What is Glyphosate?
According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), a cooperative agreement between Oregon State University and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide. It was first discovered by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970 and registered for use in the U.S. in 1974 under the name of “Roundup”.
Its sole objective in the agricultural world is, put simply, to kill weeds without damaging the crops by inhibiting an enzyme essential to plant growth. Over the years, the chemical became widely known for being effective against grasses and broadleaf weeds, and in 2007 it grew to be the most used herbicide in the agricultural sector of the U.S.
Picture by RFI
Why has it raised questions over the years?
Even though glyphosate and brands such as Roundup have been approved by regulatory bodies worldwide, concerns over its effects on humans, wildlife and long-term soil usage have arisen. The latter continues to grow as the usage of the herbicide becomes more and more popular throughout the world. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released the results of a research proving that glyphosate contains a specific carcinogen that causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) on humans, destruction of wildlife habitats and death of different species inhabiting the water or soil near the crops.
Many organizations such as World Health Organization (WHO), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), or the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations (FAO) have conducted extensive research on the matter as a result of an unprecedented wave of lawsuits against Monsanto. The problem has resonated throughout the world, with various media networks treating the subject as a health security problem both for animals and humans.
Moreover, new research conducted by the journal Biomedical Research International concluded that glyphosate on its own may not be carcinogenic, but mixing it with other chemicals has fatal consequences on living organisms. They have stated several times that Monsanto, in order to keep their Roundup recipe confidential, does not divulge their recipe for the herbicide.
Picture by LifeGate
Glyphosate in France…
For starters, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) decided in 2017 that the sale and use of glyphosate is permitted until 2022. Originally, the proposal was to permit the chemical for the next 15 years, but seeing as many members found the extended period controversial, it was reduced to 5.
Following on the subject of animal and soil toxicity, Campagne Glyphosate started publishing their results on testing the urine of 300 French citizens in the city of Ariège. Their goal was to prove that, while most of them are vegetarian and lead healthy lives, glyphosate is ever present in their bodies. This means that the campaign against glyphosate has started to spread, with 250 people already subscribed to the testing in Bretagne. The biggest concern is based on the fact that glyphosate is leaking through the soil and attaining the crops and water. These are ingested later by consumers, thus appearing in their urine.
Moreover, French president Emmanuel Macron had previously made a campaign promise to ban glyphosate sold under the Roundup brand. On the night of September, the 14th 2018, the French parliament gathered at the National Assembly for a second reading on the draft of an Agriculture and Food Law that would ban all sales of Roundup un France by 2021. The amendment failed with 42 votes against and 35 in favor for the second time in six months.
France’s complicated process of amendment comes from two strong variables: decisions are made upstream and the existing concern of penalizing farmers if the herbicide is banned from the country. On one side, lobbyists from the pharmaceutical world find their way with members of parliament and, in return, the latter vote against the amendment. On the other side, some members take strong stances against putting too much pressure on French farmers. In the end, none of them reached consensus.
Picture by Daily Express
What does the public opinion say?
It is not the first time that Monsanto is involved in a media hurricane concerning their products, especially the herbicides. More than 40 years ago, Agent Orange was produced by the company and sold to the U.S. military in order to fight the Vietnam war. It was a mixture of two common herbicides produced by the company that had devastating effects on the environment, human and animal health.
Up until today, Agent Orange is still present on Vietnamese soils, causing intergenerational birth defects, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), leukemia, deforestation and death of soil space for plantations. Although the company argues that it was only used in Vietnam, many Latin American countries are suffering from the contamination of such chemicals.
It is no surprise that the public opinion is ready to blame Monsanto for the NHL allegedly caused by their products. The experience of Agent Orange lit an enormous amount of manifestations from all kinds of support groups and organizations. With that kind of experience, Monsanto is very susceptible to lose the fight against the media even when they could be able to prove otherwise. Furthermore, many people have alleged that the company relies on industry-sponsored risk reviews of their products and therefore these cannot be trusted.
After having stated the facts above, I’d like to finish this article with a few questions to think about: is there a way to replace glyphosate with a healthier option? Are our crops ever going to be able to grow organic products after being contaminated with such chemicals? What is the agroindustry’s future?
Photo by Philippe Lamberts