by Leah Zerbe, online editor for RodaleNews.com
Pesky weeds popping up in your yard? Here’s what to not reach for—Roundup. While glyphosate, the active ingredient in America’s favorite weedkiller, Roundup, has been marketed as “safe” and even “biodegradable,” the science is pouring in, and, well, the results are gross.
1. You’re eating it—in “excessive” levels. The majority of glyphosate dumped onto American land each year isn’t in yards—it’s on your food crops. The most popular genetically engineered (GE) crops planted on millions of U.S. acres each year are designed to withstand heavy dousing of glyphosate. Chemical companies are making a killing on this, since they produce both the unnatural GE seed and the chemical that needs to be used on those seeds. But glyphosate is a systemic chemical, meaning it’s taken up inside of the plants that we—and farm animals—eat. This spring, Norwegian scientists studying U.S. soy found “excessive” levels of glyphosate inside of the soy. Don’t eat tofu? Doesn’t matter: GE corn and soy fall under dozens of different ingredient names in most processed foods.
2. It doubles your risk of lymphoma. A major new review of 44 scientific studies found that glyphosate exposure doubles farmers’ risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The study authors theorize that glyphosate disrupts the normal functioning of white blood cells, throwing your immune system into a sickened, dysfunctional state.
3. It’s raining Roundup. Each year, nonorganic farmers dump millions of pounds of glyphosate on food crops. The levels are so excessive, that the federal scientists recently detected the weed killer in the air and rain. Veteran pesticide-exposure scientist Warren Porter, PhD, professor of environmental toxicology and zoology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, crunched the numbers and found the data collected by the United States Geological Survey scientists reveal exposure that could potentially alter your hormones, leading to obesity, heart problems, and diabetes.
4. It’s annihilating monarchs. Researchers at Iowa State University found that the heavy use of glyphosate has resulted in an 81 percent decrease in the monarch butterfly population. Traditionally, milkweed—the plant monarchs need to reproduce and survive as a species—would rebound after farmers used cultivation to kill weeds, but chemical interventions wipe the plant out. Organic agriculture bans the use of chemical pesticides, so every dollar you shift to organic helps save their foodstuff and more monarch butterflies.
5. It doesn’t work. The kicker? It’s not working! Genetically engineering crop seeds to live through herbicide sprayings that would normally kill the crop is a failed technology and a losing battle. Just as overusing antibiotics led to hard-to-kill, antibiotic-resistant supergerms, abusing weedkillers has fueled the emergence of nearly impossible-to-kill superweeds.
When GE technology was first introduced, chemical companies touted it as a way to reduce chemical use on food crops. But Professor Chuck Benbrook, PhD, a research professor at Washington State University, recently found that between 1996 and 2011, GMO technology actually increased herbicide use by 527 million pounds—that’s an 11 percent bump. And for every pound less of insecticide used, farmers used four pounds more of herbicides.
Because glyphosate-resistant GE crops are failing miserably, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—right now—is considering the approval of an even nastier GE seed designed to survive dousing of glyphosate and the highly toxic, older 2,4-D weed killer. This is called “stacking,” and it’s expected to dramatically increase the amount of 2,4-D used on our food. In fact, approving crops genetically engineered to survive repeated dousings of 2,4-D will likely quadruple pesticide use, according to Dave Mortensen, PhD, weed scientist at Penn State University. That’s bad news, considering 2,4-D has been linked to hypothyroidism, suppressed immune function, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer, among other ills.
We got this!
So how can we get Roundup out of the air, soil, and our bodies? There’s only one way: Buy organic food. In doing so, you’re sending farmers a clear message. Also, join the social media campaign that’s putting pressure on the EPA to reject the new 2,4-D GMO (Dow Agrosciences’ Enlist Duo). Environmental Working Group dubbed this week “2,4-D Awareness Week.” Be sure to share this and other related stories, using #24d and related hash tags.
Need more inspiration to help clean up our food system? Read The Biggest GMO Myths, Busted.
Leah Zerbe is online editor for Rodalenews.com. Prior to working at Rodale, she was the senior online editor at NBCPhiladelphia.com, where she headed up the station’s online “Going Green” initiative, wrote about center city crime and traffic jams, and blogged about her beloved Philadelphia Phillies. She and her husband run a sustainable organic farm in Schuylkill County where they grow vegetables, strawberries, herbs, and flowers, and raise heritage breed chickens.