Monsanto’s flagship product, Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in the U.S.
Its main ingredient, glyphosate, is the subject of ongoing research into its potential cancer-causing effects and other health problems.
Studies + Science
The Next Steps
|Roundup has been linked to cancer, birth defects, kidney disease, and other complications.||Studies show Roundup may increase the risk of lymphoma.||In July 2017, the state of California added glyphosate to its list of carcinogenic chemicals.||Resources are available for individuals who developed cancer after being exposed to Roundup.|
Roundup, manufactured by agribusiness giant Monsanto, is sold across the globe as an effective weed killer. An estimated 1.4 billion pounds of Roundup are used in 160 countries each year, making it one of the most popular herbicides in the world.
Introduced to the market in 1974, Roundup is sprayed on commercial farms, golf courses, and private lawns and gardens. Farmworkers, golf course attendants, landscapers, nursery workers, and other outdoor laborers frequently use Roundup.
Though Roundup is sprayed on corn, soy, and other edible crops in the United States, the risk is primarily an occupational hazard. Exposure to glyphosate may cause these individuals to develop serious illnesses.
As researchers and regulators investigate its potential carcinogenic effects, Roundup remains a standard in residential maintenance and commercial agriculture.
Roundup Side Effects
Reports from doctors have indicated that Roundup may be linked to various types of lymphoma, including:
- Skin lymphoma
- Burkitt lymphoma
- Peripheral T-cell lymphoma
- Mantle Cell lymphoma
- Follicular lymphoma
- Hairy cell lymphoma
- Large B-cell lymphoma
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Additional Health Issues
Though research is inconclusive, there may be a potential link between Roundup exposure and other health issues, such as:
- Hormone disruption
- Magnesium deficiency
- Thyroid cancer
- Liver cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Kidney cancer
Studies + Science
Roundup’s popularity among the agriculture community is due to its ability to kill weeds, but spare the crops. As a package deal, Monsanto also produces genetically engineered crops that are able to withstand its herbicide.
Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, works by interrupting the metabolic function in plants. The function allows for the production of amino acids, and weeds cannot survive when the path is interrupted. Though Roundup is destructive to plants, its chemicals can also cause damage to human health.
Human, animal, and cell studies conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) found glyphosate stays present in the blood and urine of farm workers, increases the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and causes tumor formation in some animals.
- Environmental Health Journal
- Studies in Europe show that “glyphosate remains longer in soil and water than has been previously recognized,” raising concerns over pesticide residue in commercial produce. (Source)
- CBS News
- A reported five-fold increase in the amount of chronic kidney disease among Sri Lankan farming communities, resulting in 20,000 deaths.(Source)
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
- Reseachers found “consistent evidence that pesticide exposures experienced in occupational agricultural settings” influenced the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Source)
- Deutsche Welle
- The number of birth defects and deformations in Argentina quadrupled between 1997 and 2008. In vitro studies of populations near soy fields sprayed with glyphosate yielded results of chromosomal damage. (Source)
What is Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
Published in 2014, a study released in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health examined worldwide effects of agricultural chemicals on farmers and other outdoor workers. The researchers reviewed 44 papers to examine the link between 80 active ingredients and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Researchers discovered that B-cell lymphoma was positively associated with phenoxy herbicides and the organophosphorus herbicide glyphosate. Cancer.gov lists the symptoms of lymphoma, which include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Sweating and chills
- Weight loss
- Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- Swollen abdomen (belly)
- Feeling full after only a small amount of food
- Chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath or cough
Since 1996, corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, and other crops have been genetically modified to resist herbicide spraying. This has resulted in the evolution of glyphosate-tolerant weeds, which has farmers hand-weeding, using tractors to turn over soil between crops, and using other herbicides in addition to glyphosate.
Roundup is used in 160 countries. Only Malta, Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, and Argentina have banned glyphosate entirely. Nearly 30 species of weeds have evolved to resist herbicides, 15 of which are found here in America.
Though never officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2.6 billion pounds of Roundup have been sprayed on U.S. farms alone. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) details when deciding the “maximum amount of pesticide residue allowed to remain on or in each treated food commodity,” they consider:
- The toxicity of the pesticide and its breakdown products
- How much of the pesticide is applied and how often
- How much of the pesticide, or its residue, remains in or on food by the time it is marketed and prepared
- All possible routes of exposure to that pesticide (residues on each crop use, as well as exposure from drinking water and residential exposure)
In early 2015, the IARC stated the herbicide was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In June 2017, the EPA started to investigate allegations that an EPA staff member worked with Monsanto to release a biased scientific review of Roundup’s safety. The allegations were made in a lawsuit against Monsanto, according to Law360.
In July 2017, Judge Kristi Kapetan of the Fresno County Superior Court handed down a formal ruling against Monsanto, allowing California to list glyphosate as a chemical “known to the state to cause cancer.” The ruling is based on mandates outlined in Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.
In accordance with Proposition 65, the state of California added glyphosate to its list of carcinogenic chemicals.
For nearly two decades, Monsanto and other seed companies have extensively marketed genetically engineered (GE), herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops. GE-HT versions of cotton, corn, and soybeans have made it possible for farmers to apply glyphosate for months after crops had started growing. This has resulted in a 14.6-fold rise in global use from 112.6 million pounds in 1995 to 1.65 billion in 2014.
The Next Steps
Roughly 300 million pounds of Roundup are used globally each year. While no direct scientific link between glyphosate and cancer has been established, anti-GMO and other environmental advocacy groups stress that the incidence of cancer after using Roundup is too high to ignore.
By the end of the 2015 financial year, Monsanto netted $13.5B in sales, and $1.9 billion in gross profits from herbicide products, mostly Roundup. Over 700 Roundup cancer claims have been filed in courts throughout the United States, and over 3,000 individuals with various illnesses have sought litigation against Monsanto.
The controversy continues off the fields, following claims that Monsanto ghost-wrote some of its own safety reviews. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that internal emails between Monsanto’s chief of regulatory science and other scientists showed them “heavily involved in organizing, reviewing and editing drafts” submitted by outside experts.
The story is still unfolding. We’re here to keep you informed.