Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide Comes Under Fire: EPA Reviews for Safety and Boulder Discontinues Use

Boulder dandelions Roundup ban photo

Image: Jeff Turner via flickr

Monsanto's Roundup herbicide has been coming under increasing scrutiny, and it's about time. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide, is being reviewed for safety by regulators in the U.S. and Canada, despite having been in use for more than 30 years. Some groups are calling for an outright ban because of problems it causes for plants, animals, and its potential as a cause of infertility or cancer in people.

Meanwhile, Boulder, Colorado has decided to stop using Roundup in public places not because of the dangers of glyphosate, but at least in part because of recent studies showing POEA, an inactive ingredient in the herbicide, is actually more harmful to humans than glyphosate.The EPA has set a deadline of 2015 for its decision on restricting glyphosate or continuing its use as usual.

Boulder's Camera reports that the city's integrated pest management coordinator said, "(POEA) tends to have more health risks associated with it, and the combination of the two together tends to make the glyphosate more toxic." The city will instead rely on mechanical means of controlling weeds. (What a thought.)

The Camera continues:

If that proves ineffective, Abernathy said, the city would turn to so-called "minimum risk" products approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Minimum risk pesticides are a special class of pesticides that are not subject to federal registration requirements. Their active ingredients are made of substances such as garlic oil, peppermint oil and salt.

A report on Alternet, "Why Is Damning New Evidence About Monsanto's Most Widely Used Herbicide Being Silenced?" details some of the problems with glyphosate that are known yet, at least until now, widely overlooked:

evidence began to emerge in the 1980s that "what glyphosate does is, essentially, give a plant AIDS." Just like AIDS, which cripples a human's immune system, glyphosate makes plants unable to mount a defense against pathogens in the soil. Without its defense mechanisms functioning, the plants succumb to pathogens in the soil and die. Furthermore, glyphosate has an impact on microorganisms in the soil, helping some and hurting others. This is potentially problematic for farmers, as the last thing one would want is a buildup of pathogens in the soil where they grow crops...

"It's not uncommon to find one to three pounds of glyphosate per acre in agricultural soils in the Midwest," says Huber, noting that this represents one to three times the typical amount of glyphosate applied to a field in a year.

Huber says these facts about glyphosate are very well known scientifically but rarely cited. When asked why, he replied that it would be harder for a company to get glyphosate approved for widespread use if it were known that the product could increase the severity of diseases on normal crop plants as well as the weeds it was intended to kill. Here in the U.S., many academic journals are not even interested in publishing studies that suggest this about glyphosate; a large number of the studies Huber cites were published in the European Journal of Agronomy.

The chemical has been in use for so long, however, that attitudes like this pervade: "It's hard for me to imagine that if there was something bad with the chemical, we wouldn't have known about it 20 years ago." That's a quote from a farmer in Delaware who uses Roundup on all of the 2,000 acres he farms.

Apparently people don't realize that in the U.S., chemicals tend to be treated with an innocent-until-proven-guilty regulatory approach. Roundup is by no means the first chemical that the EPA has taken a second look at, only after decades of harming the environment and people's health.

More on Roundup herbicide:
One Year After Ontario Ban: Over 80% Decline of Most Common Pesticides in Surface Waters
How Organic Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems Can Feed the World
Genetically Engineered Agriculture Results in Increased Herbicide Usage; Weed Resistance, Farming Costs and Health Concerns on the Rise

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