Why is Roundup Still Being Sold?
Your contribution will benefit Friends of the Earth.
Thanks for your interest in Friends of the Earth. You can find information about us and get in touch the following ways:
Roundup is a weedkiller that performs its intended job, but at a cost to those who spray it, pollinators, and the planet.
The popular herbicide that lines the shelves of home improvement stores has been sprayed on lawns and used in agriculture since 1974. But the dangers of Roundup are significant. Farmers, landscapers, and home gardeners have filed claims against the company that makes it, Bayer-Monsanto, stating that the main ingredient, glyphosate, caused them to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other cancers. But even still, glyphosate won’t be pulled from shelves until 2023, and then it will only be pulled for residential applications. It will still be widely used in agriculture and will continue to be found in our food supply while simultaneously harming farmers.
Who Makes Roundup?
Roundup was developed in 1974 by Monsanto. In 1996, Monsanto began to sell genetically modified soybean seeds to farmers and soon after began selling GMO corn. These Roundup Ready GMO crops were designed to be tolerant to the effects of Roundup, meaning that farmers could treat their entire fields with the chemical without the risk of losing their crops to the chemical mixture. It made the use of Roundup a logical decision for farmers because it simplified dealing with weeds. In the decades that followed, glyphosate became the most widely used agricultural chemical in the world.
In July 2018, Bayer acquired Monsanto Company for $63 billion, thus acquiring Roundup and its entire product line along with it.
Roundup Active Ingredient
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. It is utilized by farmers, farmworkers, gardeners, groundskeepers, and landscapers to kill weeds in farm fields and lawns. Monsanto — and now Bayer — have long marketed glyphosate as safe for humans and animals, but research pointed to its carcinogenic potential as early as the 1980s. Studies and assessments have led to the truth: glyphosate is toxic.
Why is Roundup Bad?
The technology of GMO Roundup-tolerant crops began when Monsanto introduced GMO seeds to farmers. The crops that are now available as Roundup Ready are soy, corn, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and canola. This seemed to be a breakthrough in dealing with weeds — but this breakthrough came at a cost.
Glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup began being utilized at increasingly high levels year after year. The increase in use of glyphosate in the environment caused weeds to develop resistance to the chemical, becoming “superweeds.” This meant that farmers had to further increase the amount of herbicides utilized, which resulted in even more toxic chemicals like dicamba and 2,4-D being sprayed across the country. Pesticide companies have since introduced GMO crops that are tolerant to multiple different herbicides, not just Roundup.
Roundup and Cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a world-renowned cancer research center, determined that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen in 2015. They based this finding on decades of research. For example, one study found that animals that were exposed to glyphosate had organ tumors. Other research found that farmers who utilized Roundup had a higher likelihood of suffering from various forms of cancer.
Not long thereafter, in August 2018, a California Superior Court jury found that Bayer-Monsanto’s Roundup was liable for a former school groundskeeper’s terminal cancer. The jury found that Monsanto had failed to warn the groundskeeper of the risks of Roundup use, including the risk of cancer.
In 2019, a U.S. District Court jury found that Monsanto’s Roundup also caused a Santa Rosa resident’s cancer, and another California Superior Court found that the company was responsible for a couple’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Since then, Bayer-Monsanto has faced over 125,000 claims that Roundup caused farmers, gardeners, and landscapers to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers. The company has paid over $10 billion to settle over 100,000 of the claims out of court and made the decision to phase out the sale of glyphosate-based products to homeowners starting in 2023. It can take up to 15 years after exposure to Roundup for its impacts on human health to be detected. That means that Bayer may still face litigation over a decade after it pulls glyphosate from the residential market.
Bayer’s decision to stop selling glyphosate to consumers appears to be an attempt to manage the litigation risk of the chemical, not to protect people’s health. What replaces glyphosate on store shelves may not be any safer for human exposure.
Glyphosate will continue to be used in vast quantities in agriculture because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency goes against IARC’s cancer determination and claims that “there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label.” But we know the truth.
Roundup, Bees and Butterflies
The damage that Roundup causes does not end with people. It also threatens bees. Glyphosate is only intended to kill plants, but it’s harming vital pollinators. Glyphosate destroys helpful gut bacteria that keeps bees healthy. It interferes with their digestive system, making them susceptible to dangerous diseases.
On top of that, Roundup is formulated with other ingredients that can cause bees to suffocate on contact.
And Roundup is also a key driver in the disappearance of monarch butterflies. Milkweed is the only food source for young monarch caterpillars; without this vital plant, monarchs cannot survive. But over the last two decades, 850 MILLION milkweed plants have VANISHED along with at least 90% of the North American monarch population. The ubiquitous use of Roundup Ready corn and soy along the monarch’s migration route had led to skyrocketing use of glyphosate, which kills milkweed.
Over a dozen countries and many local jurisdictions have banned the use of glyphosate. Others have restricted its use. In the United States, the chemical has not ben banned at the federal level, even though the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” As we mentioned above, the EPA maintains that glyphosate is not a risk to public health even though many studies have demonstrated harm.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Roundup to use on your lawn, the best approach is through organic means. There are options that can help you eliminate weeds without having to use dangerous chemicals. Here are a few to consider:
- Look for OMRI approved when you shop for herbicides
Consumers seeking safer alternatives at home and garden stores can look for the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) label. OMRI is an independent agency that reviews products against the federal organic standards, so consumers can trust that OMRI-approved means that a product is compatible with the National Organic Standards and is a safe alternative. The term organic is backed by a robust set of criteria governed by federal law under the National Organic Program at the United States Department of Agriculture.
- Use safe substances like lemon juice, vinegar, and essential oils.
- Vinegar: Horticultural or industrial vinegar has a high acetic acid content that is powerful enough to remove weeds without the risks that come with toxic chemicals like glyphosate.
- Essential Oils: Citronella, pine, peppermint, and other essential oils can help control weeds, but use these with caution as some essential oils are toxic to dogs and cats.
Choose Organic Food to Avoid Roundup
Most of us have glyphosate in our bodies. Glyphosate was found in more than 80% of the children and adults tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. One way to decrease your exposure is to choose organic foods when you’re able to. A peer-reviewed study by Friends of the Earth found that levels of glyphosate dropped 71% in people’s bodies after just one week on an organic diet.