The Weed Killer Glyphosate – Harmless Herbicide or Health Hazard?
Increasing concerns about the weed killer Glyphosate[Updated April 16 2019]
In recent years, the herbicide glyphosate has been making the news for all the wrong reasons and it is important consumers understand the potential impact that this 30-year-old herbicide has had on human and planet health.
Potential hazards of glyphosate are numerous and include:
- It was classified by The World Health Organisation’s team as a likely carcinogen.
- A Californian court ruled that it caused Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- It may disrupt the endocrine and reproductive system and is found in tampons
- It’s associated with diabetes, changes to the gut microbiota
- It acts as a broad spectrum antibiotic which in food can harm gut microbes and cause leaky gut and gut dysbiosis which are associated with a range of autoimmune and psychological-neurological conditions including autism, ADHD, allergies, asthma, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, depression, celiac, ALS, MS and much more
- It is associated with algal blooms and marine life losses
- It has been found in childhood vaccines
- It displaces the protein glycine which is associated with amyloid plaque build-up in macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s
- It disrupts the shikimate pathway in plants which in humans is equivalent to the gut microbiome
- It’s used to kill household weeds, and it’s sprayed in local parks
- It’s used heavily on numerous vegetable crops in the U.S., Australia and Cananda.
- Association with dying off of bees and dozens of insects and animals
Even so, this environmental chemical is still legal and being used in many countries around the world, including the USA and Australia.
What is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate is a popular herbicide or weed killer produced by the biotech conglomerate Monsanto, which has since been bought by the German pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer. Glyphosate is the crucial ingredient in the weed killer named ‘Roundup’ and is also used in many other herbicides. Roundup will kill most plants it comes in contact with, making it a non-selective herbicide, think broad-spectrum antibiotic. Roundup itself has been linked to many adverse human and environmental effects but is still considered safe by many organizations.
Glyphosate is used on 85% of U.S. soy, corn and wheat crops, often at very high levels to dose the crops to make them easier to harvest. It is also used extensively on sugar, canola, beet, oat and legumes crops. It is estimated that U.S. annual usage is 180 million pounds by industry and 5-8 million pounds homeowners.
There are many other herbicides that cause concern such as glufosinate, but given its high consumption, glyphosate is at the centre of considerable scientific debate regarding its impact on human and environmental health.
Where is the Weed Killer Glyphosate Used?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned tests in October 2018 finding glyphosate in every sample of popular oat-based food products marketed for children. Almost all of the samples tested by EWG had glyphosate levels higher than what their internal scientists consider safe for children’s health. Here is a list of some of the products that were included in EWG’s testing from the past 12 months, found to have exceeded tolerable levels of the weed killer Glyphosate:
- Back to Nature Granola
- Nature Valley Granola and granola bars
- Giant Instant Oatmeal, Original Flavor
- Umpqua Oats, Maple Pecan
- Market Pantry Instant Oatmeal, Strawberries & Cream
- Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal
- Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls, Original Cereal
- Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran Oat Cereal
- Quaker instant, steel cut and mixed oat products
- Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats
Glyphosate is also commonly used on soy, corn, wheat, barley and bean crops.
Researchers, at the University of La Plata in Argentina, also found that 85 per cent of feminine hygiene products sold in Argentina were contaminated with glyphosate. An additional 62 per cent of products were found to contain derivatives of glyphosate.
Local government across the U.S. and Australia use the weed killer glyphosate in sensitive, child populated areas like playgrounds and they are not obligated to tell the public when and where they are spraying. Until authorities change their assessment procedure, councils and schools can continue to do this.
Is There Enough Evidence to Support Concern?
The safety profile of the weed killer glyphosate is controversial. Nevertheless, there is substantial research to support The World Health Organisation’s claim of it being potentially carcinogenic.
In 2018, a jury verdict ordered Monsanto to pay US$289 million in damages to a school groundskeeper who developed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (LHC) after years of exposure to Roundup. Although an exact causal relationship was not established during the trial, research (which Monsanto had concealed) has depicted glyphosate weed-killer as a potential risk factor. Other class action lawsuits are now in progress.
While lawyers work to uncover the real science behind glyphosate, many countries recognise its hazard and have already taken action. Sri Lanka and Bermuda have banned use while France and Germany have announced they are phasing glyphosate out entirely. Dozens of countries in South America, Asia and Europe have placed restrictions on sale and usage. There are no restrictions in the U.S. and limited local restrictions in Australia and Canada.
Animal Study Results
- According to The Lancet’s paper on the carcinogenicity of the weed killer glyphosate, animal studies have produced sufficient evidence to support a link between Roundup and LHC (7).
- A 2016 meta-analysis also supported the hypothesis that glyphosate exposure decreased sperm concentration in rodents. Therefore, it was concluded that glyphosate is toxic to male rodent’s reproductive system (9).
- A 2018 study observed the effect of glyphosate on oxidative stress via assessing reactive oxygen species (ROS), glutathione (GSH) level and the activity of glutathione peroxidase and found it to be detrimental. Glyphosate intervention also resulted in significantly higher primary DNA damage in the liver cells and leukocytes (10).
- Also in animal studies, the weed killer glyphosate has been found to disrupt beneficial gut bacteria. Not only that, it was found to block the shikimate pathway. The shikimate pathway is a crucial player in the synthesis of the ever-so-important amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. Considering these amino acids are critical for the proper functioning of our immune, digestive, neurological systems and more, it is crucial that there is no interference with their synthesis. (11)(12).
- A glyphosate altered gut microbiome has also been shown to induce behavioural impairments in a 2018 study, such as an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression. There is an extensive amount of literature now linking the gastrointestinal tract and the brain via the gut-brain axis. Thus, the researchers involved in this study are hypothesising the mechanism of action as the microbiota’s role in mediating neurological health (13).
These regulatory, epidemiological and animal studies show that the weed killer glyphosate has great potential to cause serious adverse effects and points to a need to change the approach to risk assessment.
Where it concerns children’s health, it should be a great priority. An EWG toxicologist, Alexis Temkin, stated that “parents shouldn’t (have to) worry about whether feeding their children healthy oat foods will also expose them to a chemical linked to cancer”. It is now up to the government and regulatory bodies to take action to protect our most vulnerable populations.
Grass Roots Groups Take Action
In the U.S. consumers are not sitting back. Costco, a major US retailer, recently announced it would be pulling RoundUp and any products with glyphosate off its shelves across the country. This decision was made after the grassroots group Moms Across America collected nearly 90,000 signatures to have Round Up removed from Costco, Lowes and Home Depot. Their campaign was fueled by the California court decision Johnson v. Monsanto that found that Roundup contributed in part to Dewayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
MOA continues to lobby Lowes and Home Depot.
What to Do While the Science is Investigated
The solution to human and planet health is avoidance of glyphosate. Feed your family organic and/or pesticide-free food and especially avoid non-organic wheat, soy, oats, sugar, and corn which are heavily sprayed.