Welcome to Review 548, which covers glyphosate, dicamba, and 2,4-D, all of which are hugely controversial and all of which are being used more than ever with the help of GMO crops. As well as covering the latest scientific studies, the latest bans, and the lawsuits that these toxic herbicides are generating, we also look at the problems with pesticides in general. And don’t miss our final section on going pesticide free, which shows how products like Roundup aren’t needed, even for problems as severe as toxic invasive weeds.
New Brunswick MP Jenica Atwin and documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal are calling on Parliament to ban the use of glyphosate, Canada’s most widely used weedkiller. Atwin presented a petition – signed by more than 18,000 Canadians and backed by numerous environmental organisations – to her parliamentary colleagues. “There is an alarming and growing body of independent scientific research proving glyphosate’s harm to humans and all other life that Canada’s regulator, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, is ignoring,” says Baichwal, whose CBC documentary, Into the Weeds: Dewayne Lee Johnson vs. Monsanto Company, investigated the damaging and systemic impacts of glyphosate. Author Margaret Atwood writes about glyphosate and the work of Baichwal here.
Quebec City is preparing to ban glyphosate-based pesticides, becoming the third city in Quebec to ban their sale. “This action is part of the city’s commitment to preserving biodiversity and providing residents with healthy, sustainable living environments,” explained the mayor's office. Under the proposed legislation, the sale of glyphosate for domestic use will be banned in Quebec City from 2024.
46 Belgian environmental, agricultural, health organisations and health insurance funds want a ban on glyphosate
A broad coalition of over 40 Belgian organisations, which even includes the United Nations’ children’s organisation UNICEF Belgium, wants a total ban on glyphosate in both Belgium and the European Union because of its damaging health and environmental impacts. In an open letter, the coalition calls on Belgium’s Flemish, Walloon and federal governments to impose a nationwide ban as well as voting this year at the European level against the renewal of the EU’s licence for glyphosate.
Hawaii County officials say that the Department of Public Works will soon end the use of glyphosate-based herbicides on Big Island roadsides and drainage structures. Mayor Mitch Roth supports using non-chemical herbicides: “We’ve a real opportunity to put our money where our mouth is and invest in better management systems that put our ʻāina and our people’s health first.” “Āina” or “love of the land” is a central idea of Native Hawaiian thought, cosmology and culture. Hawaii County is just one of a huge number of municipalities, large and small, that are banning or restricting the use of glyphosate.
GLYPHOSATE: NEW STUDIES
Childhood obesity and metabolic syndrome have increased at an alarming rate in the United States, specifically among populations of colour. A study by UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health found that children exposed to weedkillers containing glyphosate and AMPA were at a higher risk of liver inflammation and metabolic disorders when the children entered adulthood. AMPA is a degradation product of glyphosate. The research study also stated that exposure to glyphosate and AMPA could cause liver cancer, liver disease, heart disease, diabetes, and other long-term health complications.
Glyphosate exposure is linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a new study shows. The study found that glyphosate exposure has a harmful effect on signalling pathways, which in turn causes the skeletal muscle to become insulin resistant and eventually develop type 2 diabetes mellitus.
An epidemiological study investigated associations between glyphosate exposure and urinary oxidative stress biomarkers in farmers, as part of the Agricultural Health Study. Oxidative stress is a destructive imbalance in the body that can cause a long list of diseases, including cancer. Urinary glyphosate concentrations were found to be linked to biomarkers of oxidative stress. The authors conclude that the findings contribute to the weight of evidence supporting an association between glyphosate exposure and oxidative stress in humans and may inform evaluations of the carcinogenic potential of this herbicide.
Low-dose glyphosate exposure significantly impacts gut microbiota composition, according to a new study in mice. The alterations were associated with effects on gut homeostasis characterised by an increase in markers of intestinal inflammation. The effects were seen from glyphosate exposure at doses approximating the US Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI, a level that regulators claim can be consumed over the long term without harm to health). The study was carried out with glyphosate alone, not the glyphosate-based herbicide formulations as sold and used.
