Suggested Citation: Garko, Michael (2018, September). Glyphosate: An ever growing threat to humans, ecosystems and the environment. Retrieved from www.letstaknutrition.com.
Glyphosate: An ever growing threat to humans, ecosystems and the environment
Dr. Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host & Producer of Let’s Talk Nutrition – Health Talk Radio for the 21st Century
On August 11, 2018, a jury in the Superior Court of California in San Francisco unanimously awarded Dewayne Johnson $250 million in punitive damages and $39 million in compensatory damages against Monsanto. Mr. Johnson (46) alleged in his lawsuit that he fell victim to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma because of applying Monsanto’s trademarked Roundup herbicide 20-30 times annually as part of his job as a groundskeeper for a school district near San Francisco.
During the course of the trial, Mr. Johnson testified that on two occasions in 2012 while spraying the school grounds with Roundup he experienced two accidents causing him to be soaked with the glyphosate-based herbicide. In 2014, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with less than three years to live. Timothy Litzenburg, the attorney for Mr. Johnson, told CNN that there are days when Mr. Johnson is too crippled to walk and about 80% of his body is covered in lesions. Most recently, the judge in the case reduced the award against Monsanto to $78 million to which Mr. Johnson agreed. Currently, Monsanto is having to defend against hundreds of Roundup-related lawsuits similar to that of Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit (see CNN, 2018).
The September, 2018, issue of Health & Wellness Monthly addresses glyphosate, its usage trends, concerns related to its toxicity and glyphosate-based herbicides, its contamination of food and disease consequences, as well as the scientific debate over the safety of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides.
Brief History of Glyphosate
Dr. Henri Martin, a Swiss chemist, is credited with the discovery of Glyphosate in 1950 (Benbrook, 2016). It is sometimes mistakenly reported that Monsanto was the first company to patent glyphosate. However, it was Stauffer Chemical Company in Westport, Connecticut that originally patented glyphosate in 1964. As it turns out glyphosate possesses effective chelating properties. Hence, the first patent of glyphosate registered it as a chelating agent for the purpose of removing/descaling accumulated calcium and other mineral deposits in metal pipes and boilers of both residential and commercial how water systems (e.g., GMO Free Partners, 2015; Free Democracy Now, n.d.). It was not until 1974 when Dr. John Franz, a chemist working for Monsanto, figured out how glyphosate could be formulated as an end-use pesticide product. Based on Dr. Franz’s work, Monsanto introduced glyphosate into the marketplace as Roundup (full name is Roundup Ready), a nonselective, water-soluble herbicide with the ability to interfere with the development of plants through the mechanism of action of metabolic poisoning, which is what makes Roundup work a “weed killer.” Roundup eventually became Monsanto’s flagship commercial product (e.g., see GMO Free Partners, 2015; Free Democracy Now, n.d.).
Since Roundup had the ability to kill weeds including nearly all plants being susceptible to the glyphosate’s poisoning fate, this undermined its purpose as a week killer for farming. Hence, in 1996, Monsanto brought to market Roundup Ready soybean, a genetically engineered crop, resistant to glyphosate. Subsequently, Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready cotton, maize, and other Roundup Ready resistant crops to the marketplace (e.g., see Wilkerson, 2015).
Over the past 44 years, Roundup, as broad-spectrum herbicide, and other glyphosate-based herbicide (GBH) products increased in use at a remarkable pace. Currently, there are no less than 100 manufactures of glyphosate and GBHs and more than 750 GBH products commercially sold in the United States and around the world (National Pesticide Information Center, 2015). Glyphosate and GBHs are the most frequently sold and consequently the most heavily applied herbicide in the world (Benbrook, 2016; Myers et al., 2016; Tarazona, et al., 2017).
Benbrook (2016) provides a succinct and accurate assessment of the trends in glyphosate usage in the United States and worldwide:
Since 1974 in the U.S., over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate active ingredient have been applied, or 19% of estimated global use of glyphosate (8.6 billion kilograms). Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years. The corresponding share globally is 72 %. In
2014, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply ~1.0 kg/ha (0.8 pound/acre) on every hectare of
U.S.-cultivated cropland and nearly 0.53 kg/ha (0.47 pounds/acre) on all cropland worldwide (Benbrook, 2016, p.1).
