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Glyphosate: Poisoning on a Global Scale

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

As the major component in the top selling broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup and many other pesticides, glyphosate is found all over the world. But the poison glyphosate, that is suspected among other things of being an endocrine disrupter and also of being carcinogenic, is found as a residue not only in soil, plants and groundwater but also in humans and animals. Many investigations and international studies show that this ubiquitous active ingredient is dangerous. Up to now, the authorities have regularly emphasised that glyphosate is harmless. In 2015, it will be re-evaluated for authorization for use in the EU.

(Picture: In South America, here in Brazil, we find especially high frequency use of Monsanto’s Roundup. It is the best known pesticide with the active ingredient glyphosate that builds up in the soil, plants and groundwater with terrible consequences.)

In the 1970s, the US corporation Monsanto patented the active ingredient glyphosate and put it on the market in 1974 as the non-selective herbicide Roundup. When the patent ran out, other chemical companies like Syngenta (Touchdown) and Dow Agri Science (Durango) developed herbicides with glyphosate. The website Sustainablepulse has recently published an article on the glyphosate issue: “The glyphosate market is concentrated, with the top four players holding more than a 50% share. Some of the key manufacturers of glyphosate include Monsanto Company, Nufarm Ltd., Syngenta AG., DowAgroSciences LLC, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Zhejiang Xinan Chemical Industrial Group Company, Ltd., Jiangsu Good Harvest-Weien Agrochemical Co. Ltd. and Nantong Jiangshan Agrochemical & Chemicals Co.Ltd. among others“.

According to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research,  “Glyphosate Market for Genetically Modified and Conventional Crops - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2013 – 2019“,  the global glyphosate herbicides market was valued at US$ 5.46 bn in 2012 and is expected to reach US$ 8.79bn by 2019, growing at a CAGR of 7.2% over the forecast period from 2013 to 2019. In terms of volume, the global market demand for glyphosate was 718.6 kilotons in 2012. (Picture: Many NGOs highlight the dangers of  glyphosate and are calling for a ban)

The agricultural industry uses glyphosate mostly in the case of genetically modified plants,  that are resistant to the poison. The use of the herbicide in agriculture has doubled in just a few years and continues to rise rapidly, especially in Latin America, where there is widespread growing of GM soya. In Argentina for example, in 2010 about 200 million litres were already being applied to 19 million hectares of Roundup-ready soya. As reported by the website Sustainablepulse, GM crops accounted for 45.2% of the total glyphosate demand in 2012. Furthermore, glyphosate demand for conventional crops has been rising substantially as a result of the expansion of unsustainable global agricultural activities. Increasing adoption of glyphosate-tolerant GM crops mainly in the emerging economies of Asia Pacific and Latin America is expected to boost the market for glyphosate over the next six years. Additionally, the rising demand for  no-tillage farming systems is in turn expected to fuel the glyphosate market. However, the rapid evolution and emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds, along with stringent regulations on the use of agrochemicals, especially in Europe, is expected to fetter market growth over the forecast period.

Absorbed by the green parts of a plant, glyphosate then kills the whole plant. Plants that have been appropriately modified genetically don’t die, although residues of the poison and toxic additives and decomposition products remain in the plants, soil and water. Absorbed glyphosate can impair the take-up of nutrients in both cultivated plants and glyphosate-resistant plants and lead to higher susceptibility to pests and lower yields. Growers of GM maize in South America are increasingly complaining about harvest failure because of pests that, despite being showered with poison, are developing apace. Moreover, weeds adapt: currently more and more farmers in the mid-west of the USA are struggling with so-called superweeds that are not affected by the toxic active ingredient – there are already more than 20 superweeds. According to the US Ministry of Agriculture, in 2013 28,000 hectares of fertile arable land were already affected. (Picture: Maize cropping in the federal state of Paraná in Brazil)

In the case of people and animals, the catastrophic impact of glyphosate, its toxic additives and decomposition products are, however, much worse. “Laboratory and epidemiological studies have already confirmed that Roundup and glyphosate pose serious health and environmental hazards, including possible endocrine (hormone) disruption, cell death, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders. Some of these toxic effects are observed at low, realistic doses that could be found as residues in food and feed crops and in drinking water,” says

Particularly in South America, for example in Argentina with its huge area of GM soya, the rural population is exposed to the herbicide with practically no protection, because the GM soya fields are sprayed by planes. The result is deformity and cancers that are attributed to the use of glyphosate. From 2000 to 2009 the cancer rate in children has tripled and the instances of miscarriages and birth defects have risen almost by a factor of four, according to the reports of NGOs. But glyphosate is everywhere: people are exposed to glyphosate through contaminated food, water and air, often as a result of applying the herbicide to fields. This is not only the case in rural areas where Roundup-ready genetically engineered crops are grown on a large scale. Glyphosate-based herbicides are extensively used by municipal authorities on roadsides, pavements, and in public parks and school grounds. It is also widely used by home gardeners. Roundup and glyphosate and their residues have been detected in samples of breast milk, pregnant women’s blood, urine, rain, food and groundwater (

In recent years, various investigations and studies have drawn attention worldwide to the dangers of glyphosate and have discovered residues of the poison in humans and animals. In June 2013, the German environment NGO BUND in cooperation with its umbrella organization Friends of the Earth published the results of a Europe-wide investigation of the residues of glyphosate in humans. Tests on 182 people revealed the presence of glysophate in the urine of big city dwellers in 18 European states, and in Germany 70 % of all samples were contaminated (see graphic). This discovery was followed by a campaign calling, in an open letter, on the Federal Minister of Agriculture Christian Schmidt to ban glyphosate.

It´s a fact that studies of Roundup and other glyphosate herbicide formulations as sold and used have found them to be more toxic than the ingredient glyphosate in isolation. However, glyphosate alone is tested in long-term safety tests for regulatory authorization, reports The safe‚ dose for Roundup exposure set by regulators is not based on up-to-date objective evidence. So current regulations do not protect the public.

For example, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung BfR) considers again and again diverse studies and the horrifying results of investigations but usually continues to criticise them as unscientific and emphasises the safety of the active ingredient glyphosate. As in the case of the first publication of the study “Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles“ by the French team of scientists round Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen in the autumn of 2012, when the study was re-published in the spring of 2014 (see our earlier report)  the Federal Institute again concluded that “the publication has no significance for the current re-evaluation of glyphosate in the EU.“ Re-evaluation is due in 2015. (Picture: Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini considers the additives in pesticides and decomposition products in particular to be extremely dangerous)

Since 1996 glyphosate-resistant GM soya has been used as fodder in Europe, and every year around 36 million tonnes are imported as protein animal feed. By consuming eggs, milk and meat we absorb glyphosate or the much more toxic additive polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA) and the decomposition product AMPA. The Séralini study is evidence that tallowamine alone and in combination with glyphosate can cause cancer. In Germany, 70 products containing glysophate are currently authorized, 41 of them also for use in the home and garden.

In 2002, glyphosate was authorized for use in the EU for ten years. The data used at the time was supplied exclusively by the industry. Re-evaluation was due in 2012 but was postponed until 2015, presumably to give the industry time to conduct new studies in keeping with scientific standards since, according to the new EU-Pesticide Directive 1107/2009, ‘grey literature’ (provided by the industry) is no longer permitted for the evaluation. The industry’s documentation frequently doesn’t meet scientific standards. Although there are threshold values for glysophate that are applicable EU-wide, there is no effective control system to ensure compliance with them. There are no established threshold values for POE-tallowamine and as good as no standardised testing procedures.


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