Glyphosate

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Let’s Talk About: Glyphosate

Since its discovery in 1970 and its commercial introduction in 1974, glyphosate has been used on lawns, gardens and fields to eradicate unwanted weeds. Glyphosate disrupts growth of plants by taking away their ability to utilize nutrients. Due to the effectiveness of this herbicide, glyphosate resistant crops were developed. By 2005 the herbicide was being used in 130 countries treating more than 100 crops.[1] Glyphosate improves the environmental impact of herbicides by decreasing or eliminating those that are harmful. It also offers benefits over previous formulas and allows for more minimal tillage, reducing fuel, topsoil, and emissions.[2],[3] Due to the popularity and widespread use of glyphosate, controversy over its use has increased in recent years.

Illinois Farm Bureau Policy

American Farm Bureau Federation policy states, “Agricultural chemicals are important in continuing to supply consumers with an abundant, safe, nutritious, high quality, and reasonably priced food supply. We are committed to continuing the use of agricultural chemicals in a safe and judicious manner so as to protect the health and safety of producers, our employees, our families, our communities, and the environment.” Policy opposes, “Any legal action made against the federal government based on excessively broad interpretations of environmental laws, which restrict or limit the safe and proper use of agricultural chemicals.”[4]

Glyphosate Use

The growth of healthy crops is determined by plant’s access to water, sunlight, and nutrients. Weeds are the number one problem because plants must compete for essential nutrients needed to grow. More than 70% of potential yield losses can be minimized with proper herbicide use. In addition to their use on crops, herbicides are used to remove excess plant growth from utility areas, remove breeding grounds for disease carrying mosquitos, and remove weeds that can be harmful to humans and pets like poison ivy, ragweed, and thorny bushes.[5]

Roundup®

Glyphosate is the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup®. Glyphosate is a molecule, active as a salt in herbicidal formulas.  Roundup® is made up of glyphosate (isopropylamine salt), water, and a soap-like blend that allows the formula to adhere to leaves of plants. The solution that is sprayed is 1-2% solution, which means that 98% of the solution that is applied is water.[6],[7] 

Environmental Benefits

As already stated, there are no other herbicides that affect weeds in the same way and as effectively as glyphosate.[8],[9] Furthermore, glyphosate degrades due to organisms in the soil and turns into naturally occurring soil components.[10],[11] Contrary to popular evidence, glyphosate has minimal effects on the atmosphere because it does not readily evaporate into a gas and therefore has a low incidence of moving off-site and damaging favored plants.[12]

Using herbicides such as Roundup® reduces the need for tilling practices and increases the use of reduced tillage and no till methods. Conservation tilling practices are environmentally friendly by decreasing soil erosion and preserving topsoil, and increasing water and nutrients essential for plant life. Reduced and no till practices lead to better soil and air quality by reducing the need for machinery. Using herbicides such as glyphosate reduces environmental disruption on the land.[13]

Glyphosate and Cancer

Glyphosate is an herbicide, and when used according to label terms it is not a threat to human or animal consumption. The pathway glyphosate uses to affect plants is not shared by members of human or animal race; therefore, it only blocks protein synthesis in plant systems. Glyphosate has been researched over the last 40 years and has been labeled a Group E carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  A Group E label is defined as having evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans by the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. 

The World Health Organization recently declared glyphosate a 2A potential carcinogen. Other items receiving the same classification include: burning wood, emissions from high temperature frying, and work exposure as a hairdresser.  Group 1 items, things that ARE carcinogenic, include consumption of alcohol, radon, wood dust, estrogen, diesel fuel exhaust, and tobacco smoking. Several things we come into contact with every day are not avoidable yet possibly detrimental to our health, but that does not mean they should be avoided indefinitely.  Estrogen has been determined to be cancer causing and it is a naturally occurring steroid within the body.  It is also used as a drug by millions of women every day.