As the application of glyphosate and GBHs has increased in a fast-paced linear fashion over the past four decades, so has the increase in concern over the deleterious effects of glyphosate and GBHs on humans, other organisms, ecosystems and the environment.
Constellation of Concerns Related to the Toxicity of
Glyphosate and Glyphosate-Based Herbicides
Concern about glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicide seems to be focused largely on the following:
1. Current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) (Vandenberg et al., 2017).
2. The accumulation of glyphosate residues and its degradation/breakdown products (especially aminomethylphosphonic acid – AMPA) in the environment and contamination of the soil, air, ground water, drinking water and sediment (Battaglin, et al., 2014; Myers et al. 2016; Torretta et al., 2018; Van Bruggen et al. 2017)
3. Glyphosate’s biodiversity effects and toxicity effects on microorganisms in soil, rhizosphere, plants, water and animals (e.g., Lyssimachou, n.d.; Van Bruggen, 2017)
4. Glyphosate’s ecotoxicity to aquatic and terrestrial organisms and alteration of plankton and algae communities (e.g., Lyssimachou, n.d.; Van Bruggen, 2017)
5. Reported health risks and pathophysiological conditions and diseases associated with toxicity of glyphosate in humans leading to (e.g., cancer/carcinogenicity, kidney disruption & damage, nervous system toxicity & dysfunction, endocrine dysfunction, liver dysfunction, ADHD, autism
Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) (see International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2018a, 2018b; Lyssimachou, n.d.; Myers et al. , 2016; Van Bruggen, 2017).
6. Glyphosate residues in commercial products (e.g., diapers, medical gauze, absorbents/tampons for female intimate hygiene) (see Food Democracy Now, n.d.; Kruger et al., 2014; Myers et al., 2016; Torretta et al., 2018; Van Bruggen et al., 2017)
7. Glyphosate residues in plant-based products (e.g., legumes, cereals, seeds & fodder), processed food and grain-based food products (e.g., breakfast cereals, pasta, cookies, crackers, cakes, chips), and honey (see Food Democracy Now, n.d.; Environmental Working Group, 2018;
8. Synergistic toxicity effect of glyphosate with surfactant, making it even more toxic (Tarazona et al., 2017).
Glyphosate, Food, Nutrients & Disease
Especially worrisome is glyphosate making its way into the food chain. Glyphosate as a chelator reduces manganese in plants, a mineral that is essential to the defense system of plants, and, thereby, protecting plants from disease and environmental threats and stress. Glyphosate also has the ability to immobilize plant nutrients (e.g., manganese, copper, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium & zinc) to the extent that they become nutritionally non-functional (see Johal & Huber, 2009).
In an interview with Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Robert Kremer explains below how glyphosate becomes
integrated into the cells of plants. Dr. Kremer is a certified soil scientist and professor of Soil Microbiology at the University of Missouri. He retired from the United States Department of Agriculture, where he was employed as a microbiologist for 32 years.
“It is translocated throughout the plant, primarily towards growing points of the plant, meristematic tissue, and one of the most active growing points in the plant are young root tips. A lot of the glyphosate applied to the plant passes through the plant. It goes to meristems and to developing seeds. But a lot of it is transported to the roots, and much of that passes through the root, into the soil… When glyphosate is released there… it will contact nutrients that are in the soil solution and chelate or immobilize them, tying them up, and making them unavailable to the plant. The nutrients also become unavailable to beneficial microorganisms that are in the rhizosphere. They are not able to acquire those micronutrients at all. You have a two-way effect here. You have an effect on the plant where it can’t take up these essential nutrients to mediate the reactions by the enzymes, where those micronutrients are needed. Also, the microorganisms that have enzymes to those of plants, cannot accomplish their metabolism either” (Mercola, 2015, p. 3).
With respect to food, it is worth noting that after glyphosate is applied to crops it tends to accumulate in leaves, grains or the fruit of the crop. Further, glyphosate residues cannot simply be removed by washing plant-based products nor can the residues be broken down by cooking. Worse yet, glyphosate residues remain stable in foods for over a year, even when foods are frozen, dried or processed (Krüger et al., 2014; Food Democracy Now, n.d.).
