Monsanto’s blockbuster herbicide glyphosate, brand name Roundup, has been classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Earlier this year, 17 cancer experts from 11 countries reviewed the evidence and unanimously came to this conclusion. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) called for the review.
Roundup is used on millions of acres around the world. In the United States, most farmers now grow genetically modified (GM) corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets, which are sprayed with glyphosate to kill weeds. The health and environmental risks of this herbicide addiction are increasingly obvious:
• Research in 18 European countries found that 44 percent of tested city-dwellers had glyphosate residue in their urine.
• Testing of 35 urine samples from U.S. women found glyphosate levels 10 times higher than those in the European report. The testing, done by Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse, also found glyphosate in three of 10 samples of breast milk from U.S. women.
• Samples tested by the U.S. Geological Survey show that glyphosate contaminates air and water in agricultural areas.
• Glyphosate is also used as a desiccant to dry wheat before harvest. Government testing in Britain showed that more than 60 percent of nearly 3,000 bread samples contained pesticide residues, with glyphosate being one of the most frequently detected chemicals. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not monitor our food for glyphosate residues, reportedly because testing is “extremely expensive.”
Monsanto began selling glyphosate to farmers in the 1970s, so we’ve been exposed to this chemical for more than 40 years. Monsanto continues to deny that any reason exists to restrict its use.
The IARC experts also judged another widely used pesticide, malathion, to be “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Malathion is an organophosphate pesticide, and, according to a 2010 report in The Journal of the American Medical Association, children exposed to such pesticides “are at greater risk of developing attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADHD).” Malathion was sprayed over residential areas in California in the 1980s to combat Medfly outbreaks and many cities have used it to control West Nile virus carried by mosquitoes. It’s also applied to wheat, rice, sorghum and dozens of other food crops.
The regulations that should protect us from harmful chemicals are clearly not working when, again and again, decades must pass before enough evidence accumulates to prove these chemicals are dangerous. Isn’t it time for the public to demand that farmers step off this pesticide treadmill? Organic farmers don’t use these poisons, and organic farming is expanding. Yes, many organic products cost more today — but sometimes only a small amount more. One of the best ways to help push our agricultural system toward less toxic and more sustainable methods, and to protect our health, is to buy organic whenever we can, and press for the labeling of GM foods. The more the public demands organic choices, the more the system will shift so that organic becomes more affordable.