Are Glyphosate products harmful to you?
By Kenneth McElrath
Introduced in the 1990s, crops genetically engineered (GE) to withstand exposure to the weed killer glyphosate (Roundup) were a game-changer for agriculture.
They saved many farmers money on weed control, slashed greenhouse gas emissions caused by tilling and fossil fuel use, and indirectly boosted crop yields, all of which translated into lower food prices for consumers.
Scientists have differing opinions when answering why or how Roundup is harmful to humans, but consumer lawsuits argue that cancer is a possible outcome.
Where Is Glyphosate Used?
Glyphosate is often used on:
- Fruit and vegetable crops;
- Glyphosate-resistant crops like canola, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugar beets, and wheat;
- Plantings, lawns, greenhouses, aquatic plants, and forest plantings.
Exposure to Glyphosate
If you use a weed killer with glyphosate on your lawn or garden, you may be exposed to glyphosate by breathing it in, getting it on your skin, or getting it in your eyes. Your risk goes up if you:
– Eat or smoke after applying it and don’t wash your hands first;
– Touch plants that are still wet from it.
If you’re exposed, your eyes, skin, nose, and throat may get irritated. If you get it in your eyes, it could lead to mild irritation or a superficial corneal injury. If you swallow it, you may have increased saliva and burns and pain in your mouth and throat. It can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
In some cases, people who intentionally swallowed products with glyphosate have died. To lower your risk, wash your hands and take off your clothes after you handle one of these products.
Glyphosate in your food
You may also be exposed to glyphosate in your food. It gets into foods early in the food chain, before raw food is harvested and before it’s processed. You may have heard in recent news that oat-based products like oatmeal, cereal, granola bars, and snack bars have glyphosate.
In one report from California scientists and the World Health Organization, 43 of 45 oat-based products tested had it. Popular breakfast foods like Quaker Old Fashioned Oats and Cheerios and other cereals, had above-average levels. It’s also in grain and bean products like pasta, buckwheat, barley, kidney beans, and chickpeas.
Some foods may surprise you, like avocados, apples, blueberries, cherries, cucumbers, dates, dried peas, garlic, lemons, olives, peanuts, pomegranates, potatoes, rice, spinach, sugarcane, tobacco, tomatoes, and walnuts. Even though Glyphosate is banned in organic farming, in the World Health Organization report, one-third of organic oat products tested had traces of glyphosate. But they were below levels associated with risk.
Long-Term Health Risks
Short-term exposure to glyphosate isn’t something you need to worry much about. Experts say it’s less toxic than table salt. But its longterm risk may be a concern. Scientists are divided on how much risk is involved. Reports show conflicting results. And keep in mind that most studies involve animals, not people.
Some studies suggest glyphosate may be linked to cancer. Others suggest there’s no link. It’s a controversial topic. The International Agency for Research on Cancer categorizes glyphosate as a probable carcinogen for humans. In 2020, the EPA released a statement that glyphosate does not pose a risk to humans as long as it is used according to directions. They also stated that it is unlikely that it causes cancer in humans.
Liver and kidney damage
Glyphosate may affect your kidney and liver. Studies of dairy cows eating a diet of soybeans with high levels of glyphosate had higher risks of liver and kidney damage.
Reproductive and developmental issues
The EPA released a statement in 2020 that there was no evidence that glyphosate interfered with the endocrine system or hormones of humans.
Risk for pregnant women and children
Some scientists are concerned that pregnant women and children may have higher risks because children and developing fetuses may be more susceptible to carcinogens. But the EPA says there’s no evidence that glyphosate is a developmental or reproductive toxin, so they don’t feel that they are at any higher risk.
A probable human carcinogen
Instances of intentional ingestion of glyphosate have reportedly resulted in deaths, although these are a relatively small number of incidences according to the National Pesticide Information Center. In the long term, scientists are consistently debating the question: “Is Roundup harmful to humans?”
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Despite this classification, agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have determined that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
In general, scientists agree that there needs to be more research on the issue – including the types of exposure and dosages of glyphosate which lead to cancer. Part of the issue is being uncertain about how much risk comes from glyphosate and how much is attributed to the other chemicals in formulations such as Roundup.
Is Roundup harmful to humans?“ According to Vanessa Fitsanakis, a neurotoxicologist from Northeast Ohio Medical University, it is very difficult for a toxicologist to test the different ingredients to figure out what’s the most toxic, or what’s contributing to it.”
“From a research perspective, I can’t tell which component might need to be changed [to reduce possible toxicity] in those formulations because I don’t know what some of those components are.”
Unfortunately, some evidence suggests that formulated glyphosate is more toxic to cells and animals than glyphosate alone. “The data are overwhelmingly in agreement that glyphosate by itself is relatively nontoxic,” Fitsanakis notes.
Roundup manufacturer Monsanto and parent company Bayer have faced repeated lawsuits from consumers claiming that they developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using the weed killer for years. Lawyers for these consumers argue that Roundup was misrepresented as safe by the manufacturer despite evidence to the contrary.
Thousands of Roundup cancer lawsuits have so far been filed. Juries have found Roundup to be harmful and have so far rendered three major verdicts against Bayer in the past two years. The first case to go to trial involved a former school district groundskeeper near San Francisco.
Suffering from late stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the jury awarded the plaintiff $289 million in damages. Evidence surfaced in that trial indicating that Monsanto was ghostwriting much of its own research in order to “prove” to regulators that its product was safe. At the same time, the company had plans to discredit the IARC findings.
In March 2019, a federal jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages to a man who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma five years earlier. Weeks later, a separate jury found in favor of a Livermore, Calif. couple, both of whom were also diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Jurors in that cases awarded a staggering $2 billion judgment, NPR reported. Although these awards were significantly reduced in accordance with state and federal tort reform laws limiting punitive damages, Bayer is still appealing all three cases.
Currently, Bayer is working with mediator Kenneth Feinberg to come up with a settlement – but it has shown no indication that it is willing to modify the product, add a warning or pull it from the market. A court-appointed mediator said that Bayer AG had made “substantial progress” towards resolving tens of thousands of Roundup cancer claims the company still faces, Insurance Journal reports.
Getting a mediator
The mediator, Kenneth Feinberg, spoke at a San Francisco federal court hearing (conducted via Zoom due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic). U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria oversees nearly 2,000 unresolved Roundup cases in San Francisco federal court. Other cases were filed in state courts.
Feinberg has previously overseen major compensation programs, including for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. “It’s just a question of when and how quickly they’ll get resolved.” Amid the thousands of Roundup cancer lawsuits, Bayer maintains that Roundup is safe for human use.
The company says that it has resolved about 88,500 of about 125,000 claims (both filed and unfiled) and is “fully committed” to reaching a settlement agreement, reports Insurance Journal. Most recently, Bayer has projected the cost of future claims to be about $2 billion.