If the name Glyphosate doesn’t mean much to you, that’s likely because you know this chemical by its more popular name, RoundUp – Monsanto’s broad-spectrum chemical herbicide of which it is the main active constituent part. In this article, we will briefly explore what glyphosate is, how it works, what it does to the human body and what it does the environment. The use of glyphosate is not limited to the product RoundUp, but is nearly epidemic in North American Farming practices. It can persist in the soil for at least six months after a single spraying or exposure and as such, it can be notoriously difficult to get away from it. Supporting organic farms is one way, as is the boycotting of conventional farms and mass commercial farms which thrive on its use and often plant RoundUp ready genetically-engineered plants to complement the use of the herbicide. This is because genetically-engineered plants have been designed to withstand large amounts of RoundUp exposure without dying alongside the weeds, unlike conventional plants which often die along with them. As such, GE plants are not only modified in a lab and come with their own host of detrimental biological factors, but also are far more saturated with glyphosate than conventional plants.
So what is glyphosate? According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate is a synthetic chemical compound used as a herbicide via the application to the leaves of broadleaf plants and grasses. When used in its sodium salt form, glyphosate is said to regulate growth and ripen fruit in a rapid manner. Originally registered for use in 1974, glyphosate has come to be one of the most widely used herbicides in North America as it is possible to use it in agriculture, forestry, on lawns and gardens, as well as on weeds in industrial areas and even aquatically as well. In short, our ecosystem has become saturated with its use – how can we not expect certain consequences from such wide use of a synthetic chemical?
It should be noted that glyphosate is non-selective, which means that it will kill most plants by preventing them from making certain proteins that are required for photosynthesis and adequate plant growth the entail their survival. It stops a specific enzyme pathway called the shikimic pathway that is found only in plants and microorganisms. That being said, exposure to glyphosate is extremely harmful to humans. Direct exposure to the skin, eyes or through the respiratory system can cause severe irritation, particularly when combined with the other harsh chemicals that glyphosate-containing products often do. This can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and other extreme signs of poisoning.
In several studies on pregnant rats, it was found that even low level but continuous exposure to glyphosate resulted in slowed fetal development and skeletal defects. Children are much more sensitive to glyphosate exposure than adults and there are several studies ongoing about the relationship between chronic illnesses like asthma and glyphosate exposure. A recent peer-reviewed study out of MIT (from 2013) exposed that glyphosate in the diet (through the consumption of sprayed produce) lead to severe nutritional deficiencies and systemic toxicity. One of the main reasons for this is because, despite the fact that the shikimic enzyme pathway does not exist in humans, it does exist in the billions of microbes that inhabit our bodies. Bacteria outnumbers our body’s cells 10 to 1 and all of these bacteria have that enzyme pathway, meaning that all of them respond to glyphosate. It causes extreme disruption of the microbe’s function, lifecycle and pays particular attention to eliminating beneficial bacteria that we require to digest our foods, protect us against disease and other life-promoting activities. High levels of inflammation are the single most important contributing factor to chronic diseases and due to its effect on your natural protective bacterial cultures, glyphosate dramatically upregulates your inflammation levels. Even though it might be excreted from the detoxification system in your body every 24 hours, most people are consuming it day in and day out, meaning that we are not going a single day without poisoning ourselves with this extremely disruptive and harmful chemical.
The idea that glyphosate actually detoxifies properly from the human organism is highly suspect as it directly inhibits the production and activity of cytochrome P450. If you don’t know what this group of diverse enzymes does, we can help. It is one of the most important enzyme families in the body as it is responsible for the detoxification of chemical compounds that are neither native to nor produced by the human body. Cytochrome P450 uses iron to oxidize things as part of the body’s strategy to dispose of harmful substances by making them more water-soluble, particularly a majority of pharmaceutical drugs.
In 2009, a French court found Monsanto guilty of false advertising by claiming that RoundUp is “biodegradable”, “environmentally friendly” and claiming it “left the soil clean”. So exactly does glyphosate do to the environment? The median half-life of glyphosate in soil is 197 days and while experts claim that absorbs “tightly” in soil and is expected to be “immobile” (meaning that it is unlikely to wash away in run-off water), it still destroys the bacterial content of the soil which is necessary for it to be life-giving. But it is not just remaining in the soil that we need to worry about. Lettuce, carrots and barley contained glyphosate residues up to a year after a single spraying. In farmhouses in areas where glyphosate was sprayed, the substance was found at detectable levels in surface wipe and dust samples. The ecological risks associated with glyphosate include altering habitats and natural environments of birds, fish and other aquatic life, particularly due to the altering the availability of food.