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What Is Glyphosate Herbicide

Glyphosate Herbicide

What is Glyphosate?

Glyphosate (or N-phosphonomethyl-glycine) is one of the world’s most widely used broad-spectrum herbicides, accounting for roughly 25 percent of the world herbicide market. Glyphosate herbicide is widely utilized in agriculture because it is a cost-effective, easy to use compound that kills weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses competing with crops. While it is true that glyphosate products are mostly used in agriculture, some countries also use glyphosate herbicide to control unwanted weed growth in forestry, gardening and in non-cultivated places, like industrial areas and along highways.

How Does Glyphosate Herbicide Work?

As a non-selective herbicide (affecting a broad spectrum of weeds indiscriminately), glyphosate works by blocking an essential pathway for plant growth. Once absorbed by the plant, glyphosate binds to and blocks the activity of an enzyme called enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS). The EPSPS enzyme comes at the start of the shikimic acid pathway. By blocking this pathway, the plant cannot create certain proteins that are needed for growth.

molecular formula of glyphosate

How Can I Be Exposed to Glyphosate?

Glyphosate herbicide exposure is most common among farm workers and those living near farmland. Exposure to glyphosate herbicide can happen in a number of ways, including:

  • Contact with skin
  • Contact with eyes
  • Inhaling during usage
  • Swallowing (if you have not properly washed your hands after usage)

Glyphosate Side Effects

Scientists have been able to correlate a number of health issues related to glyphosate exposure, including, but not limited to:

ADHD: The journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported in 2002 that exposure to Roundup [glyphosate herbicide] was linked to attention deficit disorder (ADHD), likely due to the herbicide’s capacity to disrupt thyroid hormone functions.

Alzheimer’s Disease: A study published in the journal Toxicology found that glyphosate exposure can cause the same kind of oxidative stress and neural cell death found in Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It also affects CaMKII, an enzyme whose dysregulation has also been linked to Alzheimer’s.

Autism: A research scientist at MIT says exposure to glyphosate has a number of biological effects that align with known pathologies associated with autism. One of the parallels is gut dysbiosis among children with autism and glyphosate’s suppression of pathogenic bacteria. Glyphosate also promotes the accumulation of aluminum in the brain. Aluminum is a neurotoxin and the established cause of dialysis dementia.

Birth Defects: Glyphosate exposure can disrupt the Vitamin A signaling pathway, which is critical for normal fetal development. A study from Paraguay found that babies born to women living less than a mile from fields sprayed with glyphosate herbicide were more than twice as likely to develop birth defects.

Cancer: The International Agency of Research on Cancer (an agency within the World Health Organization) published a study in 2015 that determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. There is also a meta-analysis study from 2014 published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and a2008 Swedish study that link glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Other studies, including a study in Argentina of 65,000 people in farming communities where Roundup is used (communities referred to as “the fumigated towns”), found cancer rates to be two to four times higher than the country’s national average. Specifically, the study noted increases in breast, prostate and lung cancers. In a comparison of two farming communities—one that sprayed Roundup and another that didn’t—31 percent of residents in the Roundup sprayed community had a family member with cancer. In the community that didn’t spray, only three percent of residents had a family member with cancer.

Celiac Disease: A study of fish exposed to glyphosate herbicide showed that some developed digestive problems similar to those with Celiac Disease. Parallels between glyphosate exposure and Celiac Disease include impairment in enzymes critical to detoxifying environmental toxins, imbalances in gut bacteria, amino acid depletion and certain mineral deficiencies.

Colitis: A Roundup study titled ‘The Effect of Glyphosate on Potential Pathogens and Beneficial Members of Poultry Microbiota in Vitro’ found that glyphosate toxicity could be a significant predisposing factor in the overgrowth of clostridia, an established causal factor in colitis.

Heart Disease: A study published in Entropy found that glyphosate exposure can cause disruption to the body’s enzymes, causing lysosomal dysfunction, which is a factor in heart failure and cardiovascular disease.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: In the same Entropy study, researchers found that exposure to glyphosate creates a severe tryptophan deficiency in some, which can cause inflammatory bowel disease.

