(Beyond Pesticides, February 5, 2016) According to a report published earlier this week, Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and Globally, glyphosate, manufactured by Monsanto and known by its product name Roundup, is the most widely and heavily applied weed-killer in the history of chemical-intensive agriculture both in the U.S. and globally. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., author of the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, reports that to date 18.9 billion pounds (8.6 billion kilograms) of glyphosate have been used globally, with an estimated 19% of the use coming from the U.S. The report also points out that glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since “Roundup Ready” genetically engineered crops (GE) were introduced in 1996.
Dr. Benbrookâs research concludes that, âGenetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops now account for about 56 % of global glyphosate use. In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use.â
According to the report, two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10Â years. And, in 2014, enough glyphosate was sprayed to leave more than three-quarters of a pound of the active ingredient on every harvested acre of cropland in the U.S., and remarkably, almost a half pound per acre on all cropland worldwide (0.53 kilogram/hectare).
Glyphosate has long been touted as a âlow toxicityâ chemical and âsaferâ than other chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry. However, the recent classification by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)Â of theÂ GE crop herbicide glyphosate as a human carcinogen, based on laboratory animal studies, has brought serious human health issues to light.
Since IARCâs classification last year, Monsanto has been named in numerous lawsuits accusing the company of knowing of the dangers of glyphosate for decades. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), joined by dozens of global food, farming and environmental justice groups, announced last month that they will put the U.S.-based transnational corporation on trial next year on World Food Day, October 16, 2016, for crimes against nature, humanity, and ecocide in The Hague, Netherlands, home to the United Nationâs International Court of Justice. Monsanto is alsoÂ facing numerous personal injury lawsuitsÂ over the link between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkinâs lymphoma (NHL). Personal injury law firms around the U.S. have found a multitude of plaintiffs and are preparing for what could be a âmass tortâ action against Monsanto for knowingly misinforming the public and farmworkers about the dangers of the chemical.
Yet, Monsanto continues to deny glyphosate’s hazards. After the state of California proposedÂ to list glyphosate as a known human carcinogen under its Proposition 65 law, Monsanto subsequently filed a lawsuit against the state of seeking to prevent the listing .
As Dr. Benbrook’s paper notes, other recent studies have found connections between glyphosate exposure and a number of other serious health effects, including liver and kidney damage and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, among others.
“My hope is that this paper will stimulate more research on glyphosate use and human and environmental exposure patterns to increase the chance that scientists will quickly detect any problems that might be triggered, or made worse, by glyphosate exposure,” Benbrook added.
Dr. Benbrook previously published the first peer-reviewed study looking at the impacts of GE herbicide-tolerant crops on pesticide use. His 2012 study, Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. âthe first sixteen years, found that contrary to often-repeated claims that todayâs genetically-engineered crops have and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in GE weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. Meanwhile,Â empirical evidence has emerged that documents reduced efficacy of glyphosate as weed resistance to the herbicide escalates.Â The occurrence of super weeds coincides strongly with the use of toxic herbicides on genetically engineered (GE) crops. For example, because of widespread pigweed resistance to glyphosate, theÂ Texas Department of Agriculture, in June, 2014, requested an exemption to permit growers to spray three million acres of cotton fields with a pesticide not registered for this use. The pesticide, propazine, in the same family as the endocrine disruptor atrazine,could not be permittedÂ by EPA because, as the agency said, “Currently, registered uses already show unacceptable risk levels. . .”
Last summer, Dr. Benbrook and pediatricianÂ Philip J. Landrigan, M.D released a prospective articleÂ on the effects of glyphosate andÂ GE crops, highlighting the flaws of past glyphosate studies. They found that previous research has only considered pure glyphosate formulations, âdespite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.âÂ This is important given that otherÂ research focusing on glyphosate-based herbicides (GHBs), rather than pure glyphosateÂ links long-term, ultra-low dose exposure to glyphosate in drinking water to adverse impacts on the health of liver and kidneys.
“The dramatic and rapid growth in overall use of glyphosate will likely contribute to a host of adverse environmental and public health consequences,” Dr. Benbrook wrote.
As evidence of the hazardous effects of and the prolific use of glyphosate continue to mount, environmental groups like Beyond Pesticides are urging localities to ban or restrict the use of the chemical, and to support organic agriculture. By utilizing ecological pest management strategies, organic practices, and solutions that are not chemical-intensive are the most appropriate and long-term solutionÂ to managing unwanted plants, or weeds. Additionally, organic agriculture is an ecologically-based management system that prioritizes cultural, biological, mechanical production practices, and natural inputs. By strengthening on-farm resources, such as soil fertility, pasture and biodiversity, organic farmers can minimize and even avoid the production challenges that most genetically engineered organisms have been falsely-marketed as solving. To learn more about organic agriculture, seeÂ Beyond Pesticides Organic Program Page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.