The Food And Drug Administration recently found residue of glyphosate, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready weed killer, in samples of honey from various locations in the United States. Yes, let’s add honey to a growing list of things this poison has gotten itself into, including our water and blood.
Even “organic mountain honey” contained low concentrations of glyphosate, according the FDA documents show. Bees, which have been described as ‘flying dust mops,’ are bringing back residue into the hive themselves.
In less than half a century, Monsanto’s Roundup has become the world’s numero uno herbicide for home and commercial use. An estimated 90 percent of the nation’s corn and soybeans crops are genetically modified to tolerate Roundup, an herbicide designed to kill weeds while supposedly doing zero harm to the food we eat …
“Today, Roundup® WeatherMax, Roundup® UltraMAX, and other glyphosate agricultural herbicides produced by Monsanto are among the world’s most widely used herbicides,” Monsanto proudly boasts on its website.
Roundup Ready, known for its active ingredient glyphosate and symbiotic relationship with GMOs, reduces weed-whacking, encourages pot bellys, and streamlines commercial farming while making beaucoup bucks for Monsanto. According to Reuters, the company generated a whopping $4.76 billion in annual sales in 2015 with $1.9 billion in gross profits from herbicide sales alone.
Sure, we can argue that Roundup’s god-like ability to inhibit a key biological process in plants is an impressive ‘hack’ on the part of the human species, but not at the cost of harming our environment and our health. Why are we letting this substance, which has been described by the World Health Organization as a “probable human carcinogen,” literally erode our intestines and the earth? Is this slippery use of the word “probable” supposed to assuage or fool some of us? The EPA also describes malathion, a no-doubt-about-it human carcinogen, with the same iffy subtext.
“Roundup has one of the most extensive human health safety and environmental data packages of any pesticide that’s out there,” according to Monsanto representative John Combest. “It’s used in public parks. It’s used to protect schools. There’s been a great deal of study on Roundup, and we’re very proud of its performance.”
But that’s certainly not what critics say.
Glyphosate is possibly “the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies,” says Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Autism, gastrointestinal diseases, allergies, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and ALS are just some of the proliferating diseases and conditions. Studies linking glyphosate to cancer exist, but so do industry insiders who subvert and suppress those studies. Studies also provide evidence regarding glyphosate’s role as an endocrine disrupter.
Even trace amounts may be harmful because they are likely consumed so regularly in many foods.
I don’t even want to venture and guess what the new Roundup Ready 2 Xtend will do to us, as it allows crops to tolerate both glyphosate and dicamba, another herbicide. The latter was created to battle the super weeds created by Big Ag which created the super resistant crops.
Why is it that we are smart enough to plot our way to Mars, and yet we are stupid enough to allow these poisons to destroy planet Earth?
Not So Inert Ingredients
A toxic product would not be complete without its family of inert ingredients. The list for Roundup includes emulsifiers, solvents, surfactants, carriers, preservatives, aerosol propellants, fragrances, and dyes.
Technically, these adjuvants are supposed to be chemically inactive. Hence the word “inert”. But one of the ingredients, polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA), for instance, was found to be even more deadly to human embryonic, placental, and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself. Strange?
“This clearly confirms that the [inert ingredients] in Roundup formulations are not inert,” the study authors from France’s University of Caen explain. “Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” — commonly found on Roundup-treated crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, and corn.
Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells, even when the concentrations were more diluted than the ones used on farms and lawns.
Drink Up America
In a 2014 study commissioned by Moms Across America, glyphosate was detected in 13 out of 21 drinking water samples — as if our water isn’t polluted enough. A 2002 US Geological Survey (USGS) study of 51 streams in nine Midwestern states detected glyphosate in 36 percent of the 154 samples collected and detected aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), the degradation product (or metabolite) of glyphosate, in 69 percent of the samples.
In May, a test conducted on urine samples provided by Members of the European Parliament revealed glyphosate levels 17 times higher than the concentration permitted in drinking water within the European Union. Glyphosate is so prevalent within the atmosphere that it has been detected widely in rainwater samples collected by USGS.
Roundup Is Now 42 Years Old
Monsanto originally introduced glyphosate to market in 1974 under the tradename Roundup. Monsanto’s patent for glyphosate expired in 2000, allowing for replication of the herbicide into new brands and facilitating price drops that fueled increased application. Today, there are numerous herbicide brands and glyphosate manufacturers throughout the globe, most of which reside in China. Yuck.
Research on glyphosate trends are alarming. In a study published in early 2016, Charles Benbrook, an agricultural economist and former research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, found a fifteenfold increase in usage since the advent of “Roundup Ready” GMO crops in 1996. He also concluded, “Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years.”
Glyphosate use is not relegated to any one sector; its climb to notoriety as “the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in the history of the world” stems from its versatility in agriculture, forestry, residential, industrial, and aquatic applications. It functions as a broad spectrum or non-selective herbicide effective on broadleaf plants and grasses by blocking the shikimic acid pathway (an enzyme pathway responsible for plant growth-related protein production).
Once applied, the residual glyphosate not taken up by the roots of plants binds with soil particles where it remains relatively immobile. Glyphosate then contaminates water supplies over time as it degrades (with the primary metabolite being AMPA) through microbial biodegradation. AMPA also eventually biodegrades in the same manner.
