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Environmental connections to public health >>

New Doubts About Roundup

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

By Elaine Shannon

As the East Coast monsoon season slogs on, there's carnage in the garden. The dandelions and plantains are elbowing the grass aside, and the morning glory vines are garrotting the daylilies. Over at Strosnider's Hardware, that bottle of Roundup is looking pretty fetching.

Mine is not an original thought. Glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup and many other broadleaf weedkillers, is one of the most popular and widely used herbicides in the U.S. Americans use about 100 million pounds of glyphosate annually, to kill weeds in fields of "Roundup-ready" soybeans and corn, on lawns, along highway rights-of-way, around oil tanks and on lawns. For decades, the U.S. State Department has financed the use of Glyphosate to kill hardy coca plants in the Andes.

The U.S. government has treated the Roundup and other Glyphosate-based herbicides as relatively safe. "Glyphosate is strongly adsorbed to soil, with little potential for leaching to ground water," the Environmental Protection Agency says on its website. "Microbes in the soil readily and completely degrade it even under low temperature conditions. It tends to adhere to sediments when released to water. Glyphosate does not tend to accumulate in aquatic life."

But a recent report in Environmental Health News raises new questions about Roundup's safety. EHN highlights a new study by University of Caen scientists Nora Benachour and Gilles-Eric Séralini that shows that Roundup kills human cells, even when diluted "far below agricultural recommendations and [at an amount that] corresponds to low levels of residues in food or feed."

There's a twist: the culprit in the Caen study is not Glyphosate but so-called inert ingredients. "Astonishingly," the study says, "the supposed inert product POEA (polyethoxylated tallowamine) is the most potent one."

Benachour and Séralini, who is also an outspoken critic of genetically modified food crops, conclude that mixing Glyphosate with POEA, a detergent that helps Glyphosate penetrate a plant's skin, creates a more poisonous product than its component parts.

"This work clearly confirms that the adjuvants [ingredients that enhance a weed-killer's effects] in Roundup formulations are not inert," the scientists write. Gylphosate-based herbicides now on the market , they say, "could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R[oundup] formulation-treated crops. "

This assertion is sure to stir debate and calls for much more research. I'm for both.

Meantime, I'm learning to see chickweed, clover, purslane and such as a nice mottled patchwork. And in the case of dandelions, lunch.

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