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Glyphosate (aka Roundup): Health Risks and Dangers

Glyphosate (aka Roundup): Health Risks and Dangers

Is glyphosate harmful to humans? Despite the many attempts to hide and obfuscate the situation, the answer seems likely to be; yes. Glyphosate is the most ubiquitous herbicide in existence in the world today. It comes in various forms, though most of us know of it as ‘Roundup’. This product was originally made by Monsanto but was acquired by Bayer in 2018. It is to be found everywhere from farms to gardens, and from the countryside to our cities. The dangers of glyphosate are omnipresent. We will be exposing ourselves to a range of consequences whenever we interact with this chemical. This may be by consuming it in on our fruit and veg, in the cakes and bread we eat, and drinking it in our beers and wines. Even the use of biofuels may lead to unforeseen consequences due to the use of glyphosate in its production.

We have been assured that glyphosate is not a problem. Much of the evidence would beg to differ. The government agencies, that are theoretically there for our protection, seem more concerned with protecting the reputations of the manufacturers. Six years ago, the WHO’s cancer research agency concluded that glyphosate is probably a human carcinogen, yet these warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears. So what is glyphosate and why should we be so concerned about its use?

What is Glyphosate

To be chemically accurate, glyphosate is N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine. In more general terms, it is a systemic herbicide. This means it is a type of weed killer that absorbs into the system of the plant to kill the entire thing completely, from the leaf to the root. It is also described as being ‘broad-spectrum’. This implies that they do not discriminate between garden plants, lawn, and weed. They are very powerful and very comprehensive killers. In practice, they are used to kill weeds and grasses that compete with crops. It was originally found to be a herbicide by John E. Franz, a chemist working for Monsanto, in 1970. It’s most well known commercial form is in Roundup, but is also sold under a plethora of other names (1).

Once Monsanto had developed this incredibly powerful herbicide, they then used the opportunity it created by manufacturing genetically modified versions of corn, soy, and cotton crops that were resistant to the product. This seems to this writer to be somewhat dubious ethically (to say the very least), even if highly remunerative commercially.

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Roundup, or some other variety of glyphosate, is commonly used by local authorities and other land-owners to control weeds and vegetation in our towns and cities, in our parks and playgrounds, and on our pavements and verges. You can buy it readily on Amazon or in your local supermarket. Even garden centres that otherwise promote organic methods, will still sell glyphosate to gardeners and allotment users.

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How commonly is it used?

Glyphosate is the world’s most commonly used herbicide. It is manufactured in abundance by a multitude of companies and in many countries around the entire globe, from the US to the UK, from China to the EU (not really a country, I know), from Finland in the North to Australia in the South. Scarcely any nation is free from these products. In Australia alone, there are around 500 glyphosate-containing products registered for use. In 1974, US farmers sprayed 635,000 kgs of the stuff on their land. By 2014, the figure had risen to 125,384,000 kgs. No doubt, it has carried on rising just as precipitously ever since (2). And all this despite the mounting evidence of its multiple threat to human health.

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What is the evidence for Glyphosate’s threat?

In general, I am not a great admirer of the WHO, especially given its role in the recent Covid pandemic. Beyond the politicking though, it does do some good work. One of its sections, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (the IARC), informed the world that glyphosate was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ in a 2015 report (3). This was something of a bombshell at the time. Previously, although many other studies had indicated the serious problems involved with glyphosate, the manufacturers had successfully managed to undermine the criticism. This was on another scale though, and difficult, even for the likes of Monsanto, to avoid the implications.

Other evidence has mounted in the last few years linking many other acute and chronic effects of this herbicide. For example, a study from the University of Turku in Finland demonstrated that more than 50% of bacterial species in the human gut microbiome are potentially sensitive to glyphosates (4).

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Further studies have demonstrated that these herbicides can interfere with various organs and biochemical pathways in mammals. They do their damage at a very fundamental level. Effects such as genotoxicity (poisoning our DNA) and endocrine disruption. These can lead to chronic health conditions and detrimental developmental effects on children. Glyphosate appears to accumulate in human cells. Even at relatively low concentrations, this can lead to liver and kidney damage (5). Other potential problems are skin cell defects, infertility, pregnancy problems, birth defects, and respiratory illnesses (6),(7),(8),(9),(10).

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What role is the EU playing?

Much of the regulatory infrastructure in the US has seemed relatively content to accept Monsanto’s and other’s reassurances that glyphosate is not a problem, despite the huge amount of evidence to the contrary. Given this situation, one cannot help but wonder as to the degree of collusion between industry and the regulatory authorities in America. These agencies are, in theory at least, there for the protection of the general public. They are literally supposed to be public servants. The reality, however, is that they would seem to be keener on protecting the reputations of the likes of Monsanto and others than any concern for the public.

The situation would seem to be little better in Europe. The EU’s own management of the glyphosate suggests their institutions are very much open to the same forms of influence as their American equivalents. Bayer, a massive German-based chemical business, obtained the patent for Roundup in 2018. One would have thought that by then they would have well aware of the dangers of this product. Maybe they were and simply didn’t care. Beyond Bayer, there are many other manufacturers who create their own versions of glyphosate herbicides throughout the EU.

Because of the controversy surrounding glyphosate, and in particular because of the implications of the IARC report finding that these products are probably carcinogenic, the EU organised its own study. Essentially, this turned out to be something of a whitewash. There was some criticism, but this was buried deep in the report. Some rumours circulated that the EU’s approval of glyphosate was based on plagiarised Monsanto text.

These are pretty strong allegations, but the evidence seems solid. Such actions seem to be fairly typical examples of the wielding of influence by the likes of Bayer and Monsanto (11) To be fair to the EU Parlament, many are outraged at the Commission for the irresponsibility of their processes in regards to glyphosate. A vote has been passed in the Parliament to end the use of glyphosate in the EU in 2022. As ever with the EU, though, Parliamentary recommendations may be ignored by the Commission. So much for democratic accountability in the EU (12).

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How to Avoid Glyphosate

So much for the science, the politics, and the regulatory process. The question now becomes; what can we practically do to avoid the ill-effects of exposure to glyphosate. Firstly, one should be aware that the vast majority of shop-bought fruit and veg will have been exposed to glyphosate at some stage. If at all possible, buy from organic sources which you know to be trustworthy. Secondly, if you do have to use shop-bought produce, ensure that you wash it thoroughly using baking soda. Beyond this, it is wise to peel fruits and veg before use (13).

Beyond the above practical measures, the best solution is to grow your own fruit and veg. This is, of course, easier said than done for most people. We have a small garden which supplies the majority of our fruit and veg needs. In our case, those needs are relatively few in any case due to the ketogenic diet that we generally follow. Obviously, and this shouldn’t really need saying, do not use chemical products, particularly glyphosate, in your garden. This is, of course, especially the case if you plan to eat your own produce.

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Conclusion

There is far more to the glyphosate story than I have been able to tell in the text above. Suffice it to say, it is not good. These products have a long history of being linked to all manner of health problems. The industry itself has spent vast resources promoting these products whilst simultaneously suppressing investigations and ‘influencing’ regulatory bodies. They have sponsored a lot of their own studies, many of which are rumoured to have been ‘ghost written’ and subsequently signed off by researchers. If so, this is worrying indeed. Finally, although I have focussed on health-related issues in this article, the damage done to the environment by the extensive use of glyphosate is on a truly gargantuan scale. All-in-all, a long and sordid history.

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