SA's Food Capture?
Big Issue|Issue 300
While the debate rages on over glyphosate-based herbicides, farmers are spraying the chemical all over the world
Marion Werner

As the US enters its peak summer growing season, gardeners plant and weed, and groundskeepers mow parks and playing fields. Many are using the popular weed killer, Roundup, which is widely available at [American] stores like Home Depot and Target.

Recently, three US juries awarded multimillion-dollar verdicts to plaintiffs who asserted that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Bayer, a German chemical company, bought Roundup’s inventor, Monsanto, in 2018 and inherited some 125 000 pending lawsuits, of which it has settled all but about 30 000. The company is now considering ending US retail sales of Roundup to reduce the risk of further lawsuits from residential users, who have been the main source of legal claims.

As scholars who study global trade, food systems, and their effects on the environment, we see a bigger story: generic glyphosate is ubiquitous around the globe. Farmers use it on the majority of the world’s agricultural fields. Humans spray enough glyphosate to coat every acre of farmland in the world with half a pound [almost 250g] of it every year.

Glyphosate is now showing up in humans, but scientists are still debating its health effects. One thing is clear, though: because it’s an effective and very cheap weedkiller, it has become pervasive. Research on glyphosate’s possible human health effects has been inconclusive, but the concern is rising over its heavy use worldwide.

HOW GLYPHOSATE WENT GLOBAL

When glyphosate was commercialized under the Roundup brand name in 1974, it was widely viewed as safe. Monsanto scientists claimed that it would not harm people or other non-target organisms and did not persist in soil and water. Scientific reviews determined that it did not build up in animal tissue.

Glyphosate killed more target weed species than any other herbicide before or since. Farmers started spraying it on fields to prepare for the next cropping cycle.

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