Rounding Up the Evidence on Roundup

Those of you who have seen our videos about our sweet corn will know that this year, for the first time, we’re planting corn that is resistant to glyphosate, a type of herbicide most commonly known as Roundup. Our corn is also resistant to glufosinate, which Syngenta uses as the active ingredient of their herbicide Liberty. Of course, herbicides have been highly controversial in recent years, and perhaps no herbicide is more controversial that glyphosate. These two herbicides interact differently with plants, but the generalities of both are the same. Because we’ll use Roundup in our garden, and because of it’s fame, we’ll focus on glyphosate for this article. Studies have attempted to show that glyphosate causes cancer, and others insist that glyphosate is a threat to the environment. Between my dad’s farm experience, my mom’s chemistry degree, and my biology and agriculture classes, we’ve decided that we’re alright with using glyphosate in our garden, and we’d like to share our reasoning with you. Buckle up, because we’re about to get real technical real quick.

 

Let’s first discuss how glyphosate works. Glyphosate inhibits the shikimic acid pathway, a chemical process in plants that helps the plant create necessary amino acids. Without these amino acids, the plant will die. Humans and animals don’t have a shikimic acid pathway. We don’t even have the ability to create these amino acids and we have to eat them in order for our body to function properly. So, if glyphosate enters your body, it really can’t do much. It isn’t very reactive with other chemicals in our bodies and essentially will exit the body in the exact chemical form it entered the body. Glyphosate isn’t easily absorbed through the skin either, so even if you would happen to spill some all over yourself, it’s unlikely that any meaningful amount would actually enter your body.

 

One of the largest claims about glyphosate is that it causes cancer. Most of this claim is based off a 2012 study by Seralini et. al (fancy speak for a guy named Seralini wrote it, but a lot of other people helped) in which scientists fed rats glyphosate and glyphosate resistant corn. The study was published, but eventually retracted after peer reviewers noticed some key issues with the study. The strain of rat used in the study is known to be particularly prone to cancer, meaning that a rat getting cancer during the study may simply be because of its inherent genetic predisposition to cancer rather than glyphosate. Also, the sample sizes used for each test group were too small to accurately use a lot of statistical tests. For those of you who have taken a stats class, you’ll know that certain tests and confidence intervals require minimum data set sizes, typically 30 or upwards. In this study, the sample sizes were around 10, making it difficult for accurate conclusions to be reached. Essentially, the experiment’s design didn’t live up to typical standards for scientific research. However, several of the rats developed massive tumors during the study, and several grotesque pictures were included in the paper. This is a strong emotional appeal – it makes people think that if they use or are around glyphosate, they will end up getting tumors like the rats in those pictures. Without a closer look, it’s easy to conclude that Roundup caused these tumors when that may have not necessarily been the case. Even if the tumors were a result of Roundup, one must remember that the sort of exposure these rats were getting to glyphosate is an extremely abnormally high amount. They were being fed glyphosate in their water, which if you keep reading, you’ll understand is extremely unlikely to ever occur in real life. If you’d like, you can read the original Seralini study here.

 

Others say that glyphosate is dangerous to the environment. One of the main concerns with herbicides is runoff from fields into rivers and lakes. Glyphosate actually does a pretty good job at binding to the soil and when applied responsibly produces little to no runoff. Typically, it just hangs out in the soil until some bacteria come and break it down into smaller, more easily digestible parts. When a plant that is treated with glyphosate dies, half of the chemical is broken down within 8-9 days. So, glyphosate is probably safer than a lot of other herbicides and chemicals when it comes to environmental safety.

 

There are some credible concerns about the toxicity of products containing glyphosate, but most concerns come from the other chemicals mixed in with glyphosate. Roundup, or any herbicide, is most likely not pure glyphosate, and those other chemicals may be more harmful than glyphosate is itself. Because of this, and because glyphosate is a chemical, we always make sure to treat it with extreme care and caution. While we believe that the benefits of glyphosate and glyphosate tolerant corn outweigh the costs, we still do our best to handle the chemical in a safe and responsible way.

 

At the end of the day, we must all remember that farmers (and gardeners like us) are in the business of creating more food safely and more efficiently. Glyphosate is a tool that has helped farmers feed millions more people and increase output while decreasing the time and effort required to weed their fields, which allows farmers to grow more food. Farmers have even more reason to be afraid of a toxic chemical than most of us – they have the highest exposure to the chemical themselves. So, while there is a lot of skepticism and fear surrounding herbicides, including glyphosate, remember that those who developed it and use it daily trust that it will not harm them or their families.

