s website about the safety of glyphosate:
“Glyphosate inhibits an enzyme that is essential to plant growth; this enzyme is not found in humans or other animals, contributing to the low risk to human health. Comprehensive toxicological studies in animals have demonstrated that glyphosate does not cause cancer, birth defects, DNA damage, nervous system effects, immune system effects, endocrine disruption or reproductive problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified the carcinogenicity potential of glyphosate as Category E: “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.”
It goes on to state that both governmental agencies and third party experts, after reviewing hundreds of studies, support the conclusion that glyphosate is safe, posing very low threat of toxicity to humans. It is certainly possible that there are many studies showing that glyphosate is pretty harmless. But, if you don’t already feel some concern about studies funded and supported by the company that markets the product being tested, than consider this situation with Merck’s mumps vaccine. Also consider the statements made here about the validity of studies done by Monsanto. And don’t forget Seralini’s studies on GM food, and the way that has been handled.
As a result of the declarations of the safety of glyphosate, and its purported effectiveness, the development of “roundup-ready” crops was not far behind. Creating a genetically engineered plant that is resistant to glyphosate allows farmers to spray the herbicide on the fields during cultivation of their crops. These plants were supposed to decrease the use of herbicides but that hasn’t exactly worked out. This article puts it like this:
“Monsanto’s Roundup Ready system, which involves applying glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide to crops genetically engineered to tolerate it, was supposed to decrease overall herbicide use-and for a while, it did just that. However, this has changed drastically in recent years.”
According to this paper published just this past week, the use of glyphosate has increased 100 fold since the late 1970’s, with an annual use as of 2014 of approximately 240 million pounds. This huge increase in use is blamed primarily on growing resistance in weeds to glyphosate. It has become a cycle of more herbicide resulting in more resistant weeds, then more herbicide, and so on. Its a pattern reminiscent of the dangerous over-use of antibiotics which has resulted in bacteria which resist all antibiotics. This begs the question, is this really safe?
Safety Concerns Over Glyphosate Are Also Increasing
With the vast increase in use of herbicides containing glyphosate, the question of just how safe they are is increasingly important. Monsanto continues to maintain that it’s glyphosate-containing RoundUp is safe, as proven by decades of studies. The EPA’s stance has also been that glyphosate is safe. In fact, this article by Newsweek states the following:
“…the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has relaxed its rules about what it considers a safe level of glyphosate. Fifty times more glyphosate is allowed on corn grain now than in 1996, for example, Freese says. The agency has also increased what it considers a safe amount of glyphosate exposure by a factor of 17.
Freese adds that EPA’s high-end estimate of infant exposure to glyphosate exceeds the level the Agency considered safe for them in 1983.”
Increasing the allowable safe amount of glyphosate exposure is concerning, especially in light of new studies that suggest the potential harm glyphosate may be causing in humans. A study conducted by an Australian university looked at the effects of glyphosate on the endocrine system. According to this article at Global Research:
“The blockbuster herbicide Roundup causes damage to the human endocrine system at levels that people could easily — and legally — be exposed to, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Flinders University in Australia. The researchers found that, in a laboratory study, Roundup killed cells responsible for producing progesterone in women, leading to a drop in levels of that hormone. The effects were seen at Roundup levels currently permitted in Australian drinking water, which 1 mg/L.”
“Both Roundup and pure glyphosate caused JAr cell death at glyphosate concentrations similar to the maximum allowed in Australian drinking water. This led to a corresponding drop in synthesis of progesterone, showing that glyphosate does indeed act as an endocrine disruptor.”
Multiple studies have shown that the dangers posed by glyphosate only increase when the ingredient is combined with the other inert ingredients in herbicides like RoundUp. The occurrence of damage to cells is greater when exposed to the entire concoction.
Another study took a different approach to disputing Monsanto’s safety claims. As Monsanto pointed out, humans don’t have the same enzymes that glyphosate prohibits production of in plants, but the study suggests a another way in which glyphosate may be causing far-reaching harm to humans. Consider this article’s description:
“Roundup® kills plants by interfering with a biochemical pathway involved with synthesis of amino acids, called the shikimate pathway. This pathway is not found in humans, therefore it was assumed that glyphosate does not harm humans. The pathway is found in bacteria, however, and humans depend on bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to synthesize the essential amino acids.
By interfering with the biochemistry of bacteria in our GI tract, consumption of glyphosate depletes essential amino acids and predisposes humans to a host of chronic health problems. Specifically, glyphosate depletes the amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine, which can then contribute to obesity, depression, autism, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.”
It’s an alarming suggestion considering the amount of glyphosate currently being used. Industry sponsored safety studies do not generally look at the long-term effects of exposure. The acute toxicity of glyphosate may prove to be low, but chronic toxicity is not looked at. If, as the above mentioned, and a host of other studies suggest, glyphosate is not so benign as has been claimed for decades, further investigation is critical.
Awareness of Glyphosate Use and Risk Needs To Grow
The concerning increase in the use of herbicides containing glyphosate will continue to go unchecked if public awareness doesn’t also increase. Powerful industries have powerful interest in keeping the information suppressed. Anyone who remembers how Fox canceled the rBGH (bovine growth hormone) story, described in this video is aware of the lengths companies such as Monsanto will go to protect their products. As this paper states:
“The steep rise in the pounds of herbicides applied with respect to most GE crop acres is not news to farmers. Weed control is now widely acknowledged as a serious management problem within GE cropping systems. Farmers and weed scientists across the heartland and cotton belt are now struggling to devise affordable and effective strategies to deal with the resistant weeds emerging in the wake of herbicide-tolerant crops.
But the skyrocketing herbicide use is news to the public at large, which still harbors the illusion, fed by misleading industry claims and advertising, that biotechnology crops are reducing pesticide use. Such a claim was valid for the first few years of commercial use of GE corn, soybeans, and cotton, but as this report shows, it is no longer.”
The growing number of studies suggesting harmful effects on humans as a result of the use of herbicides, and the recent distinction of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization have led a group of scientists to collaborate on a paper that lists the following conclusions:
GBHs [glyphosate-based herbicides] are the most heavily applied herbicide in the world and usage continues to rise
Worldwide, GBHs often contaminate drinking water sources, precipitation, and air, especially in agricultural regions
The half-life of glyphosate in water and soil is longer than previously recognized
Glyphosate and its metabolites are widely present in the global soybean supply
Human exposures to GBHs are rising
Glyphosate is now authoritatively classified as a probably human carcinogen
Regulatory estimates of tolerable daily intakes for glyphosate in the United States and European Union are based on outdated science.
They go on to recommend more epidemiological and toxicology studies. “We suggest that common commercial formulations of GBHs would be prioritized for inclusion in government-led toxicology testing programs such as the U.S. National Toxicology Program, as well as for biomonitoring as conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
It would be all too easy to rely upon those recommendations to actually make a difference in this problem. However, the real power lies with the consumers. Considering the FDA only just announced this past Thursday that it will begin testing certain foods for glyphosate residues, it is obvious that any change affected by industry or government agencies will come dangerously slow. Consumers need to stand up, put pressure on lawmakers to address this, and vote where it really matters, with our dollars.
Author’s Note: I originally wrote this article for the website opensourcetruth.com where it was published, in part, on February 22, 2016, with heavy editing by that site. I am re-publishing it here in it’s original form, with source links.