Reclaiming the future of food and farming

RoundUp RoundUp everywhere...

Margaret Reeves's picture

Like many people, I once believed in the safety of RoundUp. Back in the 1980s when I was a young graduate student in ecology, it was the “safe” herbicide of choice for clearing weeds from study plots.

Monsanto would like us to continue to believe their flagship product is safe, but the data are increasingly saying otherwise. The latest? Widespread exposure is a near certainty, since RoundUp — now linked to birth defects — shows up regularly in our water and air.

Glyphosate, RoundUp’s active ingredient, was found in every stream studied and in most air samples taken in a recent study conducted by government researchers in Mississippi and Iowa. And it's undoubtedly in other states too. Across the U.S. it's used commonly on corn, soybeans, cotton and rice, to the tune of 180-185 millions of pounds in 2007 — more tonnage than any other pesticide.

And that's only use on farms. RoundUp is also the second most commonly used pesticide in homes and gardens across the country.

Scientists bust Monsanto's safety myth

Glyphosate has recently been linked to birth defects,* and at extremely low levels it can kill placental cells and disrupt the human hormone system. Yet regulatory authorities still only formally recognize its potential to contaminate groundwater

SafeLawns recently pointed out that while glyphosate is not listed by EPA as highly toxic when inhaled, it may become highly toxic in the human digestive system where it is metabolized to N-nitrosoglyphosate — a chemical known to cause tumors.

It can be expensive to test for pesticides in air and water, which is why we haven't before seen the kind of data recently collected in Mississipi and Iowa. Independent testing for health effects can also be costly. Yet these are precisely the kind of data that should be required for continued use of any product. Are we exposed? Does it harm us? How does it affect children's health and development?

One common-sense solution: manufacturers should be required to fund (through not conduct) such testing if they want to keep their pesticides on the market.

EPA agrees to take action — eventually

EPA has set 2015 for deciding if glyphosate should continue to be sold, or should have its use in some way limited.

We know the regulatory process can be woefully slow, even when science is very clear that a pesticide is harming human health. Yet this remains one important route for grassroots efforts. Meanwhile, educate yourself and your friends about the serious threats posed by Monsanto's biggest seller, and help build the public voice to get rid of it once and for all.

There's a LOT more dirt on glyphosate — from additional impacts on human health to serious impacts on plant and soil health (my bailiwick). Stay tuned.

* Editor's note: In a previous version of this blog, we mis-characterized the link between RoundUp and birth defects by stating that exposure is "known to cause" birth defects. While the referenced report does provide evidence linking RoundUp exposure to birth defects in laboratory animals, the translation of this evidence to effects on humans at real world exposure levels is still unclear. We regret any confusion. 