Researchers have found that glyphosate affects the bumblebee gut microbiota. They exposed the bumblebee diet to glyphosate and a glyphosate-based herbicide and monitored the changes in bacterial communities. 36% of the bacterial strains detected in the bee gut microbiota were classified as sensitive to glyphosate. Healthy gut microbiota have been shown to protect bees from parasite infections and decrease mortality. The study concludes that the heavy use of glyphosate-based herbicides may have implications for bees and ecosystems.
Researchers based in Brazil have found that glyphosate-based weedkiller, including at concentrations found in nature, caused serious harm to bees. Effects included death, motor changes (decreased speed and tremors), excessive self-cleaning, and disorientation. Although the researchers did not test for pollination effects, they infer from their results that the weedkiller tested can negatively affect the pollination activity of bees.
A new study shows that pure glyphosate (without additives) can cause massive damage to amphibians even at concentrations that are often exceeded in the environment. The new study found while untreated clawed frog tadpoles developed normally, treatment with glyphosate led to massive developmental defects: shortened bodies, smaller eyes, malformed and shortened cranial nerves, and smaller hearts, as well as reduced heart rates. The researchers observed the first developmental defects at a concentration of 0.1 milligrams of glyphosate per litre of water – a concentration that is often exceeded in the environment. One of the researchers on the study, Hannah Flach from the University of Ulm, said, “Recent findings have found significantly higher glyphosate concentrations in natural waters, such as in Portugal, China and Argentina.”
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) live in plant root cells. They provide essential plant inorganic nutrients to host plants, improving growth and yield in stressful conditions. A Dutch study found that arable fields under organic management had more AMF species than conventionally managed ones, with the difference becoming increasingly significant as time passed, following conversion to organic methods. The same study also showed that organic soils had mycorrhizal communities that were more diverse than farmed soils not under organic management, and more similar to those found under natural grasslands — a finding that was replicated in a Swiss study. Several other studies also found higher populations of mycorrhizae on organic farms, including another Swiss study that found a much greater proportion of plant roots colonised by mycorrhizal fungi in organic arable systems compared with conventional ones. In contrast, research in Finland showed that glyphosate reduces mycorrhizae.
Bayer reaches $6.9 million settlement with New York over misleading consumers by advertising Roundup weedkiller as safe
Bayer has agreed to pay $6.9 million to settle claims by New York Attorney General Letitia James that it misled consumers by advertising Roundup weedkiller, which has been linked to cancer, as environmentally safe. The settlement resolves accusations that Bayer and its Monsanto unit failed to substantiate their repeated claims about Roundup products containing the active ingredient glyphosate. These included that Roundup “won't harm anything but weeds” and “do not pose a threat to the health of animal wildlife”, as well as suggestions in since-removed YouTube videos that Roundup was safer than detergent and soap. James said the claims violated state laws against false and misleading advertising and persistent business fraud, and breached Monsanto's 1996 settlement with New York over its advertising of Roundup at the time. The settlement requires Bayer to stop advertising glyphosate-based Roundup as a safe and non-toxic product.
The Center for Biological Diversity and others have sent a notice of intent to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the West Indian manatee under the Endangered Species Act. Since the Service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined dramatically. Pollution-fuelled algae blooms sparked an ongoing mortality event that killed nearly 2,000 manatees in the past two years. This represents more than 20% of all manatees in Florida. A recent study also found more than half of sampled Florida manatees are chronically exposed to glyphosate, which is applied to sugarcane and aquatic weeds. Glyphosate breakdown also releases phosphorus into water bodies which can contribute to harmful algae blooms.
A US federal judge has fully vacated a set of approvals authorising development of the Caldwell Canyon phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho. Phosphate from the mine was slated to be used by Bayer in manufacturing glyphosate, after being processed at its Soda Springs Plant in Idaho. That plant was listed as a highly polluted Superfund site in 1990 for, among other things, selenium and cadmium contamination to the region’s groundwater. It is known for its radioactive waste piles, groundwater pollution, mercury emissions, as well as poisoned livestock – just some of the costs of producing the world’s most widely used herbicide. If the mine had gone ahead, it could have extended the operational life of the Superfund site for 40 additional years.
