Tag Archives: glyphosate

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome ‘at safe levels’, study claims

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Controversy has raged around glyphosate since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

However, US and European regulators subsequently deemed it acceptable for use, a move campaigners condemned because of regulators’ use of secret industry papers and experts with alleged ties to Monsanto.

The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $ 60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”

“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.”

In 2017, the Ramazinni Institute was criticised by members of the US Congress, which has provided it with funding. US congress members have also probed funding for the IARC.

The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University and the Italian National Health Institute observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.

Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.

The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes to reproductive health.

“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”

The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome ‘at safe levels’, study claims

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Controversy has raged around glyphosate since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

However, US and European regulators subsequently deemed it acceptable for use, a move campaigners condemned because of regulators’ use of secret industry papers and experts with alleged ties to Monsanto.

The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $ 60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”

“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.”

In 2017, the Ramazinni Institute was criticised by members of the US Congress, which has provided it with funding. US congress members have also probed funding for the IARC.

The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University and the Italian National Health Institute observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.

Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.

The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes to reproductive health.

“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”

The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.

EU on brink of historic decision on pervasive glyphosate weedkiller

A pivotal EU vote this week could revoke the licence for the most widely used herbicide in human history, with fateful consequences for global agriculture and its regulation.

Glyphosate is a weedkiller so pervasive that its residues were recently found in 45% of Europe’s topsoil – and in the urine of three quarters of Germans tested, at five times the legal limit for drinking water.

Since 1974, almost enough of the enzyme-blocking herbicide has been sprayed to cover every cultivable acre of the planet. Its residues have been found in biscuits, crackers, crisps, breakfast cereals and in 60% of breads sold in the UK.

But environmentalists claim that glyphosate is so non-selective that it can even kill large trees and is destructive to wild and semi-natural habitats, and to biodiversity.

The CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, Patrick Holden, has said that a ban “could be the beginning of the end of herbicide use in agriculture as we know it, leading to a new chapter of innovation and diversity”.

But industry officials warn of farmers in open revolt, environmental degradation and crops rotting in the fields if glyphosate is banned.

Alarm at glyphosate’s ubiquity has grown since a 2015 study by the World Health Organisation’s IARC cancer agency found that it was “probably carcinogenic to humans”. More than a million people have petitioned Brussels for a moratorium.

On Tuesday, MEPs will vote on a ban of the chemical by 2020 in a signal to the EU’s deadlocked expert committee, which is due to vote on a new lease the next day.

Anca Paduraru, an EC spokeswoman, said that a decision was needed before 15 December or “for sure the European commission will be taken to court by Monsanto and other industry and agricultural trade representatives for failing to act. We have received letters from Monsanto and others saying this.”


Industry officials warn of farmers in revolt, environmental degradation and crops rotting in the fields if glyphosate is banned

France is resisting a new 10-year licence. Spain is in favour. Germany is in coalition talks and likely to abstain. The UK would normally push for a new lease of the licence but is less engaged due to Brexit. There may not be a qualified majority for any outcome.

A mooted French phase-out of glyphosate was “not realistic”, Paduraru said, although a shorter authorisation might be possible.

Several famers’ associations have threatened lawsuits if the weedkiller is not given a new licence, while the NFU has warned it would entirely “change the way we farm”.

Monsanto’s RoundUp


Some research indicates that the surfactants mixed with glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup may increase the pesticide’s toxicity by a factor of up to 100. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Glyphosate is now so widely used in Europe that any ban would have radical consequences. Most herbicides sold in the UK are glyphosate-based and it is integral to the GM industry. The broad spectrum weedkiller makes up a quarter of global herbicide sales. It is mostly used on maize, cotton, soya bean, oilseed and sugar beet crops genetically engineered to resist it.

Industry voices say that the no-tillage system encouraged by glyphosate reduces soil emissions and protects against more environmentally damaging alternative herbicides. Its desiccant qualities are highly convenient for farmers.

A spokesman for the European Crop Protection Agency said: “The longer a crop remains in the ground to dry, the more chance there is that it is exposed to rain and wind and rots.”

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for corporate strategy, forecast “uproar in the agricultural community” and “a whole host of detrimental effects to crops in the fields” if glyphosate were phased out.

“You would see increased costs for farming and decreased productivity, increased greenhouse gas emissions, loss of topsoil, loss of moisture,” he said. “There would be some significant reaction by farmers through Europe. They would be very upset that a very effective and safe tool had been taken out of their hands.”

