When I was a teen, I worked a couple summers for a neighboring dairy farm family. Most of my work centered on the hay harvest, but cleaning calf pens and digging out (by hand) a burst water pipe that was five feet underground also made the list. My dad had me raking hay when I was six years old so tractors and I were old friends. I did a lot of the mowing for the neighbor family but ended up behind the baler on the hay wagon most days. They put up between five and six thousand square bales each year. (No big round balers then.) In addition, they planted oats for their chickens and field corn for silage for the milking cows. Weeds were always a problem in the corn as they said it made the silage “sour.” But then one day they told me they had a new weapon against the weeds: Glyphosate, otherwise known as Roundup, sold by Monsanto Corporation.
They couldn’t have been happier with the results. Within a few hours after application the lamb’s quarters and pigweed were wilting down, but the corn was unaffected. I wondered at the time how safe it was when it was clearly so toxic to plants. They said that’s the beauty of this stuff. You can wash your hands with it. Perfectly safe.
The Roundup used today is not the same as the Roundup in the ‘60s. It is much more powerful. You see, nature pushed back against my neighbor’s Roundup with her evolutionary ways. Very slowly, some weeds adapted (evolved), because a very small percentage had a bit more resistance to the chemical (a natural variation within the species). Certain “weeds” like milkweed (a plant vital to the survival of Monarch butterflies), and others became so resistant that Monsanto had to gradually increase Roundup’s potency.
This worked for a while but then there was a “catch.” The new Roundup was so powerful it began to kill or stunt the crops (i.e. corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, etc.) it was designed to help. The application of Roundup had inadvertently gradually produced “super weeds.” (In the same general way the overuse of antibiotics in the human population has led to “resistant” strains of bacteria. There are now types of bacteria that antibiotics cannot kill.)
Monsanto has made billions of dollars off sales of Roundup and they were not about to let that cash cow go. They developed a strategy for protecting the corn and other crops from the harsher version of Roundup. It is called Genetic Engineering. The main reason for GMO crops (for human as well as animal food) is to protect them from the effects of the pesticide Roundup. (GMO are plants or animals that cannot exist in nature because they contain artificially combined DNA from two or more different species. To protect from insects, the seeds are treated with mainly systemic insecticides before planting. It is this pesticide (the neonicotinoids) that are contributing to honeybee and wild pollinator insect losses.)
What about the safety question? Can we wash our hands in Roundup? I don’t believe even Monsanto would recommend that. But numerous research groups and organizations have now publically stated there is a “high” probability continued exposure to Roundup triggers cancer in some humans. Several families that lost loved ones that had jobs that brought them into frequent contact with the chemical are currently suing Monsanto.
The assumption is the chemical acts like a “trigger” for turning on precancerous cells. How much does it take? Every person that ate something with potatoes, corn, wheat, oils of different kinds, in essence just about everyone, also ate some Roundup today. It is sprayed on potato plants and grains before harvest, not to kill weeds, but to kill the grains and potatoes to aid in harvesting. Is that enough to cause cancer? Assuming it is not is a gamble we all are taking.
A few decades ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put out a bulletin warning of possible unhealthy effects of Roundup. That statement was withdrawn under heavy pressure from chemical corporations and elected officials from “farm country.” Now, with all the new incriminating information from research groups in the U.S. and Europe, the EPA is again set to review the health hazards of Roundup.
A prediction: Despite the evidence, that decision is not going to come down on the side of human health, but on the side of Monsanto and agribusiness. The blame cannot go entirely on the current administration, which has a clear corporate bias. Past administrations have sidestepped the “Roundup question” as well. So the only way to ensure pesticide free food is to buy organic or grow your own.
- By Terry Mejdrich