Margaret Reeves
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grizmom's picture
grizmom /
Knew this was bound to happen. I grew up on a 365 acre farm and was sent out into the large fields with a hole to eliminate the weeds. That very same farm was purchased by a young man who uses herbicides/pesticides. Now their children as well as others in the area are coming down with auto-immune diseases with the primary one being Lukemia and they are asking why this is happening. So many chemicals have been used that the ground/water are contaminated. Man is now starting to "reap what he has sown". Herbicides/pesticides are harmless? Lies!! Man will do anything for the money not to mention the laziness of such farmers. The body was created to work and not to ride on a tractor spreading poisons. Still they ask, "why are our children sick and dying?" One can tell them why, but they would not believe that these so-called "safe" chemicals are the problem. Abuse nature and nature will fight back with super insects/weeds. The destruction of the earth brings out the rage in me and I am a passive person. This chemical beast cannot be stopped because money is what is driving the beast. I know everyone has heard that "money is the root of all evil". The first part is left out. "The love of money is the root of all evil". Money is not evil. It is the love of such. We are living in perilous times because of greed and the "love of money". If anyone should happen to read this-thank you for your time. An extremely outraged individual who loves nature and all of the creatures living within.
AwakeinOregon's picture
AwakeinOregon /
Thank you Margaret for writing this informative piece. I also wish to thank grizmom, for daring to be outraged and speaking out. It is hard for me to fathom why so many who DO know about this are not also outraged and speaking out, on a regular basis. Here in Oregon we too are being exposed to chemicial trespass. Helicopters spray toxic chemicals on foresters clear-cuts, in residential areas. Our streets are sprayed every Spring by Public Works and DOT. I just discovered Glyphosate (Roundup) is now also being sprayed by our power company, to kill the tree stumps, daring to survive getting cut off, in order to protect power lines. From our forests to our roads, schools, parks, and food, our Nation is polluting our land, water, air, bodies and future. We have an investigation taking place in Lane County where 34 people have Atrazine and 2,4D in their urine, including children. Atrazine was banned in the EU 8 years ago, yet America continues to use it. It is sprayed via helicopters in residential neighborhoods and ODA uses it on our food. Is it any wonder we are losing our bees and bats? We are killing off far more than the intended targets of these deadly poisons. Nature does NOT discriminate, and it too is being bombarded with what were originally created as weapons of war. The reality is the chemical cartel has bought and paid for the laws, regulations and even the agencies who were was created to protect us, yet.................the poisoning continues. 50 long years after Rachel Carson warned us of this very day! Babies are now BORN with hundreds of chemicals in their bodies, at birth and we wonder why so many have learning disabilities, behavioral problems, asthma, cancers, etc. It is INSANE ! Thank you for listening. Another extremely irate individual, who loves Nature and all LIFE !!!
grizmom's picture
grizmom /
THANK YOU MARGARET!!!!!! Truly appreciate your information. grizmom
Margaret Reeves's picture
Margaret Reeves /
And thank you very much for your comment.
starfire's picture
starfire /
Thanks for your info... however Roundup is not a pesticide. It's an herbicide.
Pesticide Action Network's picture
Pesticide Actio... /
Thanks for your comment Starfire. This is a common and understandable point of confusion. Herbicides are in fact a type of pesticide (as are insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, etc).
lrrysgl's picture
lrrysgl /
If you were wondering about the quantity of pesticides and chemicals in use today: Pesticide use in agriculture is down slightly, from 948 million pounds in 2000 to 877 million pounds in 2007. But that's only about 1% per year, and still close to a billion pounds of toxic chemicals intentionally introduced into the environment and our food supply each year. Use of organophosphates continues to decline, and this definitely is a good thing, as these are among the most acutely toxic pesticides still used. But 33 million pounds is still 33 million pounds too many, and despite the decline these neurotoxins are still detected in the bodies of most Americans (see the CDC's National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals) and commonly found on our food. The herbicide glyphosate has more than doubled in use, from 85-90 million pounds in 2001 to 180-185 million pounds in 2007. According to a report from the Organic Center, this increase is likely a reflection of the rising popularity of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready genetically modified crops. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient of RoundUp.) Source: EPA CHEMICALS: FEB 5, 2010 PAN REPORT TSCA reform: This week's Senate hearing was part of ongoing discussions in Congress about updating the national law governing industrial chemicals, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Many scientists and environmental health advocates cite the fact that U.S. EPA has evaluated just 200 of the estimated 80,000 industrial chemicals in commerce-and banned only five-as evidence of TSCA's failure to protect the health of consumers.
lrrysgl's picture
lrrysgl /
While I am neither a scientist or a farmer from what I have read it seems to me that there is a better, safer path we should be pursuing: Subj: FEED - January 2009 Date: 1/8/2009 2:42:48 PM Eastern Standard Time 5. "Organic green revolution" can solve global hunger In a new report, the Rodale Institute calls for a dramatic shift from costly, chemical-intensive industrial farming systems to regenerative organic systems, which it says can help the world feed itself. The report cites a study of small-scale farmers in 57 countries whose yields increased by an average 79 percent when they used sustainable agriculture techniques and other research in developing countries that found organic farming was two to three times more productive than conventional farming. Organic farming methods restore nutrients and carbon to the soil, resulting in higher nutrient density in crops and increased yields. Organic soils also contain more beneficial microorganisms, are less vulnerable to erosion, and retain moisture better to help plants survive drought conditions. A 28-year side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional practices on Rodale's research farm in Pennsylvania has found that organically grown corn and soybeans are more resistant to drought, outperforming conventional crops by 30 percent and 50 to 100 percent respectively. Read the report (pdf). 