Below is a comprehensive list of foods, along with some miscellaneous items containing glyphosate published in an article by Ketler (2018) published in August of this year. The list of foods is provided because it provides a real sense of how pervasive glyphosate is present in commercially sold foods, some of which are recognized health brands.
• Original Cheerios
• Honey Nut Cheerios
• Annie’s Gluten Free Bunny Cookies Cocoa & Vanilla
• Kellog’s Corn Flakes
• Kellog’s Raisin Bran
• Kashi Organic Promise
• Kellog’s Special K
• Kellog’s Frosted Flakes
• Cheez-It Original
• Cheez-It Whole Grain
• Kashi Soft Bake Cookies, Oatmeal, Dark Chocolate
• Ritz Crackers
• Triscuit Crackers
• Oreo Original
• Oreo Double Stuf Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
• Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips (Frito-Lay)
• Lay’s: Kettle Cooked Original
• Doritos: Cool Ranch
• Fritos (Original) (100% Whole Grain)
• Goldfish crackers original (Pepperidge Farm)
• Goldfish crackers colors
• Goldfish crackers Whole Grain
• Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies
• Oatmeal Cookies Gluten Free
• 365 Organic Golden Round Crackers
• Back to Nature Crispy Cheddar Crackers
Breakfast Cereals as Tested by the Environmental Working Group (2018)
• Nature’s Path Organic Honey Almond granola
• Back to Nature Classic Granola
• Quaker Simply Granola Oats, Honey, Raisins & Almonds
• Back to Nature Banana Walnut Granola Clusters
• Nature Valley Granola Protein Oats ‘n Honey
• KIND Vanilla, Blueberry Clusters with Flax Seeds
• Instant Oats
• Giant Instant Oatmeal, Original Flavor
• Simple Truth Organic Instant Oatmeal, Original
• Quaker Dinosaur Eggs, Brown Sugar, Instant Oatmeal
• Great Value Original Instant Oatmeal
• Umpqua Oats, Maple Pecan
• Market Pantry Instant Oatmeal, Strawberries & Cream
• Oat Breakfast Cereal
• Kashi Heart to Heart Organic Honey Toasted cereal
• Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal
• Lucky Charms
• Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls, Original, Cereal
• Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran oat cereal
• Snack Bar
• Cascadian Farm Organic Harvest Berry, granola bar
• KIND Oats & Honey with Toasted Coconut
• Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Oats ‘n Honey
• Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip granola bar
• Kellogg’s Nutrigrain Soft Baked Breakfast Bars, Strawberry
• Whole Oats
• 365 Organic Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
• Quaker Steel Cut Oats
• Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
• Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats
• Nature’s Path Organic Old Fashioned Organic Oats
• Whole Foods Bulk Bin conventional rolled oats
• Bob’s Red Mill Organic Old Fashioned Rolled Oats (4 samples tested)
Orange Juice Brands
• Minute Maid
• Stater Bros.
• Signature Farms
• Ben & Jerry’s Ice Creams
Staple Crops as Reported by Friends of the Earth Europe(2013)
• Soybean fodder
• Cotton seed
• Maize grain
• Barley straw and fodder Grass hay
• Sugar beet
• Women’s Feminine Hygiene Products
• Human Breast Milk as Reported by Mercola(2014)
• Certain Vaccines
• Cotton Clothing Products
• Rainwater Samples(2014)
• Human Urine samples
• Groundwater Supplies (Ketler, 2018, pp. 1-4).
Scientific Debate Over the Safety of Glyphosate & Glyphosate-Based Herbicides
Given the body of scientific research suggesting that glyphosate poses a threat to humans, ecosystems and the environment, it is inexplicable that since it was introduced into the marketplace by Monsanto in 1974, virtually all regulatory agencies’ assessments (including those of the of the Environmental Protection Agency/EPA) of glyphosate have declared it to pose a low hazard potential to mammals (Tarazona, et al., 2017). However, the landscape for the debate about the safety of glyphosate changed dramatically when the International Agency for Cancer Research, a department of the World Health Organization, declared that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic.” Ironically and surprisingly, that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), also a department of the World Health Organization, declared that it was “improbable” that glyphosate was genotoxic or carcinogenic to humans (Torretta et al., 2018).
