Greenpeace takes on Monsanto over 'pesticides arms race'

| 30th June 2011
Monsanto's 'Roundup Ready'

Monsanto's Roundup is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world (Image: Greenpeace / Alexandra Buxbaum)

Main ingredient of Monsanto's Roundup weed killer is being linked to cancer, birth defects and Parkinson's disease and should be banned, according to campaigners behind new report

The use of the popular weedkiller, 'Roundup', in public parks and on agricultural crops is a danger to public health, according to a new analysis of scientific evidence.

One of the main ingredients of Roundup, as well as several other herbicides, is a chemical known as glyphosate. A review of academic research, conducted by Greenpeace and the anti-GM campaign group GM Freeze, suggests exposure to it can cause cancer, hormonal imbalance, birth defects and neurological illnesses including Parkinson's.

The glyphosate within weedkiller can also be damaging to wildlife and rivers, when it spreads through the soil and into watercourses with run-off.

As the Ecologist reported recently, the pesticide industry and regulators have been accused of repeatedly misleading the public with claims that glyphosate is safe.

In reality, academic studies including one commissioned by one of the main manufacturers Monsanto, showed as long ago as the 1980s that glyphosate caused birth defects in laboratory animals.

Despite more recent evidence of the health risks, including reports of escalating levels of birth defects and cancers in areas of South America where glyphosate is heavily sprayed on crops, the EU Commission followed the US and other countries in approving the use of the chemical as a weedkiller.

The approval has allowed Monsanto to claim that 'regulatory authorities and independent experts around the world agree that glyphosate does not cause adverse reproductive effects…or birth defects.'

Resistance is spreading

The new Greenpeace campaign, backed by the report, is targeting Monsanto in particular because of the spread of its GM crops, genetically engineered to be tolerant to glyphospate. This allows farmers to spray the chemical over the top of the crop, killing almost all weeds without affecting the crop.

The campaign-launch comes as US officials began investigating claims Monsanto provided cash incentives to farmers to use its glyphospate products between 2009 and 2010.

As well as the potential human health and environmental impact of the use of glyphosate, it is also presenting a growing weed-resistance threat.

Far from reducing the cost of weed control for farmers, the heavy use of glyphosate herbicides by farmers is seeing a rise in the number of weeds becoming resistant to the chemical.

According to Greenpeace, resistance to glyphosate has now been confirmed in more than 20 weed species, with over 100 resistant strains identified, covering nearly 6 million hectares, primarily in Argentina, Brazil and the US. It fears Monsanto and other chemical companies want to use even more toxic chemicals to combat the resistance, creating a 'pesticide arms race'.

'Whether we like it or not, we all receive exposure to herbicides: sometimes from aerial spraying, sometimes through chemical residues in our food and sometimes because of chemical run off from agricultural land that pollutes nearby fields, seas or rivers,' Greenpeace sustainable farming campaigner Lasse Bruun, said.

'There are no winners in the war against superweeds - but human health, the environment, farmers and you, the consumer, all the losers.'

Useful links

Herbicide tolerance and GM crops: why the world should be Ready to Round up glyphosate

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The inside story on Monsanto and the glyphosate birth defect data
The pesticide industry and regulators have repeatedly misled the public with claims that glyphosate is safe, says Claire Robinson. As a result, Monsanto's Roundup is used by gardeners and local authorities, in school grounds, and in farmers’ fields
The film that stood up to banana giant Dole over pesticide poisoning (and won)
The documentary Bananas! highlighted plight of Nicaraguan banana plantation workers who brought a legal case in the US against the use of a banned pesticide DBCP by the Dole Food Company. Tom Levitt reports
Killing fields: the true cost of Europe's cheap meat
Cheap meat has become a way of life in much of Europe, but the full price is being paid across Latin America as vast soya plantations and their attendant chemicals lead to poisonings and violence
Revealed: the glyphosate research the GM soy lobby doesn't want you to read
Andres Carrasco's research linking a controversial herbicide with birth defects highlighted the potential health dangers posed by GM crop-spraying in Argentina – and led to violence and intimidation for those behind the study
Behind the Label: Roundup Weedkiller
A weedkiller that kills a lot more than simply weeds? If it’s worse than the poison it’s no cure at all, says Pat thomas

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