Most genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup, Monsanto's best-selling product. The main active ingredient in Roundup is a chemical called glyphosate. A number of glyphosate-resistant crops, also produced by Monsanto, are currently awaiting approval for cultivation in the EU.
However, with farmers across North and South America facing escalating problems with glyphosate-resistant weeds, Bayer is also promoting its own glufosinate-resistant GM crops as alternatives, and the subsequent herbicides Liberty, Basta, and Ignite that complete the package.
Both glyphosate and glufosinate, and the blends of chemicals that constitute the herbicides Roundup, Liberty, Basta and Ignite, are toxic. They kill all plants other than those genetically modified to resist the glyphosate and glufosinate.
Monsanto claims that Roundup, and therefore glyphosate, is safe for human health and the environment. However, the chemical is now coming under closer scrutiny as evidence builds of potentially damaging impacts from its use.
The widespread cultivation of GM-crops in the Americas has led to the spread of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” that cannot be controlled with glyphosate. This forces farmers onto an endless chemical treadmill, with ever-increasing costs and quantities of herbicides necessary to maintain their crops, and increasingly toxic herbicides, including dicamba and 2,4-D.
Faced with these super-weeds, Bayer promotes glufosinate crops and herbicides as an alternative. Glufosinate harms soil bacteria and is toxic to a number of aquatic animals, including the larvae of clams and oysters, and some freshwater fish. UK farm-scale evaluations also provide evidence that glufosinate-resistant crops reduce the number and diversity of wild plants and the arthropods and other species dependent upon them, thereby threatening biodiversity. EU experts conclude that there are possible long-term health risks for mammals from glufosinate usage.
The ever increasing amount of chemicals produced and used leach into water systems, destroy biodiversity and cause environmental damage on a local and global scale. They also affect poorer communities who live near large GM farms in developing countries.
Laboratory and epidemiological studies confirm that Roundup and its main chemical ingredient, glyphosate, pose serious health and environmental hazards, including possible endocrine (hormone) disruption, cell death, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders.
Some of these effects are observed at low, realistic doses that could be found as residues in food and feed crops and in drinking water. If GM crops are approved in the EU then the amount of contamination from Roundup and glyphosate is likely to increase.
People are exposed to glyphosate though contaminated food, water and air, often as a result of the herbicides application to fields. This is not only the case in the Americas, where ‘RoundupReady’ crops are grown on a large scale. Glyphosate-based herbicides are widely used in Europe already, not only on farmers’ fields but also by municipal authorities on roadsides, pavements, and in public parks and school grounds. It is also widely used by home gardeners.
Roundup and glyphosate and their residues have been detected in air, rain, groundwater and even circulating in women’s blood.
Glufosinate fairs no better – with potential impacts upon early embryonic development, which can result in premature deliveries, miscarriages and the death of foetuses. Independent research confirms the effects of the pesticide on embryos at very low doses.
Not enough safety tests
Roundup itself has not been tested or assessed for safety as part of the EU regulatory process, which has largely examined the single ingredient glyphosate. The herbicide Roundup contains additional ingredients which make it far more toxic than glyphosate alone. Yet it is Roundup that is sold commercially and used by farmers and members of the public.
The ‘safe’ dose for Roundup exposure set by regulators is not based on up-to-date objective evidence. Worse, the EU has increased the tolerated pesticide residue levels in several crops, like soy and lentils, by factors of 50-200. So, current regulations do not protect the public.
The chemicals used in the GM model of farming are toxic, and the model of farming itself is unsustainable and damaging to the environment – with an increase in herbicides significantly increasing pollution and health risks for citizens, and contributing to biodiversity loss. The only people who stand to gain from this model are those that produce the herbicide-resistant crops and the chemicals required to grow them.
The re-authorisation is being sought by the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry platform uniting producers of glyphosate-based herbicides, whose members include Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Syngenta, and Barclay Chemicals. Richard Garnett, a lobbyist for Monsanto Europe, is chair of the Glyphosate Task Force.
The renewal process for glyphosate (every 10 years) was supposed to have taken place 2012 but was postponed as the authorities were 'too busy'. Germany acts as rapporteur to the EU for glyphosate, and had its draft assessment report ready by December 2013, that said glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
The ban will enter into force as from November 2015. The resolution was tabled by the animal rights party (Partij voor de Dieren). Already in 2011 the Parliament called on the government to ban all non-agricultural use of glyphosate, so including its use by municipalities or rail maintenance. But the Dutch government created lots of loopholes. Now a ban on the sale of glyphosate-based herbicides in garden centers is unavoidable. A huge victory!
In USA, between 1994 and 2006 glyphosate use per hectare of soybean grew by 250%. This report highlights the impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the United States over the first thirteen years of GM cultivation. From the Organic Center.
The pesticide industry and EU regulators have known since the 1980s and 90s that Roundup, the world's best selling herbicide, causes birth defects – but have failed to inform the public.
This report, co-authored by international scientists and researchers, reveals that the GM-industry’s own studies (including research commissioned by Monsanto) showed that Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate causes birth defects in laboratory animals.
About the Stop the Crop campaign
This website and film present some of the dangers of GM-crops, and call for people across Europe and beyond to take action to stop them. We need a future of food and farming that benefits people and planet, and not the pockets of big business. We need to stop GM-crops from spreading across Europe. You can sign up for updates and alerts opposite.