The New Evidence Against Glyphosate

This past week Susan over at Garden Rant asked me about a paper which she had recently read which “proved” that Round-up caused birth defects.  This study was interesting because it took embryos of chickens, exposed them to glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round-up) and then looked at the problems which the embryos had.  Indeed, there were problems at concentrations of glyphosate much lower than what you’d see in normal agricultural applications.  This is similar to other studies which “prove” how toxic glyphosate is which have been conducted over the years where various types of cells have been removed from human bodies, exposed to glyphosate, and then the resulting cellular damage has been taken as an indication that this herbicide is incredibly dangerous to us.

Studies where embryos or cells removed from the human body are tested against poisons have a glaring weakness which needs to be appreciated before we go off the deep end thinking that they prove that glyphosate is killing us.  They’re conducted in a system that isn’t at all natural.  That’s not to say they have no importance, but it’s like saying that, because it’s known that an air bubble in your bloodstream will kill you, air is dangerous.  Or like saying that, because salt injected into your bloodstream is deadly, you shouldn’t eat it.  Both air and salt can be deadly if they are in your bloodstream above a certain level, but we need to be careful to look at the specific situation with which we are dealing and take that into account when we make our judgments about how toxic particular things are to us.

I can’t argue that glyphosate can be toxic to people.  This morning I did a little literature search on it and actually found cases where people had committed suicide by drinking agricultural formulation of glyphosate  – mostly in the Eastern world.  It would be a nasty way to go too – you’d need to ingest a lot of the stuff and the primary problems would be that parts of your gastrointestinal system would be corroded.  Ouch!

If you’re going to use a glyphosate herbicide use it carefully and in accordance with its label.  Don’t go splashing it around willy-nilly.  Don’t drink it.  Don’t get it on anyone.  Don’t use more than you need to.  To do any of these things is not only dangerous, it’s also stupid.  That said, I can’t find any reason to think that glyphosate is anything but what it appears to be – an effective weed killer that is on the safer end of the spectrum relative to other chemical weed killers (and here I’m including organic weed killers too – Ever been exposed to those 20% acetic acid vinegar herbicides?  I tried one this summer — Just being near it made my eyes burn.)

12 thoughts on “The New Evidence Against Glyphosate”

  1. This reminds me of the studies done years ago that ‘proved’ saccharine was carcinogenic. They gave animals amounts that were equivalent of drinking 30+ cans of soda a day.

  2. I hate using pesticides. But I am making my peace with them. In certain situations like the clearing of land, and controlling invasives they may have their place. My biggest beef has always been when they become part of maintenance. Spraying Round-Up or whichever glyphosate once a month to keep an area clear, is not a good solution. It is too comfortable. I will use chemicals once to get a situation under control, then after that, I want to find a way to maintain without spraying.

  3. Thanks for clarifying. I think if I applied the standards in this research to my kitchen, I’d never use another artificial sweetener or food preservative in my life.
    Btw, what about the findings about harm to people when Roundup is sprayed from planes? I saw that mentioned in the reports of birth defects, and those were the results getting all the attention. Was it just chicken embryos or also some spray-over data?

  4. For years planes have been applying Roundup to fields in Central America to control many things, not the least of which are drugs. The things that they need to add to the glyphosate to make it work in these conditions tend to be nasty chemicals (powerful surfactants). Though I don’t know anything specifically about birth defects, I have heard enough reports of serious skin problems that I do have some concerns about ULV Roundup applications (ULV stands for ultra-low volume and is the way that pesticides are formulated when they’re intended to be applied from a plane).

  5. Quick clarification: Not all ULV’s operations use surfactants. ULV Mosquito control operations, for example, do not, since the product does not need (nor is it desirable) for it to stick to vegetation.

  6. the problem isn’t one person in their garden using glyphosate as indicated on the label – it is that it is used in almost EVERY garden as the first choice to killl anything that needs killing. That adds up to a tremendous amount of it in our storm drains, and in our water systems. I agree – a little bit, no harm … it can be absorbed. But we are an interconnected planet, not just one or two people doing things in a vacuum.

  7. I recall a study a couple of years ago implicating round up as one of the multiple contributors to colony collapse disorder. Any update on this?

  8. As part of my job to maintain the annual trials at NC State…I hoisted a freshly-filled backpack sprayer full of Roundup off the bench and onto my shoulder; the other strap caught on the bench wire, dumping about half of it down my back and into my boots. Tried to rinse off a bit with a hose, then got on with it. Had a funny taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. Bleah.

  9. Pretty cool post – raises some interesting points for debate. I just stumbled upon your blog this morning and wanted to say that I have really liked browsing some of the posts. Anyways, I’m subscribed to your feed and I hope to read more very soon!

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