4/15/2010 12:16:50 PM Eastern Daylight Time A new survey by the UN Conference on Trade and the Environment and UNEP in East Africa found that over 90 per cent of studies show that organic or near organic agriculture had benefits for soil fertility; water control; improved water tables, carbon sequestration and biodiversity. This allows farmers to extend the growing season in marginal areas. The research in East Africa was among 1.6 million organic or near organic farmers from seven countries working on 1.4 million hectares. Other findings include an increase in crop yields of 128 per cent since switching. Higher incomes too are a result of not having to buy fertilizers and pesticides; as is more food availability; higher prices are paid through certification schemes for both export and domestic markets - which addresses poverty in environmentally friendly way. Close to 90 percent of cases showed an increase in farm and household incomes and because organic agriculture is more knowledge intensive it has led to improvements in education, community bonds and cooperation on market access. The report concludes: "Organic and near-organic agricultural methods and technologies are ideally suited for many poor, marginalized smallholder farmers in Africa, as they require minimal or no external inputs, use locally and naturally available materials to produce high-quality products, and encourage a whole systemic approach to farming that is more diverse and resistant to stress."Organic Facts of the Week • If organic farming methods were practiced on all the planet's food-growing land, it would be like taking more than 1.5 billion cars off the road. • You can increase your antioxidant intake by 30 percent by choosing organic. • The average child in America is exposed to five pesticides daily in their food and drinking water. • The U.S. water system is regularly contaminated above safe limits immediately following chemical fertilizer applications to farm fields. • Farms in developing countries that use organic techniques produce an average of 79% more than farms that don't. Source
Ozanne's picture
Ozanne /
That the use of "Round-up" and various other chemical concoctions should be made illegal is a no-brainer! I was a resident in a so-called town of envionmentally concerned community of Sedona Arizona. There are people who are getting sick here and not knowing why, only to wake up one day and see a large truck spraying herbicides up and down 89A. The spray was flowing a good 8 feet in the air at 5:30 in the morning, just before sun up when people were still asleep. Encountering the fellow driving the tanker was a simple issue as I was caught right in his spray, and today I have the "cold-flulike' symptoms-coughing weezing and chest congestion because of the exposure. To put it mildly they should stop! But even writing the EPA Environmental Protection Agency (National and Local) has caused little if any impact! I had a friend that dropped in the hospital the same day with the same conditions only a shut-down of his breathing causing him to go to the emergency room- another who complained of feeling parched and dry, coughing and weezing (what kind of 'cold'?) No-Same day, same issue- An action group has complained for years about the rampant use of Round-up out here to the city but without any good response. They still spray and spray! Another issue is the dry cleaning of the roads here with open bushes which put a 30 foot wall of dust in the air (which includes all the road debris- one can guess whats in that!) It is misery to many here but the city, despite many-many calls does nothing for Sedona (rather putting it aside as "those crazy environmentalists'. Now the conditions should be checked! Round-Up and other brain toxins are insidious chemicals to be putting in our atmosphere, but getting people to listen is another story altogether!
Margaret Reeves's picture
Margaret Reeves /
Thank you very much for your comment. As horrendous, frustrating, and debilitating as it all is you are doing exactly the right thing -- 1) compiling stories that show that GROUPS of individuals are falling ill; that the incidents are not isolated to lone individuals; 2) keep the pressure on the regulatory agencies; it always takes longer than it should to make change but without an organized fight it will never happen; and 3) continue to share your stories as widely as possible so people all around the country (and globe) see that these are shared experiences and that we can inspire one another to act for positive change.
Margaret Reeves's picture
Margaret Reeves /
<p> Thank you to AwakeInOregon for your January 10, 2012 comment and for keeping this important topic alive.</p>
JL for a clean Earth's picture
JL for a clean Earth /
Thank you everyone for all the wonderful information you have shared here. This is a story about exposure to Roundup in a way which I haven't heard about yet....and really shows how widespread the use of the chemical can be, and another way it can easily get into the groundwater and air. Yesterday I was at work, at a senior center which is situated in the middle of a small park in Sacramento, CA, and a city truck was driving around the grass spraying all the lawn edges and the bases of ALL the trees with this orange stuff. I asked the gentleman what the chemical was and he said "Roundup." I then asked my coworker what he thought of this and he said, the city probably doesn't have enough money for someone to use a lawn trimmer around the edges of the parks, so they are just spraying Roundup everywhere. Well this was a small park but because of the paved walkways etc there were a lot of "lawn edges" to be sprayed, plus every time a small tuft of grass poked its head between two sidewalk squares the sidewalk also was sprayed. Today I rode my bike to this park, plus another neighborhood park and saw orange stains on some of the sidewalk squares, which I rolled through with my bike tires before I could react... this is so sneaky! I eat all organic, I use environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, etc. yet I still go lie in the grass at many parks... My body has been sensitive to pesticide levels and this makes me honestly kind of creeped out ? -- I can easily see how trace amounts of Roundup could eventually be in the rest of the lawn of the city parks, many of the sidewalks and the streets from people like me who go from one place to another, or ride their bikes across a sidewalk square that was sprayed... it makes so much sense why it is in our groundwater and air, it really has the potential to be almost anywhere when it is sprayed in such a widespread way. I store my bike in my house so I am not too happy about introducing Roundup to my carpet despite my best efforts to avoid chemicals like these... I really wish it were illegal to expose someone to hazardous chemicals without their consent. I really appreciate PAN for all they do!
Margaret Reeves's picture

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN