Should you be scared of Glyphosate?

There is a lot of concern about glyphosate recently with some landmark court cases in the USA where some people have been award hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for cancer that supposedly resulted from exposure.

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is a chemical weed killer that is used in huge quantities by agriculture. It is generally applied by spraying – either by tractor or aeroplane. It is a systemic chemical that is absorbed by the plant and then interferes with the plants’ ability to use energy.

Is it toxic?

Maybe. Some US courts have been convinced that it causes cancer in humans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says it is probably carcinogenic – but they also say that about meat. I don’t really believe they are competent enough to make that claim.

Personally, I would not ingest it.

Exposure methods

I have seen a number of studies that show that glyphosate is not well absorbed through the skin and thus is probably not a concern for people who do not have occupational exposure to the chemical. Thus, I would not be too worried about council spaying weeds along the roads around your home.

Taking glyphosate in through the mouth or lungs is another matter. This sort of exposure would be of concern and where I think the real problem is. Glyphosate is routinely sprayed on cereals, grain crops and root vegetables. As mentioned earlier, it is a system chemical and will be present in all parts of the plant – even the bits you would normally eat (fruits, seeds etc). Most modern processed foods (cereals, pasta, bread, potatoes, seed oils etc) will contain glyphosate. Glyphosate has even been found in honey and the water supply.

Safe levels?

The chemical industry has successfully lobbied to have the ‘safe limit’ for glyphosate in food increased by more than a hundred fold from when it was first introduced. They needed to do this to support the use of the product directly on food crops, including their genetically modified grains.

So?

I think the verdict is still out on how bad it is for humans and whether there is a safe level. Personally I would not trust the advice of chemical company lawyers or the government. I would recommend avoiding ingestion of contaminated foods where-ever possible. That means avoiding anything made from grains (including seed oils) and tubers such as potatoes. Avoid honey unless you know it comes from an area well away from spraying.