Popular herbicide linked to birth defects


Photo by andyarthur, Flickr

Studies indicate that a popular herbicide used around the U.S. is linked to birth defects. The herbicide, known as Roundup, contains the chemical glyphosate, which has repeatedly been shown to cause birth defects in laboratory animals. Less clear is the chemical’s effects on humans. For obvious reasons, scientists have not conducted much testing on humans, but the Huffington Post reports that examples indicating a strong connection between glyphosate and human birth defects do exist:

Farmers and others in Argentina used the weedkiller primarily on genetically modified Roundup Ready soy, which covers nearly 50 million acres, or half of the country’s cultivated land area. In 2009 farmers sprayed that acreage with an estimated 200 million liters of glyphosate.

The Argentine government helped pull the country out of a recession in the 1990s in part by promoting genetically modified soy. Though it was something of a miracle for poor farmers, several years after the first big harvests residents near where the soy cop grew began reporting health problems, including high rates of birth defects and cancers, as well as the losses of crops and livestock as the herbicide spray drifted across the countryside.

Such reports gained further traction after an Argentine government scientist, Andres Carrasco conducted a study, “Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling” in 2009.

The study, published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology in 2010, found that glyphosate causes malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying. It also found that malformations caused in frog and chicken embryos by Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate were similar to human birth defects found in genetically modified soy-producing regions.

It’s clear that more research is needed in order to determine the risks of using Roundup, but it might be years before the appropriate testing and actions take place.

Regulators in the United States have said they are aware of the concerns surrounding glyphosate. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is required to reassess the safety and effectiveness all pesticides on a 15-year cycle through a process called registration review, is currently examining the compound.

“EPA initiated registration review of glyphosate in July 2009,” the EPA told HuffPost in a written statement. “EPA will determine if our previous assessments of this chemical need to be revised based on the results of this review. EPA issued a notice to the company [Monsanto] to submit human health and ecotoxicity data in September 2010.”

The EPA said it will also review a “wide range of information and data from other independent researchers” including Earth Open Source.

The agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs is in charge of the review and has set a deadline of 2015 for determining if registration modifications need to be made or if the herbicide should continue to be sold at all.

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