The active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, glyphosate, has been linked to both health and environmental problems. With worldwide skepticism surrounding Roundup on the rise, should farmers, agricultural workers, gardeners and others stop using glyphosate altogether and opt for alternatives?
Glyphosate Linked to Series of Adverse Health Effects
Monsanto Co. discovered the herbicidal properties of glyphosate in 1970 and soon began marketing the chemical as Roundup in 1974. Over the last few decades, Roundup weed killer has gone on to become one of the most successful agricultural products in history, and has netted Monsanto billions in profits.
The safety of Roundup and its key ingredient, however, have become controversial to say the least. Dozens of studies have correlated exposure to glyphosate to a number of different health issues, including ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, birth defects, cancer, Celiac disease, colitis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disorder, kidney disease, liver disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease, among others.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a report on glyphosate, which found that the chemical is a Category 2A herbicide, meaning it probably causes cancer in humans.
According to the IARC report, the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers. The glyphosate report also found that there is evidence that exposure to glyphosate can cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, as well as genotoxic, hormonal and enzymatic effects in mammals.
The IARC report resulted in hundreds of lawsuits filed against Monsanto by farmers, agricultural workers, gardeners, landscapers, government workers and others who allege that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. As more and more people file suit against Monsanto and the safety of glyphosate continues to be called into question, many people who have relied on it now find themselves questioning whether they should stop using glyphosate.
Glyphosate and GMOs Fail to Live Up to Their Promise
When glyphosate and genetically-modified seeds first came to market, the combination was sold as a game-changer that would increase crop yields and reduce the need for pesticides. Neither has proven to be the case.
According to an extensive analysis by the New York Times, the rise in glyphosate-resistant, genetically-modified seeds has not accelerated crop yields, nor have GMO seeds reduced any reliance on pesticides and herbicides. On the contrary, the analysis found that in the United States, which has fully embraced Roundup Ready GMO seeds and herbicides like Roundup, the use of herbicides has increased rather than decreased. And when compared to Western Europe, which widely rejected GMOs, the United States doesn’t have any advantage in crop yields.
Stop Using Glyphosate, Help the Environment
Heavy use of glyphosate over the last few decades has created an emergence of glyphosate-resistant “super weeds,” of which roughly two dozen species have been discovered. These weeds are likely responsible for farmers, agricultural workers and others spraying more and more glyphosate, according to Science in Society.
Cristiano Peano, an associate professor of General Arboriculture and Arboreal Crops at Turin University and a consultant at Slow Food, recently spoke about how glyphosate use is harming soil.
“Let’s remember an important point,” says Peano, “when we spray glyphosate on a stale seedbed (creating a seedbed, letting the weeds grow, spraying with glyphosate, then spraying over the clean soil), the molecule doesn’t enter into contact with the main crop, but the problem of its build-up in the soil and in aquifers still persists.”
To Peano’s point, studies have shown that soil biology is strongly disrupted by glyphosate, as it is toxic to a variety of beneficial micro-organisms and macro-organisms, like earthworms, for example. Also, glyphosate may be retained and transported in soils, with long-lasting cumulative effects on soil ecology and fertility.
Laboratory studies have shown that glyphosate’s high water solubility makes aquatic wildlife vulnerable to toxicity. According to Science in Society, the use of Roundup has decreased the survival of algae and increased the presence of toxic cyanobacteria, which can lead to water quality deterioration, especially in small water systems.
Peano believes growers may need to change the way they think about plant management if they are to stop using glyphosate. “People still believe they have to cultivate totally clean soil, where only the main crop lives without a single alternative blade of grass. But we might actually start thinking that, all things considered, main crops can live alongside other plants, too … It’s possible to create an agro-ecosystem in which all the different elements live together and reach the end of the cycle, at the same time achieving economic results.”