EPA gets it wrong again

According to an editorial published recently in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, the U.S. government’s regulatory agencies relied on flawed and outdated research when they approved a new herbicide that contains glyphosate.

If glyphosate sounds familiar, it should. It’s the active ingredient in Roundup, the popular weed-killer made by the agro-chemical giant Monsanto. The herbicide also appears in more than 700 other products as well. I call it, “Roundup, the usual suspect.

Farmers spray glyphosate directly onto crops like corn that they’ve genetically modified (GM) to withstand it. But the chemical kills everything else around it. For example, some scientists blame glyphosate for destroying the plants that honeybees and butterflies require for survival.

In the new report, the authors made the case that herbicides like glyphosate–and the scourge of GM crops it spawned–pose serious hazards to human health.

They also said the EPA made a big mistake by approving the new herbicide. They claim the EPA based its approval on outdated studies commissioned by the herbicide’s manufacturer.

Scientists can already detect glyphosate residue in food and water. Plus, the Cancer Research Unit at the World Health Organization (WHO) after reviewing many years of scientific research concluded earlier this year that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In epidemiological terms, that vague phrase means it’s a very small possibility that the association between glyphosate and cancer is due to chance alone. In forensic toxicology terms, it means “more likely than not” glyphosate causes cancer.

Last month, Monsanto said it arranged for an “outside” scientific review of the WHO finding.

Of course it did.

In the meantime, country after country outside the U.S. now bans the use of glyphosate and the cultivation of GM foods.

The authors said: “There is growing evidence that glyphosate is genotoxic and has adverse effects on cells in a number of different ways. It’s time to pull back on uses of glyphosate that we know are leading to significant human exposures while the science gets sorted out…We believe that the time has therefore come to thoroughly reconsider all aspects of the safety of plant biotechnology.

In another recent study, researchers from New Zealand investigated how glyphosate and two other common herbicides affect the disease-causing bacteria salmonella and E. coli. They tested the herbicides at the levels commonly used in domestic gardens and backyards. In other words, they used levels to which insects, wild animals, humans, and domestic animals are commonly exposed.

It turns out, as might have been predicted, that herbicides increase the bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics.

Of course, antibiotic resistance is a serious problem for both human and animal health. And the use of these environmental chemicals runs counter to our efforts to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

As I have always said, herbicides do much more than kill weeds and deter bugs. They have a tremendous impact on our planet. They disrupt bees, butterflies, and plants…and they impact the Earth’s entire ecology. We can now also add cancer and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections to the list.

The government continues to carry out a long list of never-ending, permanent, losing “wars.” We have a war on cancer, antibiotic resistance, drugs, smoking, alcohol, you name it.

But the EPA has quietly capitulated and made its peace with glyphosate. There is no war on herbicides.

But keep up the good fight. As Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, once wrote, “Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.


  1. “GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health,” N Engl J Med 2015; 373:693-695
  1. Sublethal Exposure to Commercial Formulations of the Herbicides Dicamba, 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid, and Glyphosate Cause Changes in Antibiotic Susceptibility in Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium,” mBio 24 March 2015; 6(2) 9-15