Safety Review of Glyphosate Herbicide Faces Tough Critics
Glyphosate, the non-selective herbicide that is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup formula, is up for a routine safety review in the United States and Canada. The herbicide has been used in eliminating weeds in soybeans, corn, cotton, as well as for lawn and garden maintenance since the early 1970s. “More than 2 billion lbs of herbicide were used globally in 2007, with one quarter of that total – 531 million lbs – used in the United States in that timeframe, according to a report issued in February by the EPA,” recently reported Reuters. Since at least 1996, the thirst for glyphosate was fueled in large measure by the development of glyphosate tolerant crops (e.g., Monsanto’s Roundup Ready lines), which are able to withstand continued application of this herbicide.
As more genetically engineered crops are planted, more glyphosate is used. For example, 94% of soybeans, planted on 75.2 million acres in 2011, were genetically engineered. With the government’s encouragement, in the form of subsidies for crops like soybean, corn and cotton, the nation’s glyphosate addiction intensified.
In the meantime, concerns about the impact of glyphosate on human and animal health and the environment are growing. Many scientists are alarmed, for example, about the links between glyphosate and birth defects, cancer, impact on wildlife, and environmental damage. The Center For Food Safety (”Center”) recently noted in its August 3, 2011, letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, that:
Roundup Ready crop systems has decimated populations of milkweed in the agricultural fields of Iowa and likely other Midwestern states. This has contributed (along with other factors) to the 15-year decline in Monarch butterflies that require milkweed as a host plant for larvae (caterpillars).
Additionally, due to weed resistance caused by over reliance on glyphosate, farmers need more glyphosate and often more toxic chemicals like 2,4-D, dicamba and atrizine to control weeds (a.k.a. “superweeds”).
The Center noted that:
Glyphosate-resistant crop systems have triggered an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds, which constitute one of the most serious challenges facing American farmers. Agronomists have recently sounded the alarm about weeds resistant to multiple herbicides (usually including glyphosate).
The glyphosate molecule deprives crops of the vital minerals necessary for healthy functioning, and especially the ability to resist soilborne diseases. It annihilates soil organisms that live around the roots and help suppress disease. And it is highly toxic to plants. But the clincher is that it dramatically promotes disease-causing organisms, present in almost all soils, which overrun the weakened crops with deadly infections.
During the EPA’s review the agency said that it plans to re-evaluate the “risks from glyphosate and certain inert ingredients to humans and the environment…” Similarly, Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency pesticide re-evaluation program will consider the potential risks as well as the value of pesticide products to “ensure they meet modern standards established to protect human health and the environment.”
The EPA is collecting data until summer of 2012 and a decision is expected by 2015. The Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency reported that its target date for completion of glyphosate review is 2014.