Kidney Disease: Glyphosate herbicide exposure may explain the recent spike in kidney disease statistics among farm workers in India, Central America and Sri Lanka. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers.”

Liver Disease: A 2009 study showed that very low doses of glyphosate can disrupt liver cell function.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A paper analyzing nearly 30 years of research on the relationship between Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) and occupational exposure to pesticides found a positive association between glyphosate herbicide exposure and B cell lymphoma.

Parkinson’s Disease: Several lab studies show that glyphosate can induce the cell death characteristic of Parkinson’s.

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Glyphosate Herbicide History

  • 1960 – Monsanto formed agricultural division.
  • 1970 – Glyphosate discovered by Monsanto chemist, John E. Franz. Franz, a young chemist who had recently been transferred to Monsanto’s agricultural division, began to work with another Monsanto scientist, Dr. Phil Hamm. Hamm, then the head of Monsanto’s herbicide screening program, was excited about two compounds recently submitted by Monsanto scientists from another wing of the company. Initially studied as water softeners, Hamm thought the compounds might be useful as herbicides. He eventually asked Franz to study the possibility. During his studies, Franz theorized that a beneficial compound might be produced during the plant’s metabolic process—a compound that he might then be able to synthesize. The third compound Franz synthesized was called glyphosate, and it would go on to change the world of farming for many years to come.
  • 1974 – Monsanto received patent to bring Roundup [glyphosate herbicide] to market.
  • 1976 – Monsanto commercialized Roundup in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Late 1970s – Most farmers felt they had no alternative to using herbicides. Most herbicides during this time were pre-emergent, which means the herbicide forms a chemical barrier on the surface of a field that killed weeds as they sprouted and came into contact with the barrier. Pre-emergent herbicides needed to be spread consistently across fields and stay active for a long period of time to ensure effectiveness after the spring rainy season. These two issues were environmentally problematic, as pre-emptive herbicides could wash into streams and ground water, wreaking havoc on fish and wildlife. With this as a backdrop, glyphosate herbicide was seen as an “environmentally friendly alternative” to other herbicides and sales of Monsanto Roundup began to boom.
  • 1984 – Monsanto pays millions to Vietnam War veterans affected by exposure to Agent Orange. Monsanto developed and supplied the military with the defoliant chemical in the 1960s.
  • 1985 – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified glyphosate as a Group C chemical. The EPA’s determination meant that glyphosate was possibly carcinogenic to humans. This designation was based on early animal studies, which found “…an increase in interstitial cell tumors of the testes of male rats,” as well as “pancreatic tumors” in high-dose female rats.
  • 1991 – After a heavy handed lobbying campaign by Monsanto, the EPA changes classification of glyphosate to Group E. Six years after finding a possible cancer link, the EPA changed the classification for glyphosate, finding “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.” This change in glyphosate’s classification happened shortly before Monsanto launched its Roundup Ready GMO seeds, which would become a $6 billion a year product. These genetically modified seeds are resistant to glyphosate herbicide.
  • 1991 – Monsanto hired Craven Laboratories to perform Roundup studies. Months later, the owner of Craven Laboratories and three employees were indicted for fraudulent laboratory practices.
  • 1996 – New York Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Monsanto for falsely advertising glyphosate herbicide as being safer than table salt and practically non-toxic. The lawsuit ends with an agreement, whereby Monsanto agreed to stop advertising Roundup as safe. The problem was the agreement was only bound to the state of New York. Elsewhere, Monsanto could continue its misinformation campaign for Roundup.
  • 2001 – Special Report stated glyphosate may cause cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nerve and respiratory damage.
  • 2011 – Glyphosate herbicide used on a total of 210 million acres of U.S. farmland.
  • 2013 – Monsanto asked for and received EPA approval for increased tolerance levels for glyphosate.
  • 2015 – Cancer research arm of the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans. The study was based on the viewpoint of 17 experts from 11 countries. Researchers also found “limited evidence” that glyphosate is carcinogenic in humans for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In response to the WHO study, a number of countries banned the private and/or commercial sale of glyphosate herbicide, including Roundup.

Related Articles:

  • Hardeman v. Monsanto Co. $80 Million
  • Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto Co. $289.2 Million
  • Pilliod et al. v. Monsanto Co. $2 Billion
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