Glyphosate: Pull the Plug, Not the Trigger

With a  finger on the trigger, he stalks his formidable adversary. Confronting the enemy, he faces off with his foe and stares him down with utter disdain. Such a threat must be dealt with using heroic measures. He pulls the trigger and the stricken enemy writhes and then collapses to the ground. A scene from gunslingers duel in the Wild West? Perhaps a film noir depicting a world- weary detective? No- just the "Monsanto" man taking out a renegade weed with his arsenal Roundup in a television commercial. Monsanto, the infamous corporation that has pioneered such illustrious products as a saccharin, PCB's, DDT, and Agent Orange (dioxin) started marketing Roundup in 1974. By 2001, it had become the most heavily used herbicide/pesticide in the world with current estimates of up to 1.3 billion pounds sprayed yearly. Over 100 million pounds find their way onto the farms, parks, golf courses, lawns, school yards and waterways across the U.S. The active ingredient in Roundup (and many other herbicides) is an organophosphate chemical called glyphosate which inhibits a plant enzyme necessary for making certain amino acids. Without access to these essential amino acids, protein synthesis is disrupted and the plant dies. In an ingenious (and insidious) marketing coup, Monsanto developed genetically engineered crops with the ability to withstand exposure to glyphosate, thus ensuring dramatic increases in the usage of Roundup for years to come. Soybeans and corn cover over 50% of the cropland in the U.S. Since 90% of corn, canola and soy are genetically altered, and over 80% of processed foods contain GMO's, we are the guinea pigs exposed to ever increasing amounts of this herbicide. This is a systemic herbicide that is incorporated into the plant's cells- it can't be washed off. Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency considers glyphosate to be a relatively safe chemical. So safe that the Netherlands has banned it and Brazil (a major soybean producer) and France are considering such legislation. There is much current research that also counters the views of Monsanto and the EPA. 

Glyphosate has been implicated in many health related problems that the population has been experiencing in the 40+ years since the introduction of Roundup. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research Doctor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has stated that glyphosate is possibly "the most important factor in development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies."  This past March, the World Health Organization issued a report listing glyphosate as a probable cause of certain cancers. Studies have shown that glyphosate can exhibit genotoxicity  by altering DNA and creating gene mutations. It has been linked to increases in autism, ADHD, Parkinson's disease, birth defects, spontaneous abortions, liver and kidney disease and brain disorders. We now know how important the ecology of our intestinal flora is to our well being and health. The fact that glysophate has an adverse effect on our beneficial gut flora is reason for extreme concern.

Glyphosate is also proving to be an environmental disaster as well. There are at least 23 species of super weeds that have become resistant to Roundup, leading to greater applications for other herbicides. It can bind with essential soil micro nutrients like manganese and can also decrease the water retention capabilities of plants resulting in a greater dependence on irrigation- not good news for drought-stricken California. Glyphosate also has deleterious effect on soil biology and ecology by killing microbes, fungi, earthworms and other invertebrates that are essential components of a healthy, vital soil community. While the active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, the formulation also contains adjuvants (additives) that can increase the toxicity of the final product. The surfactant polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA) is added to increase the dispersal of Roundup on plants' stems and leaves. It has been estimated that the addition of POEA doubles the toxicity factor of glyphosate alone. POEA and other surfactants have been implicated in the colony collapse syndrome in honey bees and have been found to be toxic to fish and amphibians. One would think that EPA should be looking out for our health more than Mansanto's bottom line. Think again. The fox is still guarding the chicken coop. Instead of creating more protections against glyphosate exposure, the EPA has approved Monsanto's request for higher tolerance levels, allowing more of this insidious chemical into our food supply, drinking water and ultimately our bodies. The logical answers to this dilemma are greater support of organic agriculture, passage of GMO labeling legislation and convincing the EPA to initiate more stringent rules regarding the use of all herbicides and pesticides. Logical, yes; easy-unfortunately, no.