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October 23, 2014
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editorial

The seeds of destruction? Roundup®: the most popular herbicide in the world


The line of people who love to hate the bio-tech and chemical manufacturing corporation Monsanto is long. If you don’t believe it, just Google the words “Monsanto evil,” and you could spend the rest of your day reading why people feel this way.

Today, the biotechnology that links two of Monsanto’s biggest products— the herbicide Roundup® and the company’s genetically engineered (GE) “Roundup Ready®” seeds—is at the heart of growing contention between organic and sustainable farmers on one hand and conventional farmers and corporate agribusiness on the other. The situation has gotten bad enough that the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided last November it had to seek farmers’ input to identify “ways to foster communication and collaboration among those involved in diverse agricultural production systems” (blogs.usda.gov/2013/11/06/agricultural-coexistence-fostering-collaboration-and-communication/). The four-month period for farmers to comment on what the USDA calls “coexistence” ended last week.

Here’s the problem: an overwhelming majority of organic farmers (80% of those who responded to a survey by the non-profit organization, Food & Water Watch) fear real harm to their livelihoods from “genetic drift,” which happens when wind-blown pollen from genetically modified (GMO) and GE crops on nearby conventional farms cross-contaminates their fields, rendering their crops unacceptable to consumers seeking non-GMO products. (Never mind that the philosophy behind how they practice agriculture is diametrically opposed.)

Pollen drift is not the only kind of drift, however. Chemical-based herbicides and pesticides, which organic and sustainable farmers eschew, also drift, and their crops are vulnerable where certain GMO crops are not. Take, for example, Monsanto’s GMO seeds for alfalfa, corn, sugar beets, canola, soy beans and cotton; these were genetically engineered specifically so their plants can tolerate being dowsed with large quantities of Roundup® and survive.

Outside of agriculture, glyphosate, the generic name for Roundup, is also pervasive, used to kill weeds along roadsides and on public utility rights of way, as well as around homeowners’ sidewalks and gardens. An aquatic version is approved for weed control in ponds, reservoirs, waterfowl sanctuaries and recreational waterways.

Now comes word from the U.S. Geological Survey that glyphosate and its toxic degradation byproduct AMPA were found in over 75% of all air and rain samples in Mississippi in 2007 (ecowatch.com/2014/02/27/monsantos-roundup-found-in-75-of-air-and-rain-samples/).

Monsanto maintains that glyphosate, applied as directed in miniscule amounts, is safe for humans and “has a very low toxicity to wildlife.” Yet there are growing numbers of studies that dispute this (ecowatch.com/2014/02/28/monsantos-science-doesnt-add-up/).

An article in the scientific journal Entropy published last year reports that residues of glyphosate are “likely to be pervasive in our food supply” (www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416); and may “plausibly contribute” to numerous diseases, among them inflammatory bowel disease, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, infertility and developmental malformations; and that “contrary to being essentially nontoxic, it may in fact be the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.”

More than 50 year ago, the conclusions of Rachel Carson’s seminal book, “Silent Spring” were fiercely opposed by the same chemical companies that, along with Monsanto, continue to sell ever increasing quantities of herbicides and pesticides today. (Most recently, Dow Chemical is seeking approval for new GE corn and soybeans that tolerate the chemical herbicide 2,4-D, a major component of the Vietnam War era defoliant Agent Orange.) Back in 1962, the questions Carson raised in her book inspired the grassroots environmental movement that not only led to a nationwide ban of DDT (which was particularly detrimental to birds and their ability to reproduce), but also led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Since then, even as the low-level use of these agrichemicals has increased and agribusiness’ attempts to weaken environmental regulations have increased, the public has become complacent.

We at The River Reporter believe that Rachel Carson’s message must be reintroduced to a whole new generation of Americans who, when they learn more, will want to question the large amounts of agrichemical poisons in use today. The truth is that nearly 45 years after glyphosate was discovered, we still need a better understanding of its effects and the effects of similar chemical herbicides and insecticides manufactured by other global corporations on both human health and our natural environment.

The question before all of us is: are we allowing ourselves, our land, our air and our water to be slowly poisoned? And do we fully understand the risks of the pervasive use of herbicides and insecticides?

Rachel Carson asked this question in “Silent Spring:” “Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons?” and answered her own question with another: “Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?”