Renewal, though, would stoke fears among environmentalists of another decade of increasing toxic chemical use, threatening environmental safety, entrenched regulatory capture and public health. Monsanto insists Roundup is safe to use and points to various studies by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other national agencies that have deemed the product safe.

Jack and Teri McCall, centre, with their family in1982.


Jack and Teri McCall, centre, with their family in1982. Jack, a farmer, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 after extended glyphosate use. Photograph: Courtesy of Avaaz

In a Brussels hotel room, Teri McCall, in her new life as a campaigner, has come to lobby against renewal of the licence as she has no doubt that glyphosate causes cancer. After her late-husband, Jack, contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) in 2015 she became one of 500 US plaintiffs suing Monsanto, claiming that exposure to its Roundup brand was responsible – a claim Monsanto denies.

“Jack was a farmer since 1975,” says McCall. “For 40 years he used Roundup to keep the weeds down around his newly planted trees. He must have sprayed thousands of gallons of it. He believed it was safe.”

Jack did not smoke or drink, exercised regularly and had no family history of cancer. After lumps appeared on his neck in July 2015, he was diagnosed with NHL aged 69.

“It was an astonishingly swift illness,” McCall says. “I had no idea I was going to lose him. He just kept getting sicker and sicker.” On Christmas day in 2015, the family turned off his life support machine.

Teri McCall with husband Jack


After her husband Jack’s death, Teri McCall began lobbying against the renewal of the glyphosate licence. Photograph: Courtesy of Avaaz

Jack’s six-year-old dog Duke also died from the same type of cancer, McCall says. “He was a beautiful black labrador, the most gorgeous dog. He followed Jack around when he was spraying and was also exposed to a lot of Roundup.”

However, Baskut Tuncak, the UNHCR’s special rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, says there are “serious doubts” about glyphosate’s carcinogenicity, while its regulation evinces “a conflict of interest between politics and the pesticide industry”.

“The chemical industry’s oligopoly has enormous power,” he said. “The pesticide industry has prevented reforms and has blocked the introduction of restrictions on the use of such products in various countries and globally.”

While the EPA has judged glyphosate safe for public use, its methodology was challenged by several of its own scientific advisers last December. They noted an increased NHL risk of between 27-50% when epidemiological data that the EPA had disregarded was considered, sparking criticism of the agency.

Numerous non-industry studies linking glyphosate exposure to tumour development have been ignored by the EPA and other regulators in favour of secret industry reports, conservationists say.

Glyphosate is also tested by regulators in isolation, even though some research indicates that the surfactants it is mixed with in Roundup may increase its toxicity by a factor of up to 100.

The copy and pasting of Monsanto studies into official reports by the European food safety authority (Efsa) has only added to campaigners’ concerns over revelations in the Monsanto papers, unsealed documents released in the US NHL lawsuit.

On her deathbed, an award-winning EPA scientist, Marion Copley, wrote that the original findings of an EPA glyphosate review in 1983 made it “essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer”.

The question for many farmers is what could take its place. Glyphosate has reduced the need for more toxic alternative herbicides and also for deep tillage – or ploughing – which can be highly damaging to soil fertility.

But its use has also been associated with an increase in farm size and monoculture systems. Environmentalists say that glyphosate is congruous with continuous arable cropping and an acceleration of the “pesticide treadmill”.

Any benefits from a glyphosate ban would come too late for farmers such as Johnny Bob Barton, another non-smoker diagnosed with NHL after 40 years of manually spraying diluted Roundup, on his family farm.

“We were farming a thousand acres of crops and we’d spray using a hose. By the end of the day, you would be saturated down to your pants, boots and socks,” he said. “I never had a choice to say no to this product. There was no warning. Now as a father I have to live with the fact that I exposed my sons to the same thing.”

Monsanto, though, fiercely defends the safety of its product and points to the findings of several regulatory agencies, which dispute the IARC findings.

a tractor sprays a field


Farmers say glyphosate has reduced the need for deep ploughing which can be highly damaging to soil fertility. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

“Glyphosate is the safest herbicide that has ever been invented,” Partridge said. “While my heart goes out to those suffering from cancer, there is no medical or scientific evidence whatsoever that links the exposure of glyphosate to cancer.”

