Round Up® is the world’s most popular herbicide, used primarily for the control of weeds and grasses. U.S. consumers use nearly a billion pounds of glyphosate in field and lawn applications each year.
Round Up’s main active ingredient is glyphosate, a chemical first synthesized in 1950 by a Swiss chemist. In 1970, glyphosate was independently re-discovered by Monsanto Company chemist John E. Franz and was introduced to the public under the trade name Round Up in 1973.
Monsanto Company is a Fortune 500 company headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, and in addition to manufacturing Round Up, is a leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) agricultural seed. Monsanto employs approximately 21,183 people worldwide in 404 facilities located in 66 countries, of which 10,277 employees are located in 146 facilities in 33 states in the U.S. alone.
It should be noted that a considerable number of former Monsanto employees have held or currently hold high ranking positions at governmental agencies responsible for the oversight of the safety of its products including Round Up but just as alarming, a considerable number of former governmental agency employees have held or currently hold high ranking positions at the Monsanto Company.
Glyphosate works by interfering with the synthesis of the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan, and since 1981, was deemed relatively safe for the consuming public by Monsanto, the EPA, FDA, and USDA; the last review of glyphosate’s safety was conducted by the EPA in 1993. At that time, the EPA considered glyphosate to be non-carcinogenic. It is now believed that both Monsanto and the EPA knew of the link between glyphosate and cancer as long ago as 1980.
In July 2013, the EPA, in the absence of any further study, raised the allowable limits for glyphosate in food, specifically oilseed crops from 20 ppm to 40 ppm; root and tuber vegetables were granted one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits raised from 0.20 ppm to 6.00 ppm.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), is considered the gold standard in carcinogenicity studies and has adopted the following classification system:
Group 1: Definitely carcinogenic to humans
Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans
Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans
Group 3: Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans
Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans
In March 2015, the IARC published their assessment of the carcinogenicity of a number of organophosphate pesticides including glyphosate, and declared that glyphosate is now considered to be a class 2A “probable human carcinogen”. In addition, the IARC stated that genotoxic effects in other mammals were “sufficiently demonstrated” as well in their review of available studies.
Following the release of information published by the IARC, Health Canada has now announced it will update Round Up’s label directions to reduce human and environmental exposure, and the EPA recently announced that regulators may start testing for glyphosate residues on food in the near future.
Recently the Argentinian Federation of Health Professionals (representing 30,000 members) stated: “Glyphosate not only causes cancer. It is also associated with increased spontaneous abortions, birth defects, skin diseases, and respiratory and neurological disease.” In addition, glyphosate is now considered a carcinogen by Denmark’s Working Environment Authority (WEA).