More Bad News for Monsanto’s Roundup Weed-Killer
Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide may not be classified as a known carcinogen, yet, but there are plenty of causes for concern regarding its widespread use, including the results of independent analyses, questionable business practices and a proliferation of lawsuits.
As more and more information comes to light, many people suspect that forthcoming developments may mirror those that occurred in the tobacco industry, and which ultimately cited cigarettes as causing lung cancer.
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All About Monsanto and Roundup
Even if you have never heard of Monsanto or their ubiquitous weed-killer named Roundup, you have almost definitely consumed produce that was grown using this product. In fact, Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the world, constituting over $4 billion in annual revenue, and has been sprayed on over 1.8 million tons of American crops since its discovery in 1970. In short, Roundup kills most weeds, but does not kill Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops and seeds, which allows farmers to spray the product without damaging their crops. This has enabled Monsanto to become a powerful global agricultural corporation.
Concerns About Glyphosate and Roundup
Monsanto maintains that Roundup is a perfectly harmless product and that glyphosate only targets an enzyme that is found in plants, but not in animals or humans. However, Roundup is composed of a mixture of proprietary chemicals and compounds, which are not made known to the public, and therefore cannot be independently evaluated.
Concerns exist that although glyphosate may not be carcinogenic on its own, the combination of chemicals, and the interactions that may occur between them and glyphosate, is an independent factor and potentially dangerous. Furthermore, over time scientists have been able to identify some of the additional compounds through testing, and found that some of them are actually more toxic to human cells than glyphosate itself. Yikes!
Much research has been performed on glyphosate, but under widely differing circumstances and, at many times, questionable approaches. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified glyphosate as noncarcinogenic, but its review processes rely on research funded or conducted by the chemical companies themselves.
Moreover, the EPA’s approval process only includes an evaluation of the main active ingredient (glyphosate), and therefore does not account for the aforementioned potential impact that inert ingredients may have on the chemical’s toxicity. And troubling court proceedings citing the Freedom of Information Act have unearthed alarming information and correspondence between Monsanto and the EPA. Among the more shocking comments revealed was written in an email by Dan Jenkins (Monsanto’s lead liaison to government agencies) who quoted Jess Rowland (deputy director of the EPA’s pesticide division) as saying, “If I can kill this I should get a medal” regarding a planned review of glyphosate by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
The most serious concerns of all, however, have been raised by the Word Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In March of 2015, the IARC concluded that glyphosate should be categorized in Group 2A of their classification system, meaning being listed as a compound that is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” (Other Group 2A members include DDT, strains of human papillomavirus and an insecticide named malathion.) The IARC made this determination citing studies that reported convincing evidence that glyphosate causes cancer in animals and that the chemical can cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, which can lead to the emergence of cancer.
What Can Be Done?
There is currently a multitude of filed state lawsuits and a major federal lawsuit in the court system against Monsanto, some of which accuse Monsanto of manipulating the science in their research and ignoring the negative health impacts of glyphosate. As these legal battles — many of which have been filed by people who have developed cancer — play out over the upcoming months and years, perhaps more information will be learned and evidence revealed. The timing of these lawsuits is critical, as Monsanto is pursuing a mega-merger with Bayer AG, a large German chemical company, in a $66 billion deal that would further consolidate the industry and expand the corporation’s reach and power.
Positive change in the agricultural industry can also be achieved by using new and modern practices that do not rely as heavily on chemicals. Inventions such as pulverizing weed seeds so they do not sprout, carefully timing the planting of crops, and utilizing disparate farming methods that reduce the need for pesticides are all developing and showing promise. Supporting and furthering these efforts has never been more important, particularly as more and more glyphosate-resistant weeds are developing over time. In addition, these procedures can support the utilization of a wider variety of seeds, crops, techniques and even chemicals, thereby reducing our unhealthy dependence on a small number of corporations that dominate these industries.
For those of us who do not work in the industry and/or do not have the reason or option to file a lawsuit, the best way to protect ourselves from the risk of exposure to glyphosate and the further consolidation of power in the agricultural industries is to purchase as many local and organic products as possible. As organic produce is not grown using pesticides, these products are mostly free of glyphosate and other potentially dangerous chemicals. Moreover, purchasing local and organic products will help to keep these smaller businesses alive, and hopefully restore the balance of power in the industry over time. Following this practice is in our best interests as consumers, both from a health and long-term financial perspective. For more information on organic products and a shopping guide on buying organic produce, check out our article The 15 Foods You Must Buy Organic.
Lastly, strive to stay informed of developments in this field, and become an informed, discerning consumer — doing so is critical to your health and the future safety of the foods we eat.
Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.