What happens if the pesticide used to protect the plant from the pest becomes even more dangerous than the parasite itself to human health and the biological heritage of the area. This is the case of “glyphosate,” an element used in many pesticides since 1974, particularly in the USA, but which, according to some studies, could prove toxicity for the environment and detrimental to health.
What glyphosate is and where you can find it
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in many formulations that have been commercially used since the introduction of this herbicide in 1974. It was first commercialized by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup. When Monsanto’s patent on the use of glyphosate in herbicide formulations expired in 2000, other companies could sell and develop herbicides using glyphosate as the active ingredient, under their own brand names. Since then glyphosates has been formulated by hundreds of pesticide companies in thousands of formulations, and its cost declined significantly.
Glyphosate is widely used for cleaning road margins, railway structures and public green areas. Its use in agriculture, on the other hand, is linked to the genetically modified (GMO) soya, maize and colza seeds, whose DNA has been altered to make them resistant to the herbicide. Soy, GM maize and goose feed into the food chain because they are widely used as animal feed, thus bringing glyphosate into our dishes.Exposure to this chemical is therefore through direct exposure during applications in agriculture, through water, beverages and food of plant origin (bread, pasta, cereals, legumes, in which it is often used as Dehydrating before harvest), meat and its processed, in particular when animals are fed with GMO feed.
In the past, glyphosate was considered as one of the least toxic pesticides to animals, and due to this reputation it has not been vigorously questioned or strongly disputed. What it has never been considered is that some cations, adjuvants and surfactants used with/in glyphosate- based formulations are more toxic than glyphosate acid or its free anion, which may complicate the reputation of glyphosate safety from a practical point of view.
Its effects on the environment and its potential carcinogenicity
Glyphosate, acting non-selective in order to kill weeds, is able to exterminate any plant organism on which it is applied.Several studies and reports have shown how it can contaminate soil, air and surface and deep water. From the ISPRA report on pesticides, it appears that glyphosate is one of the most common substances, along with its AMPA metabolite, in Italian waters.According to studies, glyphosate is therefore a highly toxic substance for the environment, affecting the functionality of ecosystems and natural habitats and capable of reducing biodiversity, necessary for the good health of the biosphere, human beings and agriculture. The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), on March 20, 2015, also defined the herbicide as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans', placing it in the 2nd group in relation to the dangers to human health. The document, also published on The Lancet Oncology, rigorously reviews all the scientific literature that has been elaborated so far. The glyphosate, in addition to performing an oncogenic action, seems to act as an 'endocrine interfering'.
In November 2013 a controversial research paper, with implications for public, animal and ecosystem health, was retracted by the editors of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT). In June 2014, the paper was republished in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe (ESEU).
The so called ‘Séralini research’ presented clear evidence regarding the toxicity of NK603 and Roundup herbicide. This work also reported that Roundup herbicide formulation (tested in three different doses) causes liver and kidney toxicity at levels well below the regulatory threshold set for glyphosate, alone. This was the first study to investigate effects of a Roundup formulation. All earlier studies investigated glyphosate, the herbicidal ingredient of Roundup, in isolation.
Box – The ‘Seralini Research’
The genetically modified maize NK603, Roundup and the two in combination were also reported to increase mortality and tumor incidence. The study was designed as a toxicological study, not as a carcinogenesis study. Therefore, the tumor incidence and mortality results were reported, according to OECD guidelines for chronic toxicity studies, as secondary observations requiring follow-up using a study design intended to systematically assess carcinogenesis.
According to Séralini, the difference in results between his study and that of Monsanto on the NK603, is explained with one word: time. His research lasted 2 years, while Monsanto’s study, as it is the rule for toxicological tests, only 90 days; Too little, says the researcher, to assess the onset of cancer. In addition, the aforementioned study takes into account the use of glyphosate in its complex formulation, and not only in its active base substance, as was previously done.
If it is true that numbers do not lie, interpretation may outline these numbers and the interpretation will be subject to subjectivity. Therefore, it is reasonable that several regulatory or science agencies classify pesticides (in this case glyphosate) differently since agencies do not use the same standards of high research quality. Nevertheless, about the scientific glyphosate debate it must be taken into account that most of the relative researches consider glyphosate just as the active ingredient. They do not contemplate most pesticides formulations containing inert ingredients that function as surfactants and adjuvants which aid in the penetration of the herbicide to plant cells.
On a weight basis, this surfactant is approximated to be three times as toxic as that of glyphosate. It is needed to upgrade the risk assessment policy to consistently include assessment of chronic toxicity of GM crops and formulated pesticides, and to require that products be assessed, not as isolated active ingredients, but in formulations and combinations and under conditions as used in actual practice.
Meanwhile, several campaigns against the use of glyphosate are striving to ban its use and to provide valuable alternatives to it by promoting the adoption of biological and biodynamic crops.
You have to know...
Glyphosate is the only herbicide that acts by interrupting the EPSPS enzyme in the shikimate pathway, a biomedical process that plants, some bacteria and fungi use to produce certain aromatic amino acid they need to survive. Since glyphosate inhibits EPSPS from all higher plants, it is a non-selective herbicide, with herbicidal activity toward a very wide range of plant species including economic crops and their relative weeds. Its unique chemical structure, its unique site of action, good uptake, excellent translocation to growing sites, slow mode of action slow evolutionary pace of weed-resistance development, its low level of weed-resistance, etc., make it the ideal herbicide.
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LTEconomy, 30th April 2017
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