weed* killing herbicides --- harming people, pets, wildlife & environment

By Dr. Michael W. Fox


The herbicide called Roundup is one of Monsanto corporation’s most profitable, globally marketed products. It contains an organophosphate chemical called glyphosate, plus other ingredients. Other manufacturers also produce similar herbicides with slightly different formulations, all of which, like DDT in the 1950s, are said to be safe when applied in accord with the manufacturer’s instructions.
I recently confronted one municipal applicator in an electric vehicle spraying Roundup along the sidewalks where I live in Golden Valley, Minnesota. He told me that it was safe—“Same stuff as is in your gas tank” and that he had to do it to keep the neighborhood looking nice and to stop weeds from damaging the asphalt and concrete walkways. In an earlier call to the chief of Parks and Recreation, after I had spoken to another municipal employee spraying Roundup around the baseball field and child’s play area, I expressed my concerns about this practice. He assured me that it was really necessary because “We could get sued if a child got injured tripping over a clump of weeds.”

The widespread use of Roundup and other herbicides by municipal  and state authorities, (especially under park and forest management), businesses (notably power companies under their power lines), by private property managers of warehouse lots, shopping malls, apartment complexes, school yards and playgrounds, and by home owners on their driveways and yards, is neither monitored nor regulated.

The agricultural use of Roundup in particular has escalated, especially in Minnesota, where vast acreages of commodity crops are sprayed repeatedly to control weeds around these crops that have been genetically engineered to not be killed by this herbicide. These crops include corn, soybean (fed mainly to livestock and poultry), sugar beet and canola. Millions of acres of cotton genetically engineered to resist Roundup are grown in southern states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently approved the planting of alfalfa, ---a major forage crop for the dairy industry, that is genetically engineered to be Roundup resistant, and has also given the OK for Scotts Miracle-Gro to market Roundup resistant Kentucky blue grass, a popular horse feed and lawn grass that will mean further escalation of home-owner use of Roundup.



* ‘Weed’ is a pejorative term for predominantly indigenous, uncultivated plants recolonizing their original habitats, enhancing biodiversity, improving soil and water quality, controlling run-off, providing food for insects, birds and other wildlife, many being highly nutritious and medicinal.
Exact figures of the amount of this herbicide being used in the U.S. are hard to come by because the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped updating its pesticide use data base in 2008. The EPA estimates that the agricultural market used 180 to 185 million pounds of glyphosate between 2006 and 2007, while the non-agricultural market used 8 to 11 million pounds between 2005 and 2007. Monsanto is not the only manufacturer of glyphosate. China sells glyphosate to Argentina** and other countries at a much lower price, and there are more than one hundred formulations on the market.
Minnesota, the ‘land of 10,000 lakes’, is ostensibly concerned about water quality, and with what the state allows to be put into the Mississippi river, since after all, millions of tax paying citizens drink it, cook and shower with it. But to its credit Minnesota was the first state to report the discovery of frogs with various birth defects. Roundup and similar herbicides are known to be harmful to aquatic life and water quality but the myth endures that humans are somehow immune.

This myth has now been dispelled by a major review by several eminent scientists and academicians, two of whom I know personally, of research studies of the effects of Roundup on various laboratory animals under carefully controlled conditions. ("Roundup and birth defects-Is the public being kept in the dark?" available in www.scribd.com/doc/57277946/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5.) Glyphosate-based herbicides, residues of which are in various foods and beverages, have been shown to cause birth defects in laboratory animal tests. Many widely used agricultural pesticides are endocrine ( hormone)-disruptors causing infertility, abnormal genitalia and feminization, and could play a significant role in the genesis of various cancers. Studies cited in this review link glyphosate and Roundup (which has various additives) with DNA and genetic damage, mutations, cancer, neurological and behavioral changes, lowered serotonin levels, brain tumors, lower sperm counts and blocking of androgen, the male sex hormone. The authors of this review state: “The public--- has been kept in the dark by industry and regulators about the ability of glyphosate and Roundup to cause malformations.In addition, the work of independent scientists who have drawn attention to the herbicide’s teratogenic (birth defect) efects has been ignored, denigrated,or dismissed. These actions on the part of industry and regulators have endangered public health.”

( Endocrine disruptors, many of which have been identified contaminating our food, water, food and water containers and home environments, have been linked to the current epidemics of obesity (metabolic syndrome), diabetes and thyroid disease in the human and their companion animal populations).

It is well known that environmental changes can trigger harmless micro-organisms to mutate, proliferate and even evolve into more harmful varieties (pathogens). Environmental changes associated with the planting of herbicide resistant, genetically modified (GM) corn, soybean, sugar beet, and alfalfa, and with the repeated applications of the herbicide Roundup affecting soil microorganisms, crop nutrient uptake and disease resistance, may have created a new pathogen. According to Dr. Don Huber, Professor Emeritus, Purdue University, this harmful organism, hitherto unknown to science, found in abundance in GM soybean meal, and corn products, is linked to infertility, abortions and other health problems in a wide variety of livestock, and to Sudden Death Syndrome in soy and Goss’ wilt in corn. For details see posting on my website www.drfoxvet.com/info/, and interview with Dr Huber in Acres USA magazine, May 2011.