Two pension funds can represent a class of investors in a lawsuit alleging Bayer didn’t adequately vet Roundup herbicide maker Monsanto before buying it and didn’t warn them about cancer litigation risks. The lead plaintiffs cleared a big hurdle with Chief Judge Richard Seeborg’s May 19 decision to certify a class, since such a ruling typically sets the stage for settlement.
DICAMBA AND 2,4-D
The US Environmental Protection Agency has in effect ignored a 2020 federal court order prohibiting the use of Monsanto and other producers’ toxic dicamba-based herbicides that are destroying millions of acres of cropland, harming endangered species and increasing cancer risks for farmers, new fillings in the lawsuit charge. Instead of permanently yanking the products from the market after the 2020 order, the EPA only required industry to add further application instructions to the herbicides’ labels before reapproving the products. A late 2021 EPA investigation found the same problems persist even with new directions added to the label, but the agency still allows Monsanto, BASF and other producers to continue using dicamba. “The new litigation was prompted by the EPA’s decision to ignore the court’s ruling and move forward with reapproving the pesticide,” plaintiffs in the lawsuit wrote in a statement. “In re-approving dicamba, the EPA once again failed to weigh the true costs to farmers and the environment.”
Dicamba air concentrations in Eastern Arkansas are high enough to harm non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans – study
Damage to non-dicamba-tolerant soybean has been frequent in areas where GM dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton have been grown and sprayed with the herbicide in recent years. Off-target movement field trials were conducted in northwest Arkansas to determine the relationship between dicamba concentration in the air and the extent of injury to non-dicamba-tolerant soybean. Dicamba was frequently detected in eastern Arkansas, and daily detections above the level found to cause a 10% injury to non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans occurred 17 times in the period sampled. The researchers concluded, “Dicamba was detected consistently in air samples collected, indicating high usage in the region and the potential for soybean damage over an extended period.”
Public health groups are suing the US Environmental Protection Agency over the reapproval of two toxic herbicides made with an active ingredient in Agent Orange. The chemical 2,4-D is used in Enlist One and Enlist Duo, which are applied to fields with corn, soybeans and cotton genetically engineered to resist the herbicides. It is considered a likely carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and, among other human health effects, is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, birth defects and respiratory problems. The chemical is also thought to harm hundreds of endangered species including butterflies, birds, fish, deer, panthers and bats. It works by attacking the roots and leaves of weeds and causing them to produce unwanted cells, not unlike inducing cancer to kill or hobble them.
PESTICIDES IN GENERAL
The Belgian government has decided to ban the export of EU-banned pesticides produced in Belgium. PAN EU commented on Twitter, “No more brain-damaging chlorpyrifos or bee-toxic neonics dumped [on] third countries, the world will be a better place!”
Newly published research has found that pesticide companies did not disclose to EU regulators at least nine studies examining the brain toxicity of their chemical products — a finding that experts said is a scandal that must spur reforms. “It is outrageous,” Christina Rudén, a professor of regulatory ecotoxicology and toxicology at Stockholm University and a co-author of the new study, said. The researchers behind the new study found that pesticide companies submitted 35 developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) assessments to the US Environmental Protection Agency between 1993 and 2015 as part of efforts to win regulatory approval for their products. But the companies withheld nine of those 35 studies from EU regulators, raising concerns that the firms deliberately suppressed information that may have impacted risk assessments. Last year, the same researchers discovered that an industry-sponsored DNT study on glyphosate found impacts on “neurobehavioural function, motor activity, in rat offspring” — findings that were not shared with EU officials.
