(Beyond Pesticides, May 19, 2017) In spite of a growing body of evidence implicating glyphosate in a wide range of human illnesses and environmental impacts, the European Union (EU) plans to propose a 10-year extension for the approval of glyphosate use. Previously, the European Commission (the Commission), which is in charge of the approval, was forced to issue a limited license extension for the chemical because member states could not reach a consensus. The Commission was holding out for further information on carcinogenicity, which was assessed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), and whose report was issued in March 2017. According to ECHA’s assessment, glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup brand of weed-killers, and research by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that it is a probable human carcinogen. Since IARC’s findings were released, Monsanto has made several efforts to discredit the research of this well respected, international body, including attempting to influence government agencies.
According to a Bloomberg BNA article, “The commission will discuss with EU member nations the prospect of a 10-year reauthorization, said Anca Paduraru, spokeswoman for the commission.” Once the Commission proposes the 10-year license approval, representatives from the EU member nations will need to vote on it. Neither pesticide manufacturers nor environmental groups were happy with the proposal –the former believing the 10-year proposal would be too short, and that the Commission was pandering to activists, and the latter believing that the Commission should look towards safer options.
Bart Staes, a Belgian Green member of the European Parliament, told Bloomberg BNA in a statement, “There are credible concerns regarding the safety of glyphosate,” and that the Commission “should promote sustainable alternatives rather than reauthorizing glyphosate.” On the other hand, Bloomberg reports that “Graeme Taylor, director of public affairs for the European Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticides manufacturers, said the EU reauthorization of glyphosate had been held up by ‘the Facebook science of NGOs and activists.’”
Glyphosate is touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals by industry. But glyphosate has been shown to have detrimental impacts on humans and the environment. Given its widespread use on residential and agricultural sites, its toxicity is of increasing concern. In addition to IARC’s findings, previous studies have linked the toxicant to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Studies show that it is also an endocrine disruptor, causes reproductive effects, kidney and liver damage, and is toxic to aquatic organisms. In September 2015, a study published in Environmental Health News found that chronic, low-dose exposure to glyphosate leads to adverse effects on liver and kidney health. In January 2017, research was published showing that ultra-low doses of glyphosate formulations fed to rats is linked to an increased likelihood of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A lead author of that study stated that the findings are “very worrying as they demonstrate for the first time a causative link between an environmentally relevant level of Roundup consumption over the long-term and a serious disease.” Another study released this year finds that glyphosate can cause changes to DNA function resulting in the onset of chronic disease, including diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Glyphosate is an antibiotic. Because glyphosate disrupts a crucial pathway for manufacturing aromatic amino acids in plants –but not animals— many have assumed that it does not harm humans. However, many bacteria do use the shikimate pathway, and 90% of the cells in a human body are bacteria. The destruction of beneficial microbiota in the human gut (and elsewhere in and on the human body) is, therefore, a cause for concern –and a major contributor to disease..
In addition to impacts on human health, glyphosate has been linked to adverse effects on earthworms and other soil biota, as well as shape changes in amphibians. The widespread use of the chemical on genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant crops has led it to be implicated in the decline of monarch butterflies, whose sole source of nutrition for development from egg to adult, milkweed plants, is being devastated as a result of incessant use of glyphosate. In addition, the destruction of soil microbiota leads to unhealthy agricultural systems with an increasing dependence on agricultural chemicals. Other scientists have found that glyphosate starves and sickens the very crop plants that it is supposed to protect.
In April 2016, a European poll reported that the majority of people across the EU’s five biggest countries, including three-quarters of Italians, 70% of Germans, 60% of French and 56% of Britons, support a ban on glyphosate. The herbicide is the most widely used herbicide in the world, according to reports, and as a result is being detected in food and human bodies. Tests have detected glyphosate residues in German beer, at levels higher than allowed in drinking water. Glyphosate residues have been found in bread being sold in the UK. The results of the bread study also shows that glyphosate use in the UK increased by 400% in the last 20 years and is one of the three pesticides regularly found in routine testing of British bread –appearing in up to 30% of samples tested by the UK government. A pilot study conducted by the group Moms Across America in 2014 found that glyphosate may also bioaccumulate in the human body, as revealed by high levels of the chemical in the breast milk of mothers tested.
Beyond Pesticides has filed several lawsuits against companies that have produced food products containing glyphosate, and then labeling those products “natural.” In August 2016, three non-profit organizations filed a lawsuit against General Mills for misleading the public by labeling their Nature Valley brand granola bars as natural. In November 2016, Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), represented by Richman Law Group, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in the District of Columbia against Sioux Honey Association, for the deceptive and misleading labeling of its Sue Bee and Aunt Sue’s honey brands.
What Can You Do?
Beyond Pesticides urges individuals concerned about glyphosate exposure to support organic systems that do not rely on hazardous carcinogenic pesticides. In agriculture, concerned consumers can buy food with the certified organic label, which not only disallows synthetic pesticides like glyphosate, but also the use of sewage sludge and genetically engineered ingredients. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and biotechnology, responsible organic farms focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and other beneficial insects, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.
Source: Bloomberg BNA
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.