For decades, glyphosate was the poster child of the claim that man has indeed mastered his environment. What’s not to like about glyphosate? It’s an effective and environment-friendly herbicide. Industry experts certify it as non-toxic and are unlikely to pose a cancer risk to humans. With all its perceived benefits, the use of glyphosate in food supply and others skyrocketed year on year since Monsanto filed a patent for the compound in 1973. Shortly, Monsanto began commercially distributing the herbicide under the brand name Roundup. In the US alone, glyphosate use in 2014 was recorded to reach more than 125 million kilograms. As the most widely-used herbicide, the fact that glyphosate is everywhere should not come as a surprise. There is glyphosate in food, in water, in soil, and air. There were even traces of glyphosate in human urine and in mother’s unborn fetuses.
However, the number of individuals bearing proof of the health risks of exposure to glyphosate in food supply is growing. The argument untangles further when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization concluded glyphosate is a “probably carcinogenic”. With the pervasive presence of glyphosate in food supply, it is imperative that we all take a closer look.
Glyphosate Origins and Intended Use
The discovery of the use of glyphosate in the food supply was long and circuitous. The Swiss chemist, Henri Martin, first synthesized glyphosate in 1950. At the time, scientists claimed the product had no pharmaceutical purpose. In 1970, John E. Franz of the chemical company, Monsanto, took another look at the glyphosate molecule. After a series of field and laboratory tests, Franz concluded that glyphosate had promising herbicidal properties. Eager to address the global demand for herbicides, Monsanto began the mass production of glyphosate products four years later.
The company has since made a killing off its glyphosate-laced brands. Monsanto earned some $1.9 billion in gross profits from glyphosate products in 2015. The figure represented a substantial portion of the global market for herbicides during the period.
Today, the world is facing the highest usage of glyphosate. Glyphosate is sprayed on flowerbeds and gardens, in public parks, along sidewalks, and in schools. The compound is ubiquitous in our food supplies. There is glyphosate in food products everywhere. Researchers have found glyphosate molecules in everything from chicken, beef, and pork to vegetables, cereals, and even baby food.
The Sneaky Glyphosate in Food and Its Health Risks
To date, there are about 8,000 lawsuits against Monsanto – now a subsidiary of Bayer, over the alleged health risks from exposure to glyphosate. The decade’s long orchestration to downplay the health risks of glyphosate in the food supply is losing its grip. People are beginning to question the painted image of glyphosate as a benign, environment-friendly, and non-toxic herbicide. The truth is unraveling.
- Glyphosate mimics glycine – one of the 21 amino acids that constitute the building blocks of all life forms. Insidiously, glyphosate “pretending” to be a glycine inserts itself in the amino acid chains. As glyphosate takes over the places intended for glycine, this synthetic compound has the ability to disrupt the functioning of the protein and cause genetic mutations.
- Damaged proteins carrying glyphosates stay in the body as residues which build up over time. The accumulation of glyphosate within the body, therefore, causes enzymes to fail. As glyphosate-carrying proteins spread, the body becomes susceptible to a host of chronic diseases. These include neurological (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, Moton Neuron disease) to metabolic diseases and digestive diseases, (diabetes, obesity, adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism) to autoimmune disorders (lupus, mitochondrial disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, celiac disease)
- Exposure to glyphosate increases cancer risk by 41%. A study conducted by the University of Washington upholds the assertion that glyphosate has carcinogenic effects on humans. This study, therefore, corroborates the lawsuit filed by Dewayne Johnson. Johnson got a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis in 2014. The jury sided with Johnson to the tune of $289 million in punitive damages.
- Glyphosate in food is linked to pregnancy problems. Researchers at Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) are looking at the correlation of pregnant mothers’ exposure to glyphosate. They’re looking at unfavorable birth outcomes as well. Their findings indicate that mothers with higher glyphosate levels in their urine show shorter pregnancy length and lower birth rate of their babies.
- Glyphosate is an antibiotic masquerading as an herbicide. Hence, ingesting glyphosate in food upsets the gut microbiota. Glyphosate works by inhibiting the Shikimate Pathway – a series of metabolic steps present in plants, fungi, protozoa, and bacteria, to produce aromatic amino acids (phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan). Advocates claim that glyphosate is not harmful to humans as the Shikimate Pathway does not occur in humans and animals. But the truth is glyphosate in food enters our gut and primarily targets the good bacteria. Toxicity sets in as harmful bacteria and pathogens outnumber the good guys.
Glyphosate in Food Supply: Eliminating It and Claiming the Right to Healthy Food Choices
People are now looking for glyphosate-free food. Also, there are now more and more demands from the consumers to protect themselves against diseases that have become associated with glyphosate in the food supply. The Detox Project is an organization that certifies glyphosate-free food. They are dealing with inquiries from food producers, says founder Henry Rowlands.
The growing popularity of organic food choices stems from the controversy surrounding glyphosate in food products. Organic food that’s glyphosate-free and supports healthy soil way more than conventionally-grown food. While it is impossible to fully avoid glyphosate in food products that find their way to the tables, having organic food options help the system to detoxify and lower the body’s exposure to glyphosate. Consumers can, therefore, now rely on a growing number of stores that sell organic and non-GMO products. Trader Joe’s created a name for itself as a chain offering nutritionally-sound options. Sprouts Farmers Market and Big Bear Natural Foods are health food stores that believe organic food choices should be affordable as well. It also helps that a large-scale health food store such as Whole Foods Market offers a wide array of options to consumers.
Governments and regulating bodies are compelled to look at the real risks of glyphosate in food supply. A number of countries have either restricted or banned the use of glyphosate in food supply productions. These countries include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and Switzerland.
While the attention given to glyphosate has been highly politicized, there is no denying that this compound poses a health risk to the population. Still, more research and studies are needed to eliminate the use of glyphosate in the food supply totally. Fortunately, there is an increasing awareness sweeping across the government, health and food sector – significant steps headed in the right direction.