Rethinking Roundup? Here are some safer alternatives
For gardeners, there’s no escaping the need to control pests and weeds. But how do you do it safely?
On the one hand, the shelves at Home Depot and other hardware stores are stuffed with Roundup, Monsanto’s weed killer. There’s an animated advertisement for the chemical on TV. You can buy it online, no problem.
On the other hand, a jury in Alameda just awarded a couple more than $2 billion in a verdict against Monsanto, ruling that they contracted cancer because of the use of the popular herbicide. In March, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $80 million to Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Sonoma man who claimed Roundup caused his non-Hodgkins lymphoma. More than 13,000 more Roundup lawsuits against Monsanto await adjudication. Four years ago, a UN-sponsored scientific agency declared that Roundup probably causes cancer. On July 7, 2017, California declared Roundup to be cancer-causing. Just recently, researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine found a link between glyphosate — Roundup’s active ingredient — in blood and fatty liver disease.
The German company Bayer, which owns Monsanto, has lost 44 percent of its value since it merged with Monsanto in the summer of 2018, mostly the result of fears that the lawsuits might bankrupt the company. Bayer launched a fierce campaign to convince the public that Roundup is safe, but to little avail, and evidence to the contrary keeps piling up.
There’s more in Roundup than glyphosate. Its “inert ingredients” include a chemical called POE-15. According to a scientific paper published in the journal Toxicology, POE-15 “appears to be the most toxic principle against human cells,” and kills them on contact, while glyphosate “is known to promote endocrine disrupting effects.” The endocrine system controls the body’s production of hormones, messenger compounds that tell the body’s crucial systems what to do.
There’s no escaping Roundup. It’s been found in waterways worldwide, in our grains, in our beer and wines, food supply and even in the rain. It’s the most heavily used agricultural chemical in history. Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of it since 1974. Worldwide 9.4 million tons have been used. This mass spraying has caused nature to fight back by evolving Roundup-resistant weeds. Monsanto fought back by creating genetically modified (GMO) “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans that are resistant to the herbicide, which resulted in much more Roundup being used. It’s a downward spiral that leads to more toxic chemicals and more resistant weeds.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has relaxed its rules on what it considers a safe level of glyphosate. As of now, 50 times more glyphosate is allowed on corn grain than in 1996. The EPA’s “safe level” of glyphosate is 17 times higher than the 1996 level. The EPA has dismissed studies on contamination levels and toxicology done by independent scientists, and instead used studies produced by Monsanto that claim it’s safe.
And still the shelves are packed with Roundup, as well as dozens upon dozens of insecticides and fungicides that have their own set of problems. So what’s a gardener to do?
First, and most important, is to perceive the big picture. Here’s the big picture:
Biodiversity is the key to natural health; that is, a strong web of life filled with myriad creatures that interact with one another in a system of checks and balances. This deters any one creature from multiplying out of control and causing wholesale damage or disease.