Every single person in this country is affected by glyphosate. It is simply impossible to get away from that. The amount of glyphosate that is used in the environment has only increased since the 1990s and, in places where it has been applied, there have been significant changes to both the environment and to public health itself.
How Glyphosate Affects People in the US
Glyphosate was first used in this country in 1974. Since then, more than 1.6 billion kg has been applied, which is 19% of the global use of glyphosate. Since Roundup Ready crops were introduced in 1996, crops engineered to be glyphosate tolerant, use of glyphosate has increased 15 times. Between 1974 and 2014, 72% of all glyphosate in the world was applied in this country.
Around 56% of all glyphosate use around the world is on Roundup Ready crops. There is no other pesticide that is used as much as this one. It is also unlikely that there will be a change in how widespread this product is used on a global scale any time soon, although more research is now being done in the impact of this product, which will hopefully accelerate finding out what is true and what is not.
Glyphosate was discovered in 1950 by Dr. Henri Martin, a Swiss chemist. He was unable to identify any pharmaceutical applications, therefore selling it to different companies to find other uses. Dr. John Franz, a chemist working for Monsanto, discovered in 1970 that it worked as an herbicide. By 1974, Roundup became commercially available.
Over the next 20 years, there was a steady increase in the use of Roundup, but there was a limit on how much could be used, because it was only available in areas where all vegetation had to be killed. However, in small grain crops in particular, desiccant applications were also made later in the growing season to increase the harvest.
Then, in 1996, Roundup Ready (RR) was developed and approved in this country for planning. Suddenly, glyphosate could be used far more extensively. In 2005 and 2008 respectively, alfalfa RR and sugar beet RR were approved, although they weren’t allowed to be sold commercially until 2011 and 2012.
So just how much of an impact has this had? To answer this, data must first be available on how much is used, where, on which type of crop, on which type of land, how often, at what dosage, when, and more. Unfortunately, this is data that seems to be largely unavailable. What we do know, however, is that the increase in use has also increased concerns. More and more weeds in this country and across the world are now resistant to glyphosate and this has led to farmers increasing the rate of application. The more the product is used and the higher the dosage becomes, the more likely it is that there will be a negative impact on human life as well.
The increase in the use of glyphosate is no secret and it is noticed all over the world. Since then, there has been a significant increase in aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), which is now measurable in water, soil, and air. However, according to various bodies the world over, the levels measures in this are well below the acceptable daily intakes or levels of concern, even when added together. Despite this, however, there is growing evidence that there is a significant negative impact on human life, the ecology, and the environment because of exposure to AMPA and/or glyphosate. This is particularly true when people ingest GE proteins as well. So far, it is known that this has had a negative impact on honeybees, crustaceans, monarch butterflies, earthworms, and microbial communities in the soil. Currently, studies are being completed to determine what the risk is to human life and to vertebrates, including by looking at the rising levels of residue in soybeans, and dangers to metabolic processes, the kidney, the liver, human development, and cancer. Positive associations have been found between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in particular. Additionally, there is strong evidence pointing towards oxidative stress and genotoxicity, both of which can be precursors to cancer.
Because glyphosate is everywhere, as is AMPA and as are RR crops, it is now almost impossible to not be affected by these products. Some evidence now suggests that continuous exposure can lead to chronic degeneration (glyphosate-enhanced or -triggered) of the kidney and liver. This has been confirmed in the tissues of animals that were used in feeding tissues. This has demonstrated that glyphosate builds up significantly in the tissue of the kidney. Some believe that this could also mean that the chemical binds to the metals found in hard water and that this cannot pass normally through kidneys. This could mean, therefore, that people are at increased risk of chronic kidney disease as well.
The Facts of Glyphosate
One of the problems is that there simply isn’t enough data available yet to draw permanent conclusions about the impact of glyphosate on human health. If there was, the thousands of lawsuits currently running against Monsanto would be open and shut cases. But that does not mean that there is no evidence to say that glyphosate doesn’t affect every single on of us in some way at least.
The facts that we do have are:
- That glyphosate use has increased tremendously worldwide.
- That there is a clear link between glyphosate use and RR crops.
- That RR crops have been a huge commercial success.
- That average use of all herbicides per hectare has not just grown, it has escalated.
- That human and environmental exposure to glyphosate has risen, seen in higher levels of AMBA and more.
- That it is likely that levels of glyphosate in ground and surface water will increase over time, which also increases the number of entry routes into human and animal life.
- That the impact of glyphosate exposure on humans must be studied in greater detail.
Glyphosate is all around us, which is a fact that nobody can get away from. It is now measurable in virtually all tissues, in water, in air, and in the soil. None of that is being argued with. As a result, it is also a fact that we are all affected by glyphosate in some way. The big question, however, is whether or not this is a matter of concern.
Is it Bad that We Are all Affected by Glyphosate?
That is the million dollar question. According to various lawsuits against Monsanto, exposure to glyphosate is directly responsible to the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other lawsuits are currently running stating that their dosage information was incorrect, leading to people applying more than they needed to, which could feasibly turn into other lawsuits claiming that doing this had an adverse effect on human life. Monsanto is also not the only company under fire, however. There are now also multiple claims that the levels of glyphosate are higher than acceptable in various food sources, including Cheerios.
The world is becoming aware of glyphosate and its potential problems, even if these problems have not been fully identified yet. The result is that people are proactively taking a stand against Monsanto, choosing to buy local organic crops instead. But the question is whether it is too little, too late. While independent growers may attempt to stay away from glyphosate and other Monsanto products, the fact that it is now in the environment means that it is almost impossible for something to be truly glyphosate free. Indeed, there have been numerous lawsuits by Monsanto against farmers who have used parts of their products, such as RR crops, on their own land. Monsanto claims that this is in breach of its stewardship program that patents their crops, whereas farmers claim that they cannot uphold a stewardship program when Monsanto indiscriminately sprays certain areas. The rights and wrongs of this aside, what is known is that Monsanto, with its huge legal teams, has won almost all of these lawsuits, leading to numerous small, local farmers going out of business. Their land is then bought up by RR farmers instead, again making it nearly impossible for people who want to avoid Monsanto to be able to do so.
More research must be completed in the impact that the increased levels of glyphosate have on the environment. That said, there are few, if any, stories of a chemical being introduced to a natural ecosystem and not causing tremendous problems and damage. What the long term impact is going to be is unclear, but it is unlikely to be a story with a positive outcome. And, in the meantime, every person on the planet will already have glyphosate traces in their system.
- PMS – Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally (February 2, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5044953/.
- PMS – Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement (February 17, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756530/.