A report by Pesticide Action Network last week linked the broad spectrum herbicide to dramatic declines in earthworm populations and damaging soil microbial communities. The paper said its use also destroyed food sources for pollinators, and made crops more vulnerable to pathogens and disease.

Dispensing with it would require “a significant redesign of our farming systems”, according to the sustainable food trust, which supports such a move.

Shallow tilling at soil depths limited to 25cm has been shown to reduce weed density and improve long-term soil quality and biodiversity in some studies. Combined with greater crop diversity and rotation, crop rollers, and the use of green manure to raise nitrogen levels, conservationists say that crop yields, soil fertility and carbon storage could all be kept at levels close to today’s.

One firm hoping to benefit from any glyphosate ban is Weedingtech, whose foam and hot water weed treatment is already being used by half of the UK’s water companies and several glyphosate-free councils, including Glastonbury, Hammersmith and Fulham, Southwark and Lewes.

Leo de Montaignac, the firm’s CEO, says the estimated £940m cost to British farmers of a glyphosate ban should be weighed against the substantially higher cost of litigation and environmental and public health damage which may result from herbicide use.

“Companies like ours are already optimising our technology for use in the agricultural sector and we aim to have a production machine for it available before the end of next year,” De Montaignac says.

“There is a huge amount of scaremongering which says that viable alternatives are not available and it is simply not true.”

No cancer risk to using glyphosate weedkiller, says EU watchdog

A controversial chemical used in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller has been judged safe for public use by the European Chemical Agency (Echa).

Glyphosate has been the subject of a relicensing battle which split governments, regulators and scientists, with one arm of the World Health Organisation linking the substance to cancer, while another denied any risk.

Echa was asked to assess its toxicity after EU countries failed to agree on a reauthorisation for the best-selling herbicide last summer, despite a positive recommendation from the European Food Safety Authority.

Today, the agency decided that “the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction”.

“This conclusion was based both on the human evidence and the weight of the evidence of all the animal studies reviewed,” Tim Bowmer, the chairman of Echa’s Committee for Risk Assessment, said in an online briefing.

A classification that glyphosate causes serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life will remain in place. The controversy over its health and environmental effects though, looks set to rumble on.

The new Echa opinion now faces an internal check before it is submitted to the European commission which will restart EU discussions so that a final decision can be reached by the end of the year.

“This is not the end of the process,” a commission spokesperson said.

The Echa team responsible for the study was itself accused of conflicts of interests by Greenpeace, as several of its members had either undertaken consultancy work for chemical firms, or worked for institutes that had.

Greenpeace EU’s food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, said: “Echa has gone to great lengths to sweep all evidence that glyphosate can cause cancer under the carpet. The data vastly exceeds what’s legally necessary for the EU to ban glyphosate, but Echa has looked the other way.”

Industry groups heartily welcomed the assessment. “Science prevailed,” said Graeme Taylor, of the European Crop Protection Agency. “Glyphosate is not carcinogenic. We expect the European commission to move swiftly with the registration process for the substance in the EU and grant a 15-year approval.”

Just hours before today’s ruling was announced, unsealed documents in a long-running US federal suit by non-Hodgkins lymphoma sufferers raised new questions about Monsanto’s relations with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulators.

These suggested that the US agriculture giant was given a heads up by Jess Rowland, an EPA deputy division director, about an International Agency for Research on Cancer report linking glyphosate to cancer, allowing it to mount a pre-publication PR offensive. Rowland also allegedly told a Monsanto executive that he would try to prevent a separate government probe of glyphosate, saying: “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.”

In a statement in the New York Times, Monsanto said: “Glyphosate is not a carcinogen.” Monsanto also rebutted criticisms concerning the academic research it underwrites.

Other documents revealed in the US suit include an extraordinary letter from Marion Copley, an award-winning EPA scientist, who said it was “essentially certain” that glyphosate caused cancer.

Copley, who was herself dying of cancer, made several conflicts of interests allegations.

“I have cancer and I don’t want these serious issues in HED [health effects division] to go unaddressed before I go to my grave,” she wrote in her valedictory letter. “I have done my duty.”

Almost half a million people have signed a petition, started in February, calling for a European ban on glyphosate, regulatory reform and mandatory targets for reducing pesticides use.

If the number of signatories reaches a million, the European commission will have to consider a legislative proposal under its citizen initiative rules.