A new study on glyphosate in pregnant women from Indiana confirms that this widely used herbicide ends up in people’s bodies. The findings also suggest that prenatal glyphosate exposure may be linked to shorter pregnancies.
Glyphosate is the most-used herbicide in the world. It's the primary active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicide formulations used with genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Women in rural areas have more
Researchers collected both residential drinking water and urine samples from 71 pregnant women in Central Indiana. Data were also collected about food and water consumption, stress and place of residence. Urinary glyphosate levels were then correlated with fetal growth indicators and length of pregnancy.
Higher urinary glyphosate levels in this study were found in women residing in rural areas. Based on previous studies, the most likely source of glyphosate exposure was via diet. It’s also possible that among the women from rural areas, inhalation of contaminated air or dust from nearby fields may have exposed them to glyphosate.
The other subset of women who had higher glyphosate levels were women who consumed over 24 ounces of caffeinated beverages each day. A self-reported survey on diet indicated that there was a nonsignificant trend towards lower urinary glyphosate levels in those who had increased organic food intake.
What’s the “so what?"
According to the authors, this is the first study of pregnant women in the U.S. using urine samples to directly measure exposure to glyphosate.
They found that overall, glyphosate exposure during pregnancy was associated with shorter pregnancies, which have been correlated with lifelong adverse health consequences for children.
It’s important to remember that every study has its limitations. This study, for example, is on a small-ish group (sample size = 71 women). And even with a statistically significant correlation with shorter gestational times, these results alone don’t mean that this is true of everyone in the general population. The researchers suggest investigating the link in a more racially and geographically diverse group of pregnant women.
However, it’s also true that the results don’t mean “nothing” — though I’m sure Monsanto would disagree with this very conservative statement.
What we know
This study found evidence of glyphosate exposure among pregnant women in a region where the chemical is used heavily. Indiana is in the heart of the corn belt, which these days means field after field of Roundup Ready corn and other GE crops like soybeans that are engineered to tolerate glyphosate-based herbicides.
In short, the study confirms that people in these and similar areas are exposed, and that there are possible health implications.
We also know that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate was a “probable carcinogen” in 2015 — and that they haven't backed down from that designation despite intense pressure from Monsanto, U.S. politicians and others.
Glyphosate is used so much in the U.S. that it “sort of just replaces everything,” according to a U.S. Geological Survey scientist when comparing historical environmental samples. It's crazy to think that we're using glyphosate in such amounts that it has "replaced" other contaminants.
What wouldn't be crazy? To start changing agriculture so we no longer rely on chemicals like glyphosate.