The American Cancer Society gives insight into the classification process and provides examples of things that are either likely to or do cause cancer, one of which is ionizing radiation exposure.  Exposure to radiation IS KNOWN to cause cancer even at low levels. There is no way to completely avoid radiation coming into contact with your body because sources include the sun and soil.[14],[15]

The Department of Pathology at the New York Medical College produced a comprehensive safety evaluation and risk assessment for humans and found, “the use of Roundup® herbicide does not result in adverse effects on development, reproduction, or endocrine systems in humans and other mammals”; non-observed-adverse-effect levels were identified and it was concluded that under conditions of use there are no health risks to humans.[16]

Glyphosate Resistance

It is true that glyphosate resistance has been a growing concern over the years. Evolution and high reliance on glyphosate results in species that can naturally resist the herbicide. In order to minimize resistance, it is important to include diversity in weed management by reducing evolutionary selection for glyphosate resistant weeds. This is true for both manufacturers and farmers.  Crop husbandry rotations can aid farmers in becoming less reliant and minimize applications that support glyphosate-resistant weeds.[17] Increased weed numbers reduce crop yields, and this is the major concern. A study conducted by the Economic Research Center found that using more than one herbicide may produce higher production costs, but they are greatly offset by increased yields. The lesson is that it is more cost effective to combat the growth of glyphosate resistant weeds than to ignore it.[18]

Conclusion

Food for thought: the growth of weeds is a serious problem that has to be dealt with in order to grow adequate yields to feed the world. If we were to get rid of glyphosate, it would have to be replaced with another method that likely produces more caustic results.[19]



[1] “Glyphosate.” SourceWatch. Web. Retrieved 1 July 2016. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Glyphosate

[2] Duke and Powles, 2008. “Mini-review Glyphosate: a once-in-a-century herbicide.” Pest Management Science 64:319-325.

[3] Williams, Kroes and Munro, 2000. “Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans.” Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 31:117-165.

[4] “Agricultural Chemicals”. Farm Bureau Policies for 2015. Section 3:336. 14 June 2016.

[5] “What is Glyphosate?” Monsanto. Retrieved 14 June 2016. www.monsanto.com/sitecollectiondocuments/glyphosate-safety-health.pdf

[6] Duke and Powles, 2008. “Mini-review Glyphosate: a once-in-a-century herbicide.” Pest Management Science 64:319-325.

[7] “What is Glyphosate?” Monsanto. Retrieved 14 June 2016. www.monsanto.com/sitecollectiondocuments/glyphosate-safety-health.pdf

[8] Duke and Powles, 2008. “Mini-review Glyphosate: a once-in-a-century herbicide.” Pest Management Science 64:319-325

[9] Duke and Powles, 2008. “Mini-review Glyphosate: a once-in-a-century herbicide.” Pest Management Science 64:319-325

[10] Schuette, Jeff, 1998. “Environmental Fate of Glyphosate.” Environmental Monitoring and Pest Management Department of Pesticide Regulation. Retrieved 14 June 2016. www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/emon/pubs/fatememo/glyphos.pdf

[11] Schuette, Jeff, 1998. “Environmental Fate of Glyphosate.” Environmental Monitoring and Pest Management Department of Pesticide Regulation. Retrieved 14 June 2016. www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/emon/pubs/fatememo/glyphos.pdf

[12] Duke and Powles, 2008. “Mini-review Glyphosate: a once-in-a-century herbicide.” Pest Management Science 64:319-325

[13] “What is Glyphosate?” Monsanto. Retrieved 14 June 2016. www.monsanto.com/sitecollectiondocuments/glyphosate-safety-health.pdf

[14] “Glyphosate as a Carcinogen, Explained.” The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Retrieved 15 June 2016. http://www.thefarmersdaughterusa.com/2015/03/glyphosate-as-a-carcinogen-explained.html

[15] “Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.” American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/generalinformationaboutcarcinogens/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens

[16] Williams, Kroes and Munro, 2000. “Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans.” Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 31:117-165.

[17] Duke and Powles, 2008. “Mini-review Glyphosate: a once-in-a-century herbicide.” Pest Management Science 64:319-325

[18] Fernandez-Cornejo and Osteen.” Managing Glyphosate Resistance May Sustain Its Efficacy and Increase Long-Term Returns to Corn and Soybean Production.” USDA ERS. Retrieved 15 June 2016. http://ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2015-may/managing-glyphosate-resistance-may-sustain-its-efficacy-and-increase-long-term-returns-to-corn-and-soybean-production.aspx#.V2F5p0n2bcs

[19] “About Those Harsher Herbicides that Glyphosate Helped Replace.” The Credible Hulk. 2 June 2015. Web. Retrieved 14 June 2016. http://www.crediblehulk.org/index.php/2015/06/02/about-those-more-caustic-herbicides-that-glyphosate-helped-replace-by-credible-hulk/

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