This irresponsible type of agriculture has led to increased resistance to the herbicide and the emergence of ‘superweeds’ – and thus increased sales of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which farmers have to use more and more of in order to get the same effect. For instance, according to a new report by the
Since its introduction during the mid-1970s, global use of glyphosate has increased rapidly, and it is now the world’s most widely used pesticide. In 2002, the global sales for glyphosate amounted to around $4.705 billion and accounted for more than 30 per cent of the volume of total global herbicide sales. There are more than 70 glyphosate producers in the world (excluding
So busy are we focusing on the big agricultural picture of Roundup and Roundup-resistance that it is all too easy to forget the fact that millions of gardeners in the
Most glyphosate-based herbicides are formulated with one or more surfactants. The surfactant in a herbicide works in the same way as the surfactant in your shampoo – it makes the active ingredients work harder. In a herbicide the surfactant spreads the solution across the leaf, penetrates the leaf and thus enhances the uptake of glyphosate by the plant.
Many people reason that Roundup would not be on sale if it weren’t safe, or that it is safe as long as you use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. However,
accumulating data suggests neither assumption is correct.
Short-term exposure to glyphosate can cause breathing difficulties, loss of muscle control and convulsions. Farm workers exposed even to small amounts of Roundup – by rubbing an eye, for example – report swelling of the eye, eyelid or face, a rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure, all as a result of the residues transferred from
the hands after touching leaky equipment. Accidental drenching is known to cause eczema of the hands and arms that can last for months.
Roundup has never been fully tested for its cancer-causing potential. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency classifies glyphosate as a Group E Oncogen (no evidence of carcinogenicity in humans) this only because of ‘a lack of convincing evidence of carcinogenicity in adequate studies with two animal species, rat and mouse’ – in other words, the judgement is based on a limited number of studies of a limited number of non-human subjects.
Pat thomas is editor of the Ecologist