 

Sources:

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphogen.html

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15012217

13 Comments

  1. It is a breath of fresh air reading an article that speaks plainly about the effects of glyphosate on corn and human contact with the chemical. Generally the public is only exposed to propaganda from one group claiming glyphosate is the devils nectar or from the other camp exuding that it is the end all and be all in crop production. Your article is well balanced and informative showing that as with all modern herbicides, proper complete studies need to be carried out before a firm conclusion can drawn of all effects that can take place with usage. Nice work.

  2. Loved the article. Thank you for picking thru the emotional issues and pointing to the facts that enable folks to make an informed decision.

  3. Thanks for the factual presentation of this issue. Very well written and to the point in terms the average person can understand.

  4. Com’on there is a lot more out there to suggest that glyphosphate is bad for humans and the environment. Can’t be absorbed? Just about anything can be absorbed through the skin and inhalation is just as likely during spraying. Producers of products containing glyphosphate will warn of avoiding contact and spraying in windy conditions. This isn’t only because of overspray on other desired plants. TRUSTING that it doesn’t do any harm to themselves and their families doesn’t make it safe. As with many products used or produced over the years, it is the side effects that is the concern. It is not that the intended use of inhibiting the acid pathway is the problem! The real test is for anyone like yourself, Monsanto employees and those in government who supported Monsanto to safely and responsibly spray it on their vegetables prior to prep work in the kitchen and add small safe amounts to their drinking water. Then we’ll see how many are fine with taking on that challenge and how much glyphosphate exits the body in the exact chemical form it entered the body.

    There is plenty of propaganda from the other camp on issues similiar to this kind of subject. The difference is the producers of harmful products rarely have the burden of proving differently rather the burden relies on other individuals or groups to prove the dangers. Or time will tell as with many other things and by then it will be too late and billions will be made on the backs of other’s. Regardless of your family background I think this is one type of subject you should avoid on tractor time.

    • Will,

      I appreciate your comment. I just have a different view. Here are some of my thoughts, with portions of your comments pasted in…

      > Com’on there is a lot more out there to suggest that glyphosate is bad for humans and the environment.

      Is there scientifically valid information, or is it propaganda, hearsay, etc? We are not finding any/much credible scientific information to defend your point, and we see much evidence to the contrary.

      > The real test is for anyone like yourself, Monsanto employees and those in government who supported Monsanto to safely and responsibly spray it on their vegetables prior to prep work in the kitchen and add small safe amounts to their drinking water.

      Are you kidding? The real test is to use it per the label directions. We are not suggesting that you use pour Roundup on your breakfast cereal. I believe it is safe when used per the label directions.

      > The difference is the producers of harmful products rarely have the burden of proving differently rather the burden relies on other individuals or groups to prove the dangers.

      This couldn’t be further from the truth. The producers have to go through an enormous amount of proof of safety of their products. On the other hand, individuals, or activist groups can lob any accusation they want without evidence. Folks with your point of view will readily trust these activist group accusations, but typically do not trust scientific testing, no matter how thorough. “If the testing was performed by the producer, or someone sympathetic to the producer, it MUST be false, or lying”.

      > billions will be made on the backs of other’s.

      Yes, Monsanto has made lots of money on Roundup. Is that a crime? In my farming experience, we’ve seen that Roundup has reduced the amount of ‘residual/long lasting’ …(i.e. more dangerous) chemicals that we apply on crops for weed control purposes. Much fewer truly hazardous chemicals used now than in the 70’s. Back then, we were asking chemicals which were applied before the corn sprouted to last the entire season. This was expensive, difficult, and less effective than today. Today, we can use roundup on the standing crop to kill the weeds. No residual (long lasting) chemical necessary.
      In my opinion, this is a huge step forward on the very battle front you are discussing.

      > I think this is one type of subject you should avoid on tractor time.

      Overall, the bizarre thing about this or any of these left-wing topics is that any disagreement is apparently unacceptable and should NEVER be allowed. If we don’t agree with the leftist view, then we shouldn’t be talking about it. My question is, how else will we learn? Don’t we have to have discussions to gain knowledge and learn from each other? Why is this such a religious type topic? Roundup, when used per the label directions either causes serious health issues to humans or it doesn’t. Why so much passion? Why can’t objectively find out the truth and move on?

      Again, thanks for your comment. I hope you view this response as constructive.

