What is Glyphosate? Why Is It Dangerous?

By - October 31, 2018
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Glyphosate is the major ingredient in many common weedkillers, including Roundup made by Monsanto. Roundup is commonly used in farming, public places, streets, parks, and schools. Roundup with glyphosate is also used by people in their yards and gardens. Roundup is the trade name for this product containing glyphosate and was established in 1974. Monsanto originally synthesized the molecule, but because of how effective glyphosate is to control unwanted weeds, many other companies have produced their own glyphosate-based products.

How Glyphosate Is Used

Farmers are the biggest users of glyphosate. They have several options to control weeds: tillage, pulling them out by hand, crop rotation and herbicides, among others. Glyphosate is often used in combination with other practices in agriculture to deal with weed so there can be higher crop yields. When a farmer uses glyphosate and other pesticides, they apply them in a careful way and in the right amounts, according to them and Monsanto. The spray on most crops is actually mostly water with a small amount of glyphosate.

The chemical industry claims they provide maximum rates of use to assist farmers to use these herbicides in a precise manner. The rates are tested by regulatory authorities, companies, and academics.

According to Monsanto, glyphosate has helped farmers around the world to move to no-till farming, with has major benefits for the environment. No-till farming allows farmers to not turn their soil as much to reduce weeds. This helps to cut emissions and the erosion of the soil.

Landowners and Municipalities

Weeds often pose serious problems for building owners, schools, areas used for recreation and various natural habitats. Proponents say that glyphosate can help to control weeds alongside roads and railroad tracks. This can help to increase driver visibility near schools, parks and various recreational areas. It also can be used to control the growth of plant species that are not wanted that endanger vital plants and animals.


Like farmers, homeowners must contend with weeds but on a lesser scale. Homeowners often use Roundup with glyphosate to kill weeds in their grass, garden or driveway. Homeowners can select from many types of herbicides, too. Like on the label for farmer use, glyphosate products to be used for lawn and garden purposes have a recommended use rate for consumers.

Monsanto Claims Glyphosate Is Safe

The company argues that its products containing glyphosate have been examined by more than 800 studies that confirm the active ingredient is safe. They say that regulatory agencies around the globe over the years have concluded that the use of glyphosate is safe for humans. The company also notes the chemical has been used safely for 40 years and 160 countries have approved its use.

Claim: Safe for Humans

Monsanto reports that glyphosate inhibits an enzyme that is essential to the growth of plants. The enzyme is called EPSP and is not in humans or animals. That is why the chemical allegedly has a low risk to human and animal health when the products are used according to the label. The presence of the enzyme in plants but not in humans or animals makes it a good choice for spraying on undesirable plants, according to Monsanto. Opponents of the chemical say glyphosate affects bacteria in our gut and can damage DNA and lead to cancer and other diseases.

Claim – Safe for Wildlife

Monsanto states the chemical has been tested for 40 years on various fauna and flora so the products could gain global regulatory approvals. The chemical also has a low toxicity to fish.

Claim – Safe for Environment

The claim by industry is that glyphosate is very low volatility, binds very tightly to soil, biodegrades over time into naturally occurring products, such as phosphate and carbon dioxide. Glyphosate will not bioaccumulate, Monsanto says, and there is no proof from environmental studies that the chemical harms soil or microbes.

Industry Claim – Scientific and Regulatory Consensus on Glyphosate

Industry claims that the WHO has reviewed and confirmed the safety of the chemical glyphosate. Two WHO programs, the Core Assessment Group and the International Programme on Chemical Safety – both concluded the chemical is safe and is not a carcinogen. WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality program also concluded that the chemical is not hazardous to human health.

According to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, the organization does not have data before it that suggests that glyphosate products in Australia that are used according to label instructions present any risk to human health, trade and the environment. The group states the weight and strength of current evidence indicates that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, genotoxic or neurotoxic.

According to the New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency, based upon the current assessment by the EPA, people should be advised that following label instructions on glyphosate products should provide enough protection for users.

According to the EPA, the agency has concluded that glyphosate is not a potential cancer risk for humans.

Glyphosate Controversy

Like farmers, industrial users of the chemical say they apply the chemical with precision and use only the right amount at the right time.

There have been concerns about the dangers of this chemical for many years. There have been worries that glyphosate disrupts the hormones and could lead to cancer, birth defects, liver disease and other serious disorders. There are thousands of lawsuits in motion that claim that long-term exposure to the chemical can cause non-Hodgkins lymphoma. If this is actually the case, then there is really no safe level of human consumption for glyphosate.

Chemical companies such as Monsanto and some in the food industry claim that the amount of glyphosate in our foods and on crops do not pose a risk to the public. However, recent findings by the WHO has shown that in the UK, there is a complex chemical cocktail found in bread sold in that country. The levels of glyphosate found in bread and other foods may be below the level that was deemed unsafe, but this level has not been looked at again since the WHO ruled that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

Safety regulators in the US, UK, and EU typically look at glyphosate in isolation and may refer to unpublished industry studies that are not available to the public and were not put through peer review or have been exposed to the critique of experts. But here in the real world, glyphosate mixes with various other chemicals to ensure that glyphosate sticks to and gets into the plants on which it is sprayed. The International Agency for Research on Cancer panel has reviewed recently what farmers are actually using in the real world.

After a review of published, peer revised research and scientific studies, that agency looked at the data and the chemical’s impact on crops and food to determine that is probably a carcinogen and dangerous to humans.

The jury is still out on whether glyphosate is safe or not. But the fact is there are thousands of lawsuits in process against Monsanto for the alleged harm to human health that glyphosate may have caused people who had long exposures to Roundup.

From the Other Side: Alarming Facts About Glyphosate

There are many other voices that say glyphosate is dangerous. Consider these facts:

  • Highly persistent. US Geological Survey data indicate that glyphosate is in more than half of all soil, surface waters and sediment. AMPA, its degradation product, is more commonly detected and shows up in more than 80% of samples of wastewater.
  • Kills off pollinators. Monarch butterflies are decreasing in population with 80% of them have disappeared from glyphosate exposure, per researchers at Iowa State University. Glyphosate seems to destroy the vital food source of insects – milkweed – which leaves the creatures without food.
  • Damage to guts and immune systems. Glyphosate is an anti-microbial agent that kills both good and bad organisms. When it gets into the gastrointestinal tract, glyphosate can destroy important gut organisms such as lactobacillus and Bacillus. It also can inhibit the growth of protective organisms and leave your body more vulnerable to pathogens and serious bowel diseases.
  • More toxic combined with other Roundup chemicals. A scientist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared that the chemical is definitely genotoxic. This means that it can cause cell mutations. He added that the chemical is all through the food chain, in both food and water. The lack of data on glyphosate is not conclusive proof that it is safe, and these herbicides cannot be thought safe without more testing. It is known that Roundup contains many other chemicals that when combined, are 1000 times more toxic than glyphosate by itself.
  • Some scientists believe that celiac disease and some forms of gluten intolerance can be an indication of glyphosate poisoning and not an allergic reaction to gluten.



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