While I spent only the past week researching glyphosate, I was persuaded that it poses a real threat to humans, ecosystems and the environment, notwithstanding the holes and gaps in the scientific literature and testing of glyphosate.
Dewayne Johnson’s lawsuit against Monsanto speaks to the growing concern related to the safety and large scale use of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicide (GBH) products. Mr. Johnson’s story of being exposed to and contaminated with glyphosate is important because it takes the ever growing threat of glyphosate to humans, ecosystems and the environment out of the abstract and puts a human and “earthly” face to it. All Mr. Johnson was trying to do was make a living as groundskeeper and now he finds himself preparing to leave the very earth that is threatened by the toxicity of glyphosate. One wonders how many other Dewayne Johnsons there are out there in the world who are unsuspectingly being exposed to the toxicity of glyphosate.
We all to some extent are carrying a body burden of toxic chemicals in the cells, tissues and organs of our bodies. Thornton et al. (2002) put it this way, “Biomonitoring of industrial chemicals in human tissues and fluids has shown that all people, not just those working in or living near major pollution sources, carry a ‘body burden’ of synthetic chemicals in their blood, fat, mother’s milk, semen, urine, and breath” (Thornton, et al., 2002). The evidence would seem to strongly suggest that glyphosate is among those chemicals, given its longstanding and widespread use across the globe.
Battaglin, W.A., Meyer, M.T., Kuivila, K.M. & Dietze, J.E. (2014). Glyphosate and its degradation product AMPA occur frequently and widely in U.S. soils, surface water, groundwater, and precipitation. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 50(2): 275-290.
Environmental Working Group (2018). Breakfast with a dose of Roundup? Retrieved from http://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/.
GMO Free Partners (2015). United States Patent 3,160,632 (1964) Stauffer Chemical: http://1.usa.gov/1BULtJj. http://www.gmofreepartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/glyphosate-patents.pdf
International Agency for Research on Cancer (2018a). IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer): Glyphosate cancer determination challenged by world consensus. Retrieved from https://geneticliteracyproject.org/glp-facts/iarc-international-agency-research-cancer-glyphosatedetermination-world-consensus/.
International Agency for Research on Cancer (2018b). IARC monographs – 112: Glyphosate. Retrieved from https://monographs.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mono112-10.pdf.
Johal, G.S. & Huber, D.M. (2009) Glyphosate effects on diseases of plants. European Journal of Agronnomy, 31: 144-152.
Ketler, A. (2018). List of products & brands that tested positive for Monsanto’s glyphosate. Retrieved from https://www.collective-evolution.com/2018/08/26/list-of-products-brands-that-tested-positive-formonsantos-glyphosate/.
Krüger M, Schledorn P, Schrödl W, Hoppe HW, Lutz W, et al. (2014) Detection of Glyphosate Residues in Animals and Humans. J Environ Anal Toxicol, 4(2): 1-5.
Lyssimachou, A. (n.d.). Summary on the Toxicity of Glyphosate. Retrieved from https://www.paneurope.info/sites/pan-europe.info/files/public/resources/pressreleases/Summary%20on%20glyphosate%20toxicity.pdf.
Mercola, J. (2015). How GMOs and Glyphosate Impact Soil Biology. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/10/25/gmo-glyphosate-soil-biology.aspx.
Tarazona, J.V., Court Marques, D., Tiramani, M., Reich, H. et al. (2017). Glyphosate toxicity and carcinogenicity: a review of the scientific basis of the European Union assessment and its differences with IARC. Arch Toxicol, 91: 2723-2743.
Vandenberg, L. N, Blumberg B., Antoniou, M.N. et al. (2017). Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides? Journal of Epidemiology Community Health.71:613–618.
Wilkerson, J. (2015). Why Round Up Ready crops have lost their allure. Retrieved from http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/roundup-ready-crops/.
Yan, H. (2018). Jurors give $289 million to a man they say got cancer from Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/10/health/monsanto-johnson-trial-verdict/index.html.