Glyphosate is the active chemical ingredient in Roundup herbicide as well as many other name brand glyphosate-based weedkillers. These herbicides are the most widely used in the world and their use has increased exponentially with the introduction of Genetically Engineered (GMO) crops. Largely because of the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds, herbicide-tolerant GMO crops have led to a 527 million pound increase in herbicide use in the U.S. from 1996 through 2011 (1).
Estimated Agricultural Use for Glyphosate in the United States from 1992 – 2011 animated (2 minutes).
Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) NAWQA Program Pesticide National Synthesis Project
HISTORY OF GLYPHOSATE
There are 3 patents on glyphosate: It was first patented in 1964 by Stauffer Chemical as a metal chelator that was used to clean or descale commercial boilers and pipes (2). Glyphosate binds to and removes minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper and zinc that are vital to our health.
The second patent was filed in 1974 by Monsanto as an herbicide (3). Monsanto claims that glyphosate, which kills plants by disrupting the shikimate pathway, has no effect on humans because the shikimate pathway is not present in mammals. However a recent peer-reviewed study (4) states, “Glyphosate inhibits the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzyme which is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biological function, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics (foreign chemical substances). Thus, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”
In 2003, Monsanto filed for a patent on glyphosate as a parasitic control type antimicrobial, or antibiotic (5). This patent was granted in 2010. It is proposed that glyphosate be used as a treatment for microbial infections and parasitic control of various diseases such as malaria. A 2013 peer reviewed study documented that glyphosate kills certain beneficial gut flora in chickens at a level as low as .075 ppm (6).
THE UBIQUITY OF GLYPHOSATE
In the USDA’s most recent report, 2013 Annual Pesticide Data Program Report on food testing for pesticide residues, the USDA concluded, based on the results of their testing, that our food supply contains safe levels of pesticides. One big problem – the USDA report claims they didn’t test for glyphosate, which, as previously noted, is the most widely used herbicide in conventional agriculture. This is surprising, given that farmers are reporting increased usage resulting from the rise in herbicide resistant weeds and given the fact that the EPA has incrementally increased the allowable residue tolerance levels on various food crops at the request of the chemical industry, without any scientific basis. The USDA’s most recent report “Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States” (7) disclosed that the amount of glyphosate based herbicide applied to GM corn crops increased from around 1.5 pounds per planted acre in both 2001 and 2005 to more than 2.0 pounds per planted acre in 2010.
While glyphosate goes hand in hand with GM agriculture, many people are unaware that glyphosate is also used on many non-GMO crops as a desiccant, ripening or drying agent. When these crops (such as wheat, barley, sugar cane, oats, lentils, edible peas, sunflowers, potatoes and cantaloupe) are nearly mature, farmers are allowed to spray glyphosate herbicides on the crop to kill the plant which causes it to dry down for a quicker harvest.
Not only in our food, glyphosate has been found in our air, rain, soil, rivers and streams and groundwater. A 2014 study documented the presence of glyphosate in 75% of the air and rain samples collected and tested from Mississippi in 2007 (8). A 2014 U.S Geological survey documented the presence of glyphosate in more than 50% of rivers and streams, soil and groundwater samples tested from 38 states (9).
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that links glyphosate to health and environmental harm. A 2013 study found that glyphosate, at minute real-world environmental levels of exposure, was able to effectively substitute for estrogen in stimulating growth of hormone-dependent human breast cancer cells at concentrations, starting at 10-12M (169 parts per quadrillion) and peaking at 10-9M (169 parts per trillion) (10). The growth stimulating effect of glyphosate (and the estrogen control) on the breast cancer cells decreased at concentrations higher than 169ppt demonstrating a “non-linear” or “non-monotonic” response, which is typical of chemicals that possess an endocrine (hormone) disruptive capability, where minute levels can actually cause their own distinct problems.
An in vitro study published in 2013 found that Roundup, the full formula herbicide that includes the active ingredient, glyphosate, is up to 1,000 times more toxic to human cells than glyphosate alone (11). This is most disturbing because the EPA approval process is based solely on studying glyphosate and no testing is conducted on the full herbicide formula, which includes the “inert” ingredients and adjuvants that magnify its toxicity.
Another important 2014 study found that glyphosate was frequently present in peoples’ urine, with the levels being higher in individuals with chronic diseases (12). The study also found that levels of glyphosate present in the urine of dairy cows was very similar to that found in the heart, lung, brain, kidney, liver, intestines and muscle tissue of the same animals. This strongly suggests bioaccumulation of glyphosate within the body, which is contrary to the position held by industry and regulatory agencies. Very worryingly, levels of glyphosate found in the urine of dairy cows correlated with greater levels of substances in the blood, indicative of damage to liver and kidney function; that is, the higher the urine glyphosate concentration, the greater was the indication of liver and kidney functional damage (13).
Yet another important study found glyphosate in the organs of piglets born with birth defects. The higher the levels detected, the higher the incidence of defects (14). Additionally, tests performed in 2014 detected high levels of glyphosate in 3 out of 10 breast milk samples from U.S. mothers (15). The levels detected were 760 to 1600 times higher than the European Drinking Water Directive allows for individual pesticides. These studies also raise strong concerns that glyphosate bioaccumulates in the body. Furthermore, 3 recent studies linked glyphosate to male infertility (16)(17)(18), and another linked glyphosate to chronic fatal kidney disease (19).
Pediatrician Michelle Perro offers this insight into the impact of glyphosate on children’s health:
Digestive health is rapidly declining in children. If children eat conventionally grown food, they will potentially be eating glyphosate, pesticide adjuvants and GMOs as documented by these laboratory tests. What is happening to our children is several-fold: Alteration of their microbiome with subsequent issues of detoxification, production of vitamins and repair of their intestinal lining due to the anti-microbial effects of glyphosate. Additionally, they are mineral-deficient because of the chelation of glyphosate. There is laboratory evidence of zinc deficiency, for example, which then leads to immunological weakness/impairment since zinc is an important co-factor in immune system function.
Children are also experiencing an exponential increase in allergies which can be linked to lack of recognition of rogue proteins produced by genetically altered proteins in foods. This can subsequently cause an activation of their immune systems and production of antibodies against foods; the body is seeing the foods as foreign invaders and producing an immune response.
The bioaccumulation effects of glyphosate have not been addressed in children and the standards of safety are arbitrary and not based on any clinical evidence.
Overwhelming scientific evidence documents the potential harms of glyphosate.
You can find a comprehensive list of glyphosate studies HERE.