It is the herbicide most used by agriculture on the planet. A broad-spectrum herbicide, it kills both annual broad leaf weeds and grasses. It is the active ingredient in Round Up, the most widely recognized brand of garden herbicide. It is also the herbicide used on crops that are genetically engineered (GE) to be immune to its effects. Most no-till grain and soy bean farms are heavily dependent on glyphosate to control weeds. Several weed species are increasingly resistant to glyphosate and its effectiveness is diminishing. In response, agrochemical and seed companies are now switching to new families of GE seeds and herbicide, particularly dicamba tolerant seeds. In 2017, dicamba hit the news because Monsanto and BASF prematurely released the compound into the market. Many farmers in at least ten states did not realize their cotton and soy fields had been planted with seeds not engineered to be dicamba tolerant. Thousands of acres have been harmed and millions of dollars in damages have resulted. Lawsuits continue.
Debate rages over the toxicity of the glyphosate. The companies producing it and its committed users contend it is safe, citing the US EPA’s 2017 draft assessment. Critics and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer believe it is, at minimum, a probable cause of cancer in humans. A study by the University of Washington released in February 2019 concludes that those exposed to glyphosate increase their risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by 41%. Over 1000 people have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers, including Bayer Crop Science, which purchased Monsanto in 2017 (the most infamous maker of glyphosate and Round Up). Three jury trials in 2019 have found manufacturers liable. Awarded damages now exceed $3 billion. Consequently, several nations, and increasing numbers of cities, counties, companies and schools are banning use of glyphosate.
We believe the precautionary principle should be applied to glyphosate and all toxic compounds used in agriculture. If a product is potentially a cause for cancer or other serious health impacts, it should be removed from the market. If debates rage over toxicity, controversial compounds should be prohibited from use until proven safe. Currently in the US, policy allows use before proof.