Has Glyphosate Met Its Waterloo?

Jim GoodmanBlog

Can organic farmers use Roundup® ? I get that question a lot, society has been told and it seems, really believes that as crop chemicals go, nothing could be safer. But that’s just it, using nothing is safer.

And no, organic farmers can’t use it, but if I could why would I want to? It is, after all, a poison, its active ingredient, glyphosate, is a poison, as are some of its “inert” ingredients.

Monsanto introduced the first commercial formulation of glyphosate under the trade name Roundup in 1973. In 2007 (USDA stopped updating pesticide use database in 2008) glyphosate was the world’s largest selling herbicide with over 180 million pounds used in the U.S. agricultural sector alone.

While glyphosate is manufactured and marketed by many agrochemical companies worldwide, glyphosate is synonymous with Monsanto and its flagship brand Roundup. Monsanto’s Roundup ready genetically engineered (GE) soybean was commercialized in 1994 and by 1997 sales of Roundup had tripled.

Roundup has always been considered a safer alternative to other pesticides because it degraded quickly in the environment and was supposedly non-harmful to humans or animals when used at recommended doses. Of course safety test results are generally kept secret as they contain “commercially confidential information”.

I never really considered safety a moving target, but apparently the allowable or “safe” level of glyphosate in food crops has, as of July 2013, doubled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Coincidence that as more Roundup Ready crops are approved by USDA and more Roundup is sprayed world wide that safe residue levels are raised by the EPA? Hardly — it seems that the “powers that be” have generally fallen into lockstep support of GE technology.

Universities, it seems, are more interested in keeping the money flowing their way than in doing research in the public interest — which was, I thought, the original intent of publicly funded universities.

The US government has long encouraged GE technology. For several years farmers were given big discounts on their crop insurance premiums if they planted GE “stacked” seed varieties.

The US State Department stated that “We will work with partner countries to strengthen the operation of local, regional, and global markets in agricultural products, employing public diplomacy as well as development assistance approaches to gain broad acceptance of biotech products in these markets while assuring the maintenance of acceptable food safety standards”.

Referencing the Administration’s “revolving door policy” the Pesticide Action Network’s Marcia Ishii-Eiteman notes that “globalizing biotech is an explicit strategic objective of the USDA and a declared intention of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Will the recent study by the World Health Organization indicating that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer make a difference? Increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? According to Monsanto the study was based on junk science, but I suspect anything that doesn’t agree with Monsanto’s science is junk science.

Monsanto has weathered previous assaults on the safety of Roundup. Increased cancer deaths in Argentina , glyphosate poisoning of farm workers (that’s why they are supposed to wear Hazmat suits), decimation of bee populations, the re-publication of the Seralini cancer study — but Roundup still sells.

Roundup is sprayed by most of my neighbors, one of those technologies that you either swear by or swear at. But perhaps the tide is changing, many more farmers are swearing at it, even though many will continue to use it. Many have told me they feel trapped, afraid to drop a technology that has worked in the past– what is their alternative? Well, perhaps non-GE?

Consumers are becoming more concerned as well.

Processed foods make up 70% of the average diet and roughly 75% of processed foods contain GE ingredients (corn, soy, cotton seed or canola oil). With sales of non-GE foods growing, one might hope that sales of non-processed foods will grow as well, which really wouldn’t hurt anyone.

People have always accepted certain hazards in life, like smoking, riding in cars, mountain climbing, but they were generally aware that a risk was involved– well, in the case of smoking they knew after the truth was told.

Mothers don’t want to feed their babies poison, people don’t want to eat food that may cause cancer. They should know the truth and decide based on whether they feel the risk is worth it. They should be able to trust that the government and publicly funded universities are working for the public good, not the advancement of corporate profit margins.

So, could this be the beginning of the end for glyphosate, its Waterloo? We can only hope it is the beginning of a more critical review of all pesticides, because it’s safer if you don’t use crop chemicals at all.