Prof. Huber has been researching glyphosate for 20 years, and began noticing problems when he saw a consistent increase in “take-all”, a fungal disease of wheat, when glyphosate had been applied in a previous year to control weeds. He found glyphosate reduced manganese in plants, which is essential to many plants’ defense mechanisms against disease and environmental stress. Glyphosate can immobilize plant nutrients such as manganese, copper, potassium iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, so they are no longer nutritionally functional. Basically, glyphosate completely weakens plants with genetically engineered resistance, making them susceptible to soil-borne fungal pathogens and lowering their nutritive value.
Robert Kremer, a microbiologist with the USDA-ARS (US Department of Agriculture- Agricultural Research Service) found differences in bacteria in plant roots and changes in nutrient availability following treatment with Roundup. Glyphosate can have toxic effects on some microorganisms, notably beneficial bacteria like nitrogen-fixing Rhizobia, and can stimulate others, like toxic fungus Fusarium, to germinate spores and colonize roots systems. This may be one reason why manufactured pet foods are frequently recalled because of aflatoxin contamination. He also found that when the soil is full of phosphate (as when livestock manure is used as a fertilizer), glyphosate more readily leaches into ground water (and poison wildlife and human beings).
Herbicides are absorbed by resistant food crops (along with antibiotic ‘markers’ and antibiotics in manure applied as fertilizer) may play a significant role in digestive problems (dysbiosis) and bowel disease in both people and companion animals being fed regular manufactured pet foods.( For details, see M.W.Fox, 2011, Healing Animals & The Vision of One Health. Amazon.com).
Lawn and garden herbicides, which should be banned, are linked to lymphatic and bladder cancer in exposed dogs who have become the modern equivalent of the proverbial canary down the mine shaft, cancer being now their leading cause of death, the high incidence of which is a recognized occupational hazard of farm workers. These agrichemicals may also play a role in honey bee colony collapse, which is becoming a global epidemic that could mean ecological devastation and food shortages since one-third of our food crops need to be pollinated by insects.

The widespread use of herbicides like Roundup and other pesticides is driven more by the culturally conditioned reflexes of an adversarial attitude than simply by the profit motive, with ultimately biocidal consequences. This attitude is under girded by a baffling indifference toward potentially harmful consequences, and by a disturbing readiness to believe that there are none.

I wish that Roundup and other herbicides would be safe for the sake of all involved and all that may be harmed, especially aquatic life, the life in the soil as well as life in the womb and egg. Steering clear of imprecise risk-benefit analyses and debates, often biased by vested interests, I fully recognize the scientific limitations of safety and toxicity determinations, especially when there are other chemical additives in Roundup and other herbicide formulations, when these chemicals are changed due to metabolic processes in organisms, and when there is already a host of  other chemical compounds contaminating the food chain, environment, rain water and human amniotic and other body fluids and tissues.

 Stock holders and other stake holders invested in the herbicide and agrichemical business have as much responsibility to be accountable for the public and environmental health risks and documented harms as do the manufacturers, state and federal regulators and all end-users. The now global use of products such as Roundup is totally unacceptable and all responsible governments should review the scientific evidence that supports this conclusion, and take the long overdue steps to prohibit the cosmetic (domestic), agricultural and other uses of such hazardous substances.

My advice to consumers, parents and pet owners alike, is to avoid all corn, canola, beet sugar and soy-containing consumables unless they are organically certified. All community uses of herbicides and other pesticides need to be confronted especially where their use exposes children and companion animals to unnecessary risk, as well as indigenous wildlife, including aquatic affected by run-off. Garden supply centers should be informed and only permitted to sell less harmful lawn and garden weed control products. Applying the precautionary principle, in the light of considerable scientific evidence of the health risks of this class of chemicals, is common sense after all is said and done.

 **Argentine government scientists, Alejandra Paganelli et al conducted a study, published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology in 2010 ( vol. 23: p 1586-1595) entitled  “Glyphosate-based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates By Impairing Retinoic Acid Signalling”. Malformations in frog and chicken embryos developed at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying. These malformations were reportedly similar to human birth defects found in genetically modified soy-producing regions in Argentina. (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx1001749).
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A new report reviewing 19 studies of mammals fed with commercialized GM soybean and maize (which represent more than 80% of all GMOs grown on a large scale) indicates liver and kidney signs of toxicity in mammals fed on a GM diet. The report by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al is published in Environmental Sciences Europe (2011, 23, 10-20). The full paper is available at: http://www.enveurope.com/content/23/1/10


The author is a veterinarian & writes the syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor. His latest book is Healing Animals and The Vision of One Health, with Amazon.com  His website is www.drfoxvet.com/info/