It may come as a surprise to learn that some self-described environmentalists don’t want to see glyphosate banned. Why on Mother Earth would a tree-hugging, don’t-panic-it’s-organic, dyed-in-the-wool-defender-of-the-soil NOT want the world’s most widely used chemical, of which, 300 million pounds is sprayed in the U.S. alone, banned?
What Is Glyphosate?
Before answering that question, first, a little background on the controversial chemical.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the world’s best-selling herbicide, Roundup Weed Killer. In 2015, glyphosate was classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Two years later, California added it to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.
To date, at least 125,000 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, the reviled corporate entity that formerly owned patents on glyphosate and invented Roundup Weed Killer, as well as Roundup-Ready seeds that are genetically-modified to withstand glyphosate spraying.
Although the Monsanto brand name has been dissolved—having been acquired in 2018 by German multinational, Bayer AG—the Roundup product line remains robust.
Is It Legal?
This despite the lawsuits, which allege that the herbicide (it’s also a federally-registered pesticide) has caused plaintiffs to develop cancer. Glyphosate remains legal in the U.S. marketplace, and is deemed safe for use by the Environmental Protection Agency—so long as users of glyphosate-based herbicides apply the weed killer as directed.
What remains to be seen are the consequences on human health, of glyphosate residue in the U.S. food supply. Over 90% of the most common food crops in the U.S. (soy, corn and cotton; the latter of which is processed into cottonseed oil) are GMO, engineered to withstand the effects of glyphosate on an enzyme that’s crucial for weed growth.
What Would Happen If Glyphosate Was Banned Worldwide?
To date, 40 countries have issued outright bans on glyphosate, imposed restrictions or have issued statements of intention to ban or restrict glyphosate-based herbicide, according to the website of one of the leading law firms involved in Roundup litigation.
But some employees of government municipalities are concerned that if glyphosate were banned, invasive species and weeds would create an enormous problem for town, village and city agricultural municipal workers such as landscapers.
The Guardian reports that one Australian municipality’s Invasive Species Council fears that widespread opposition to glyphosate would result in a “flood” of weeds.
“Weeds are a major threat to biodiversity and without active management to control weeds and stop them spreading, it would threaten our ecosystems,” said Andrew Cox of Blacktown, a suburb of greater Sydney.
“Glyphosate is a good herbicide that has lots of benefits to weed control, particularly for environmental restoration projects and land care programs. To not have that tool available will severely hamper those efforts,” Cox told the Guardian.
Not surprisingly, not all environmental advocates agree with Cox. Arran Stephens, founder of the health food brand, Nature’s Path, told Organic Insider that Roundup and GMO seeds are prodigious in non-organic, so-called “regenerative agriculture,” which is a practice that, as Stephens describes, proponents want everyone to believe is the same or as good as, or maybe even superior to, real organic farming practices.”
In Australia, about 500 products containing glyphosate are registered for use, based on the fact that “there are no scientific grounds for placing glyphosate and products containing glyphosate under formal reconsideration” … and that “the weight of evidence showed exposure to glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic or genotoxic risk to humans”.
However, environmental activists maintain that glyphosate is potentially dangerous, and court cases around the world have shown the herbicide to contribute to many people developing cancer.
Not only that, many who would like to see it banned believe that using a toxic substance isn’t the only way to get the job of controlling weeds and invasive plants done. Moreover, the health of local waterways and aquatic wildlife has been shown to be harmed by glyphosate. The herbicide may also harm the natural microorganisms that live in soil.
For this reason, those concerned about glyphosate’s potentially harmful impact on the health of all species believe that using the controversial weed killer isn’t worth the risk of maintaining pretty shrubbery.