      • I’m not buying your use of ways to discredit me. This isn’t a left-wing topic and I never implied it was a religious subject. Those who choose the “its fine” and there is “no credible evidence” on subjects such as these speak in this manner that further push the propaganda. I am talking about using it “safely and responsibly” according to ppm in the testing standards Monsanto established for the FDA. Monsanto set their own rules and testing standards. They never met a burden of proof in the safety of glyphosate.
        I simply said this is one subject that should be avoided if you plan on making it seem that with your knowledge you have given all the facts and closed the subject on glyphosate and any like chemicals being free of any real controversy or damaging to humans and the environment. Yes it is a crime when the truth about how it got to market and every judgement made in Monsanto’s favor can be traced back to former employees and share holders. It reminds me of the recent propaganda that collectively covered organic food, non gmo’s and wheat gluten. Likely a story line driven by Monsanto due to their slipping stock prices and the interest to improve the sale of the company. I can also suppose that farmers were never forced to use gmo seed corn or be forced out of business. That pollen coming from nearby fields became a factor for prosecution of those farmers who chose to make their own choices in the seed they used. Why can’t the truth be found objectively and not washed over with money?

        • So, On one hand, Monsanto needs to ‘prove it is safe’, but on the other hand, anything Monsanto says is by definition not trustworthy. Hmm.

          • The video explaining the cleaning of a mulching deck, the removal of deck blades and the different choices for replacement blades is one example that explains it all. POLISHED? Try powder coated. Anyone with real common knowledge can see it in the video.

          • That is very kind, Will. Thanks!

          • No problem! You have a solid, competent, well laid out web site and fairly complete as well. I just think you push the limits of your content sometimes unnecessarily. Kinda like why fix it when it isn’t broke.

          • I’m sure you are right. We aren’t professionals. Just trying to enjoy ourselves and help folks where we can.
            Putting these videos together is not easy. Hard to decide what to include and what to omit.
            Having said that, we will not hide deeply held believes (like our Christianity) to attract viewers. That is true for some of our other opinions and observations as well. Our culture has gone too far in stifling folks ability to communicate freely. We should be able to comfortably voice our opinions and experiences.
            Many have died to secure this right.

            I don’t mind that you have different opinions than me on the topic referenced above. Maybe We can learn something from you. Maybe you can learn something from us.

            Anyway, enjoying the ‘back and forth’, and happy to have you watching and looking around at our content. I hope you have subscribed!

          • Well said!! We’ve gone off topic. Maybe this comment of mine should have be emailed to you or at least removed from this topic. I wasn’t sure if you would end it or comment. I was ready to get into PM’s if needed or carry it through like I will now. What is more obvious before you mentioned Christianity was the support of your family with this informative endevor. Doing it together and enjoying the process. That is what is important here and it has shown. Obviously you’ve forgiven me for my forward push to speak my peace.

            I have been involved in the Christianity movement, going to retreats and school. My prior interests in religions have shown me that many follow the same basic principles of Christianity when taken in the true faith of the religion. I have moved away from it due to not being strong enough for the attacks that follow when delving deeper into the faith. Enough said because many can’t understand that unless they understand the process.

            I worked today delivering packages for ****** through the **** and then jumped onto J Deerie when I got home which can lead to later nights. Hence the late comment. He’s been put away and I can imagine what I couldn’t accomplish without him. That being said I was completely taken by your 55 gal. drum fuel storage. Fuel storage is something I recently have been looking into. Yes likely I would have dropped it onto a skid at first. No I haven’t gotten into your article yet but my first thoughts were corrosion in the barrel, getting it filled, and degrading fuel. Don’t answer if its been covered.

            One topic I would like to see, which I know has been covered at one time or another is favorite mods and changes, significant do and don’ts, etc. for the compacts. A “free for all” comment section by readers that follows an article that would suggest everyones most improved needed change, addition or improvement. Like seat springs, bypassing the reverse pto shut-off, a quick hitch, fuel storage, or critical things that need special attention. You get the idea.

            On a lighter note you gave me an idea. Think about your article on “My yard is too small for my JD” Using camera angles and camera cuts to obviously appear more dramatic, picture the 55 gal. drum fuel storage in a garage next to a 1025. Guy walks in on an early morning to fill JD and then opens the double garage door. He starts it after checking the oil and then heads out to cut a strip of grass across the front of his house. Quickly finishing and looking very satisfied. End of story. “Nothing runs like a John Deere” Not sure if that’s been covered already but I was amused by the thought.

          • Good comment, Will. Thanks.

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