What Is Glyphosate And Is It Bad For Your Health?
Glyphosate is the most widely sprayed herbicide in the world—and I’m pretty sure it killed my dog.
For over two decades, the backyard of the home that I grew up in was treated by a company that (I just recently learned) used glyphosate as well as other chemicals to control weeds and make the grass look like an Irish emerald green landscape. Poker would sometimes eat the chemically-treated grass.
I can’t prove that glyphosate killed Poker, my beloved, mellow sheepdog who was, and pardon the cliche, my best friend, from 5th grade until the summer before my junior year of college.
Maybe Poker’s demise was attributable to the Doritos and other junk food that I used to feed him straight from my mouth. (I’d dangle half the chip from my lips. Poker would jump up with his two front legs, resting the paws on my thighs, while delicately chomping the other half of the snack.)
Now that I think about it all these years later—27 to be exact since Poker died—Doritos, Cheerios and lots of other foods I ate during my childhood, when I was blissfully ignorant of the link between diet and health, contains glyphosate residue.
Poker died in 1993, from lymph cancer. He was only 9 years old. (Dying at 63 in dog years, just like human years is far too young.)
In recent years, over 125,000 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto over the dissolved brandname’s best-selling glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup Weed Killer. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits, typically those who used glyphosate for many years for agricultural uses (think: landscapers, groundskeepers, farmers and avid gardeners), allege that glyphosate caused them to develop a rare form of cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).
Poker died from cancer of the lymph nodes. Roundup plaintiffs have been afflicted by NHL, a cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. See the connection? This revelation has only recently occurred to me.
Should I contact a law firm that’s involved in class-action Roundup litigation? Of course not. Even if I were able to prove Monsanto’s culpability in Poker’s death, my damage award would likely buy me a bag of Doritos.
The intention of this article is to educate those who don’t know much about what glyphosate is and why it may be harmful to human (and canine) health….
What is Glyphosate?
It’s a chemical compound (N-phosphonomethyl-glycine.) Out of all the herbicides used around the world, roughly 25 percent of them contain glyphosate as the main active ingredient. It kills weeds and grasses that vy for both sunlight and nutrients with food crops, by blocking an essential enzyme that’s crucial for plant growth.
In 1996, Monsanto introduced so-called Roundup Ready soybeans. These genetically-modified beans were engineered to resist glyphosate. Monsanto, then, created both the herbicide and the seeds that are resistant to the herbicide. Since Monsanto (now Bayer) owns the patent for Roundup ready seeds, farmers who don’t grow produce organically have to pay for the GMO seeds every year in addition to the herbicide. (Increasingly, just like antibiotic resistance, weeds are becoming more resistant to glyphosate, necessitating the use of even more of the chemical and its auxiliary toxic surfactants.)
The year that Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybeans, glyphosate accounted for under 4% of the total volume of herbicidal active ingredients applied in agriculture in the U.S. Again, worldwide, the figure today is 25%. According to 2019 statistics by the EPA, which doesn’t consider glyphosate to be a human carcinogen, about 280 million pounds of glyphosate are applied to an average of 298 million acres of crop land annually.
What Foods Contain Glyphosate?
It’s far easier to compile a list of foods that don’t contain glyphosate. That’s because the majority of processed food is produced using GMO crops. Nearly every food that comes in a package is derived from either corn, soy, or wheat. In addition, barley and oats are notoriously-high in glyphosate residue. In fact, the Honey Nut Cheerios that fueled me for breakfast during childhood (and ultimately caused me to have a sugar crash before lunch) contains the highest amount of glyphosate residue.
The Center for Food Safety reveals that up to 92% of U.S. corn is GMO as is 94% of both soybeans and cotton. (Cottonseed oil is often used in the processing of packaged foods.)
Does Organic Food Contain Glyphosate?
Some organic foods do contain residual amounts. The reason why is that, say there’s an organic farm adjacent to a farm that uses synthetic pesticides. The aerosols from the toxic pesticide can drift to the organic farm. But in general, organic foods contain lower levels of glyphosate residue.
Is Glyphosate Harmful To Health?
The herbicide is likely much more toxic for health in industrial and agricultural applications than it is from food exposure. But considering how pervasive glyphosate is in the U.S. food supply, it’s difficult to say with certainty how it affects each person individually.
Are you familiar with the phrase and concept, “death by a thousand paper cuts?” It implies that one little nick on your finger won’t kill you but a 1,000 might. When one factors the absurd amount of synthetic chemicals that we are exposed to in our food supply and elsewhere in the environment, we are all vulnerable to developing ill health at the hands of 1,000 toxic paper cuts.
In 2012, a French researcher published a study, which showed that rats fed on a diet containing Roundup Ready corn, or given water containing Roundup, at levels permitted in drinking water and GMO crops in the U.S., suffered severe liver and kidney damage. Other independent studies have demonstrated the health hazard posed by glyphosate.
The Health Risks of Glyphosate Buried For Years
Not surprisingly, Monsanto tried to suppress the potential risk of glyphosate for years, “continuously [seeking] to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions,” wrote the judge who ruled in the first ever Roundup Weed Killer trial.
Glyphosate On Trial
In that trial, held in 2018, roughly around the same time Monsanto was acquired by Bayer for $62 billion, the jury sided with the plaintiff, a former school groundskeeper from the Bay Area, named Dwayne “Lee” Johnson.
Johnson, who is terminally ill with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, claims that in addition to using Roundup for years, he once accidentally spilled the herbicide on his body while working on school grounds, and believes that’s why he developed NHL. Johnson was initially awarded $289 million. His award has since been twice reduced to $20.4 million. To date, only two other Roundup cases out of the 125,000 cases filed or expected to be filed have gone to court. Plaintiffs in both trials were victorious, including that of Edwin Hardeman, who successfully sued Monsanto in the first ever Round federal trial. Hardeman was initially awarded $80 million; his award now stands at $50 million.
Bayer has appealed all three trials. The California Supreme Court recently refused Bayer’s request to review the lower court ruling in Johnson’s trial.
In June, Bayer announced plans to settle approximately 90,000 of the 125,000 lawsuits filed against the company for approximately $10 billion. This would be the largest settlement in U.S. history by a pharmaceutical company. To date, Bayer has settled approximately 45,000 of the claims.
Glyphosate: Final Word
It may be too late for Poker to receive justice, but if knowing that this information can improve the health of one consumer, his canine martyrdom will not have been in vain.
Whether or not glyphosate is a health risk to humans, animals and the environment remains a hotly contested issue. But to be on the safe side, choose organic, non-GMO superfoods.
Judd Handler is the director of content for BoKU Superfood, and a graduate of the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition program.