Monsanto's signature herbicide glyphosate, first marketed as "Roundup," is now the most popular weed-killer in the history of chemical agriculture in both the U.S. and globally, according to a paper in Environmental Sciences Europe written by economist Dr. Chuck Benbrook, a staunch opponent of conventional agriculture.
Unlike 2,4-D, smart strategies have limited weed resistance and unlike DDT, glyphosate has never had a 'Rachel Carson event' which has kept it in use.
Benbrook reports that 18.9 billion pounds (8.6 billion kilograms) of glyphosate have been used globally and its popularity has risen almost 15-fold since "Roundup Ready" genetically modified crops were introduced in 1996, leading to smarter crop management. First sold commercially in 1974, the use of glyphosate by farmers was initially limited since the active ingredient kills both weeds and agronomic crops, but the development and approval of genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant crops dramatically changed how farmers could apply glyphosate. Starting in 1996, three major crops - cotton, corn, and soybeans - are resistant to it, so glyphosate only kills weeds while not harming crops, wildlife or people.
"The dramatic and rapid growth in overall use of glyphosate will likely contribute to a host of adverse environmental and public health consequences," believes Benbrook, whose work has been criticized due to his links to organic corporations that are in competition with conventional food and products like glyphosate, and also because he lacks any expertise in biology.
Last year, the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed the weed-killer as "probably carcinogenic to humans", and Benbrook believes that is an indictment. Yet experts noted that IARC does not compute risk. Among the public, their classification of glyphosate went by without much notice, though their later classification of sausage as far more hazardous, equivalent to cigarette smoking, raised eyebrows. California is required by the Proposition 65 referendum to list any probable human carcinogens, which means both glyphosate and baloney will have the same warning labels on them, despite the fact that baloney is far more hazardous to public health.
In his editorial, Benbrook invokes studies implicating glyphosate exposure to degeneration of the liver and kidney, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma in animal tests at high doses. Analyses by the Environmental Protection Agency, on the other hand, have found that it is impossible to get realistic exposure past the No Effect Level in humans, it is only possible by using gavage (direct dosing) and surfactants in rats , basically sticking a tube of pesticide directly into the stomach and chemicals to increase uptake.
Siding with him is one his funding sources, Environmental Working Group, a popular team of lawyers opposed to conventional agriculture. "This report makes it clear that the use of glyphosate combined with the dominance of genetically engineered crops has produced an looming public health threat both in the U.S. and around the world," said Mary Ellen Kustin, a conservationist and senior policy analyst for EWG, which critics contend is funded by dark money laundered through paper foundations. "Farmers have sprayed billions of pounds of a chemical now considered a probable human carcinogen over the past decade. Spraying has increased to multiple times a year recently on the majority of U.S. cropland. The sheer volume of use of this toxic weed-killer is a clear indication that this chemical dependency is a case of farming gone wrong."
Forty years ago, it was the age of the Population Bomb, and mass starvation. Instead of embracing that Doomsday narrative, biologists and chemists have revolutionized agriculture so completely that for the first time in world history, poor people can afford to be fat. That is not farming gone wrong, no matter what lawyers and activists think. That is science gone right.