A team of ornithologists, zoologists, biologists and ecologists from across Europe and the UK has found that the chief cause of declining bird populations in Europe and the UK is the use of pesticides (including herbicides) by farmers. In their study, the group examined the effects of agrochemicals on bird populations in a variety of locations. The work involved studying data from multiple sources, including reports by citizen scientists, in 28 countries in Europe and the UK over the past four decades. They not only confirmed massive drops in population numbers for most bird species, but also discovered the main culprit: Use of pesticides by farmers. These chemicals can harm birds both directly and indirectly, causing medical problems or birth defects and killing the insects they feed on.
A leaked 218-page assessment of the impact on agricultural production and food prices of the EU’s plan to cut pesticide use by half by 2030 concludes that the food security fears heavily promoted by industry are misplaced. On the other hand, the draft assessment notes that pesticides contribute “to environmental degradation and ecosystem service losses that may lead to repercussions for food and feed security”. The leaked study also contradicts industry claims that the war in Ukraine raises major food security issues. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not expected to have a significant impact on global food markets,” the assessment says. Contrast that with the scaremongering of Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald, who even claimed that organic farming needed to be abandoned as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Health Canada has announced it intends to authorise the increase in the maximum limits of pesticide residues that can remain on certain foods, as this “is essential to facilitate trade”. The Bloc Québécois agriculture spokesperson Yves Perron said the government was opening the door to more pesticides. “Today’s announcement runs counter to efforts to reduce the use of pesticides in the agricultural world. We are entitled to worry about an upcoming increase in pesticide residues on food,” he wrote in a statement. Health Canada has clarified that the authorisation to increase maximum pesticide residue limits does not, at least for the moment, concern glyphosate residues. In 2021, the federal government caused an outcry when it proposed to authorise huge increases in the maximum glyphosate residues allowed, doubling or even tripling them in the case of some foods, at the request of Bayer.
In general fewer pesticides are being applied in the UK, according to Pesticide Action Network UK’s (PAN UK) analysis of government data, but they are often being used at the “same or similar intensity”. And the amount of glyphosate used by the agricultural sector increased by more than 16% between 2016 and 2020, with the total area of land sprayed increasing by 230,000 hectares. PAN UK’s policy officer, Nick Mole, commented, “It’s crazy that we continue to endanger the health of rural residents, farmworkers and wildlife when there are plenty of safer and more sustainable alternatives available.”
GOING PESTICIDE FREE
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the UK's leading gardening charity, has removed the final weed and bug killers from its shops and online – a process it has been doing for some time. RHS retail says it “will only sell pesticide free plant protection products as part of our ongoing approach to garden as sustainably as possible”.
Sheep can help fight the spread of an invasive and highly toxic plant, according to results of a four-year project in Macduff in Aberdeenshire. Giant hogweed grows to heights of 5m and the sap in its leaves and stems can cause severe skin burns. It is usually controlled by spraying it with herbicides or by removing flowering heads to prevent the spread of tens of thousands of seeds. But researchers have found repeated grazing by sheep can kill the plant. The “woolly warriors” were unaffected by the toxic sap. And the study also found with the right grazing regime you can limit any negative impacts on native flora. Here's the full case study and videos of the flock happily munching away on the giant hogweed by day and even after dark. Giant hogweed is also firmly on the menu in another project in Aberdeenshire, where “woolly warriors” are also being used. Judith Cox from Aberdeenshire Council’s Environment Planning team explains: “Standard means of control by spraying with glyphosate several times a year and repeated mowing have failed to have a significant impact on the growth. So in a bid to find a more sustainable and long-term solution to the control of giant hogweed, we have turned to some new recruits – a small flock of black-faced sheep.”
Electric-weeding, which works by passing electricity through weeds by touching them with an electrical applicator causing the plant cell walls in stems and roots to be destroyed – killing the plants, is producing encouraging results in a study in which it is being tested under Australian field conditions for the first time. This approach has already been used for some time in Europe, most notably in horticulture and viticulture and for roadsides, as well as with invasive weeds. Electronic weed zapping technology is also being used with robotic weeding on UK farms. More on the many flourishing weed management alternatives to herbicides here.
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