When Dangerous “Helpers” Do More Harm Than Good
For many years, Roundup and similar glyphosate-based weed killers have been widely promoted as boons to humanity, saving time, money and energy and boostin crop productivity. Meanwhile, more than a few of us have been stubbornly resistant to using these toxic herbicides despite corporate insistence on their safety. We gardeners are not alone: Sources as diverse as the European Journal of Agronomy and the open source scientific journal Entropy have called out troubling issues with both human health and that of flora and fauna, from Monarch butterflies to frogs and birds.
Not only has the main ingredient, glyphosate, been shown for decades to be harmful in many circumstances, but a French study showed that even one of Roundup’s inert ingredients destroys human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells (and that was back in 2009). Inert ingredients are supposed to be harmless, and some 4,000 of them have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Inerts Can Be Anything But
Made from animal fats, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, is considered harmless by the EPA and can even be used in USDA organically certified materials and substances. The French study discovered POEA’s more harmful effects when examining how Roundup acts in human tissue, not by looking at each ingredient separately. The EPA still considers POEA to be safe. Should we be concerned? Hmm, let me think for a minute.
There are hundreds of studies about the safety of Roundup and of glyphosate, and plenty of scientists line up on both “sides” of the issue. Monsanto, manufacturer of Roundup, often uses a circular argument that it is safe because it is used in public parks. Indeed, in 2007, about 185 million pounds of Roundup were used on North American farm crops. Almost 80 million pounds are used on American lawns each year. Crop residues may contribute to an enormous range of human woes, from Parkinsons’s disease to cancers. Lawn residues are mostly harmful to children at play, pets who roam yards, wildlife and aquatic life. (So no big deal, right?)
I’m SO Ready For The Last Roundup
The most recent French study created a bigger-than-usual stir in the European community, with repercussions in North America as well. This time, the World Health Organization’s research branch has reclassified glyphosate as “probably” contributory to cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) publicly announced that their studies have revealed “convincing evidence” that glyphosate can cause cancer in lab animals. Not surprisingly, Monsanto refutes both the charge and the evidence.
The study, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, also reported “limited evidence” that glyphosate could cause “non-Hodgkin lymphoma” in humans. The research combined evidence over the past 14 years from studies of glyphosate exposure in agricultural workers in the United States, Canada, and Sweden. During that time, more than 750 pesticide sprays contained glyphosate, and the chemical broths were traced in air and water as well as soil.
The Plight Of The Butterflies
Ironically, if all that isn’t enough to make the EPA ban Roundup, the loss of Monarch butterflies may be. Monarchs are important pollinators that take a double hit when their main food crop milkweed, is lost to corn crop pesticide sprays and when they encounter GMO corn that contains Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is deadly to butterflies in the caterpillar stage. After reporting on the dire situation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recently launched an effort to save the beloved butterflies, acknowledging that some 90 percent of the world’s Monarchs (over 970 million of them) have been lost since 1990 (though they don’t admit that the butterflies have been killed by Monsanto’s double edged sword).
In the face of the widespread butterfly losses, the Center for Biological Diversity and similar watchdog agencies are calling for Monarchs be placed on the endangered species list before there are too few left to remain viable as a species. Some spread their nets wider still, hoping to protect other vital pollinators are also threatened by agricultural and lawn pesticides, from bees to beetles.
Helping At Home
So what can we do about it? First of all, do not use or allow the use of Roundup or any gyphosate-based pesticide on your property, and do all you can to get them banned at your local schools, parks, and public places. Secondly, plant milkweed. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to encourage milkweed replanting across the country. Why not see what you can do in your own hometown? (Monarch habitats are a pretty appealing project for garden clubs, schools, and church groups…)
The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to invest $2 million this year in an effort to restore over 200,000 acres of prime monarch habitat. Some 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens will also get support. Though most of that effort is focused on the Monarch’s main migration flight path, Monarchs can be found throughout the country. We can encourage their survival by providing safe, pesticide-free gardens and public plantings as well as appropriate fodder and nectar sources. Now would be a good time!