Third World Resurgence, No. 176, April 2005
Title: “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller”
Author: Chee Yoke Heong
Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer While
Student Researchers: Peter McArthur and Lani Ready
New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, poses serious human health threats. More than 75 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to tolerate the absorption of Roundup—it eliminates all plants that are not GM. Monsanto Inc., the major engineer of GM crops, is also the producer of Roundup. Thus, while Roundup was formulated as a weapon against weeds, it has become a prevalent ingredient in most of our food crops.
Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust.
A group of scientists led by biochemist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than those currently used in agricultural application.
An epidemiological study of Ontario farming populations showed that exposure to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages. Seralini and his team decided to research the effects of the herbicide on human placenta cells. Their study confirmed the toxicity of glyphosate, as after eighteen hours of exposure at low concentrations, large proportions of human placenta began to die. Seralini suggests that this may explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among female farmers using glyphosate.
Seralini’s team further compared the toxic effects of the Roundup formula (the most common commercial formulation of glyphosate and chemical additives) to the isolated active ingredient, glyphosate. They found that the toxic effect increases in the presence of Roundup ‘adjuvants’ or additives. These additives thus have a facilitating role, rendering Roundup twice as toxic as its isolated active ingredient, glyphosate.
Another study, released in April 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that Roundup is a danger to other life-forms and non-target organisms. Biologist Rick Relyea found that Roundup is extremely lethal to amphibians. In what is considered one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, Relyea found that Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were nearly eliminated.
In 2002, a scientific team led by Robert Belle of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) biological station in Roscoff, France showed that Roundup activates one of the key stages of cellular division that can potentially lead to cancer.
Belle and his team have been studying the impact of glyphosate formulations on sea urchin cells for several years. The team has recently demonstrated in Toxicological Science (December 2004) that a “control point” for DNA damage was affected by Roundup, while glyphosate alone had no effect. “We have shown that it’s a definite risk factor, but we have not evaluated the number of cancers potentially induced, nor the time frame within which they would declare themselves,” Belle acknowledges.
There is, indeed, direct evidence that glyphosate inhibits an important process called RNA transcription in animals, at a concentration well below the level that is recommended for commercial spray application.
There is also new research that shows that brief exposure to commercial glyphosate causes liver damage in rats, as indicated by the leakage of intracellular liver enzymes. The research indicates that glyphosate and its surfactant in Roundup were found to act in synergy to increase damage to the liver.
UPDATE BY CHEE YOKE HEONG
Roundup Ready weedkiller is one of the most widely used weedkillers in the world for crops and backyard gardens. Roundup, with its active ingredient glyphosate, has long been promoted as safe for humans and the environment while effective in killing weeds. It is therefore significant when recent studies show that Roundup is not as safe as its promoters claim.
This has major consequences as the bulk of commercially planted genetically modified crops are designed to tolerate glyphosate (and especially Roundup), and independent field data already shows a trend of increasing use of the herbicide. This goes against industry claims that herbicide use will drop and that these plants will thus be more “environment-friendly.” Now it has been found that there are serious health effects, too. My story therefore aimed to highlight these new findings and their implications to health and the environment.
Not surprisingly, Monsanto came out refuting some of the findings of the studies mentioned in the article. What ensued was an open exchange between Dr. Rick Relyea and Monsanto, whereby the former stood his grounds. Otherwise, to my knowledge, no studies have since emerged on Roundup.
For more information look to the following sources:
Professor Gilles-Eric, firstname.lastname@example.org
Biosafety Information Center, http://www.biosafety-info.net
Institute of Science in Society, http://www.i-sis.org.uk