During its first years of use, glyphosate application required relative precision. The chemical had proven effective at weed control, but due to its non-selective nature, it did not distinguish between weeds and crops. Monsanto began introduction of GMO crops that were branded “Roundup Ready” in the 1990s. Roundup Ready crops are specifically bioengineered to be resistant to glyphosate application allowing producers to spray indiscriminately in larger quantities. The advent of Roundup Ready crops set into play economic factors that only encouraged higher rates of glyphosate use. In other words, using more saved on labor costs.
Roundup Ready Resistant Weeds Popping Up All Over
Indiscriminate application of glyphosate has fueled what is known as a “transgenic” or “chemical” treadmill. Under the competitive evolutionary stress of constant herbicide exposure, glyphosate resistant varieties of weeds have emerged. Tackling these weeds requires even higher rates of glyphosate application (which is where the treadmill begins to speed up). Given that weeds spread from field to field, farmers who may have resisted glyphosate application at various levels are forced to jump on the treadmill or they risk growing fields full of weeds rather than crops.
As adaptation continues and glyphosate becomes less effective, agrochemical companies are fighting back with new herbicide formulations. The treadmill is a brutal reality, and over time farmers are faced with weeds that are resistant to various chemicals. So Weed A might be resistant to Chemical A but susceptible to Chemical B, whereas Weed B is resistant to Chemical B but susceptible to Chemical A.
Well-known food politics commentator Tom Philpott summarizes:
“So you’d get farmers dousing their fields with not one but two broad-spectrum herbicides – blotting out biodiversity while conjuring up a few super-duper-weeds that will need their own chemical/GMO ‘solution’ in the near future. Overall, it doesn’t look like our glyphosate habit will get kicked anytime soon.”
Back to water contamination. The issue with these increasing rates of application is that while glyphosate generally binds with soil particles, the World Health Organization has found, “Glyphosate can, however, enter surface and subsurface waters by direct use near aquatic environments or by runoff or leaching from terrestrial applications.” This means we are seeing an increasing supply of glyphosate available for such contamination.
Moms Across America found glyphosate levels at 0.085 ug/l (micrograms per liter) and 0.33 ug/l. Their study, however, did not examine AMPA levels. The USGS study detected median concentration rates of glyphosate of less than 0.1 ug/l. The highest measured concentration of glyphosate was 8.7ug/l. And the highest AMPA concentration was 3.6 ug/l. The urine test conducted on volunteers from Members of the European Parliament revealed glyphosate levels of 1.7 ug/l on average.
EPA VS Europe Union. Contamination R US
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the maximum contamination level of glyphosate at 700 ug/l. The European (EU) maximum allowed level for all pesticides (including) glyphosate in drinking water is 0.1 ug/l; this measure is not based on glyphosate-specific research but is set based on the precautionary principle.
The World Health Organization does not set maximum levels of glyphosate or AMPA in drinking water. It deems such standard unnecessary: “Because of their low toxicity, the health-based value derived for AMPA alone or in combination with glyphosate is orders of magnitude higher than concentrations of glyphosate or AMPA normally found in drinking-water.”
While glyphosate is often the most discussed chemical relative to herbacide pollution, AMPA presents similar challenges. A Joint Food and Agriculture/World Health Organization study concluded that under toxicological tests presented, both glyphosate and AMPA have low toxicity. The findings also concluded that glyphosate and AMPA have similar chemical structures and toxicological profiles. Are reports regarding concentrations of glyphosate able to glaze over the actual presence of the pesticide through the exclusion of its metabolite AMPA?
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Scientists Can’t Agree On What Is Safe
The maximum concentration levels are relatively arbitrary given the amount of debate regarding the safety of glyphosate, and there’s no scientific consensus on safe application. When gyphosate interacts with other chemicals contained in various products or out in the field or in any living organism, including our bodies, it creates the potential for more harm.
Understanding the full impact of glyphosate from a human health or ecological perspective is a rabbit hole that will likely be condensed into tomes detailing our poor decision-making and how we’ve created an industry where 30 percent of the net income from farming gets reinvested into the treadmill.
The Consequence Of Doing Nothing
Glyphosate will continue to haunt us given our lack of knowledge regarding the effects of low-level human exposure over long periods of time. Glyphosate has been linked with navigational and spatial orientation issues in honeybees that fuel colony starvation. It has been so effective at weed eradication in farmland that it has all but eliminated the milkweed, which is critical to the diet of the Monarch butterfly, creating shifts in migration patterns and edging them out of traditional habitats.
Continuing to study Roundup Ready, while necessary, seems a misplaced priority. The continued application of a chemical that will further contribute to a runaway agricultural system controlled by the whims and monetary lust of the agrochemical industry is nothing short of pathological.
Even with the tight fist of the industry limiting our knowledge of the chemical’s impacts, we have ample knowledge to conclude that it is not good for us or the environment. When we can plainly see the scale of its use and destructive spread throughout the environment, the conclusion that we are creating an equation for ecological, agricultural, and epidemiological disaster is not a stretch.
When do we stop studying and start acting?
The EPA has scheduled public meetings on the matter of Roundup Ready on Oct. 18-21 in Washington.
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Additional research and writing by Maryam Henein