For years, the public has been assured that the chemical glyphosate was safe whether it was found in the environment or in our fresh water supply or in the processed food we feed our families. As a result, farmers spray more than 185 million pounds of glyphosate-based herbicides, particularly Monsanto’s Roundup, on food crops in North America The questionable agrochemical is also the third most commonly used herbicide for industrial and commercial land and the second most commonly used herbicide in the home and garden. A whopping twenty-five million applications are spread on yards within easy reach of children, pregnant women, the elderly and pets, every year. In short, this herbicide is everywhere. So why the concern? Turns out the industry reports behind glyphosate’s safety may have been overstated.
In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) reviewed the latest non-industry-funded science and concluded that glyphosate must be labeled a “probable human carcinogen” based on the findings suggesting glyphosate increases the risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Independent science has been sounding the alarm for years. Glyphosate has been implicated in over 40 plant diseases; commercial grade glyphosate attacks mammals in the liver and intestines by decreasing the activity of two detoxification enzymes; a report dating back to 2011 found regulators knew as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate can cause birth defects in laboratory animals and that the European Commission has known that glyphosate causes malformations since 2002. Yet the information was never made public.
In Argentina, currently the second largest producer of transgenic BT soy in the world and a major user of Roundup, amphibian embryos are exhibiting defects in their brain, intestines and heart. Farmworkers are becoming ill and their children are born with devastating birth defects. Concerned scientists discovered the herbicide increased the activity of a particular “signalling pathway” that turns off the genes that are needed for normal embryological development. Three countries, across multiple continents are experiencing an inexplicable epidemic. Dubbed as CKDu, Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin has attacked and killed thousands of field workers, primarily young males. The disease is spreading so quickly, it’s estimated that it now affects 15 percent of field workers – that’s 400,000 people. Glyphosate has been implicated.
Undoubtedly, farmworkers face the highest exposures, but low levels of glyphosate are present in our food and drinking water and that could pose a serious threat to our well being. The problem is not acute, its the accumulation of the chemical that may pose the greatest threat. Studies have found glyphosate accumulates in soy and is present in thousands of nonorganic packaged foods including those labelled ‘natural’. It is also in animal feed for livestock like pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys and fish so that means it’s in the meat aisles of our grocery stores.
IRAC also determined insecticides malathion and diazinon are probable human carcinogens. These bug-killing chemicals are most often found on nonorganic strawberries, celery, and cilantro. An argument to purchase organic if there ever was one.
Despite all the input from independent science, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just gave the green light to allow farmers in nine more states to use a new glyphosate-containing pesticide called Enlist Duo. The new weedkiller also contains 2,4-D, an old-school, toxic chemical that’s also linked to cancer. Enlist Duo’s two active ingredients, 2,4-D and glyphosate, have both been shown to increase the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But here’s the real kicker, the stuff doesn’t work! Genetically engineering crop seeds are engineered to live through dense herbicide sprayings that normally would kill the crop. But spraying BT crops is a failed technology and a losing battle. Just as overusing antibiotics led to hard-to-kill, antibiotic-resistant super germs, abusing weed killers has fuelled the emergence of nearly impossible-to-kill super weeds.
When GE technology was first introduced, chemical companies touted the technology as a way to reduce chemical use on food crops. But Professor Chuck Benbrook, PhD, a research professor at Washington State University, recently found that between 1996 and 2011, GMO technology actually increased herbicide use by 527 million pounds—that’s an 11 percent increase — for every pound less of insecticide used, farmers used four pounds more of herbicides.
The weight of evidence is indicating something is going seriously wrong and glyphosate could be playing a role. Surely it’s time stop its commercial distribution until we can get a clear picture of its safety. Likely? Unfortunately until the public starts making some serious noise, particularly around election time, nothing is going to change.