The safety of herbicides is back in the spotlight after a US court decision required Monsanto, the global chemical giant and manufacturer of the most ubiquitous herbicide in the world, Round Up, to pay $289 million damages to a former school gardener in the US who is dying of cancer.
In response to concerns raised by the US decision, Australia’s national regulator the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) was forced to release a statement confirming it had not changed its view that glyphosates, such as Round Up are safe if used according to label directions.
Weed killers containing glyphosate are valued by farmers the world over for their ability to suppress weeds and maximize crop yields. They are also used to dry out or ‘desiccate’ grains like wheat prior to harvesting which allows crops to be harvested sooner but means higher levels of glyphosate remain in the harvested plant. The development of genetically modified (GM) crops work in synergy with herbicides as GM crops have a higher tolerance to herbicides which boosts yields as well as leaving higher residues in crops.
What we certainly do know is that if glyphosates are not safe we have a big problem as they have permeated every level of our food chain to the extent that not only do most of the foods we eat contain traces of glyphosate but so does our drinking water. As animals are fed foods that contain glyphosate residues so too does their meat and milk. There are traces of glyphosate in breast milk and in infant formulas, glyphosate has even been shown to cross the placenta in utero. The official line is that certain concentrations of glyphosate are safe which is why the APVMA can contend that there is nothing to worry about however there are many who hold a differing view. One has only to read the studies cited on the Organic Consumers Association website to be alarmed.
As so often happens in contentious areas of science or health, one has to make their own choices after considering opposing viewpoints. For me, I’d rather err on the side of caution with glyphosate which means eating organic foods and drinking filtered water wherever possible. There is some indication that fermented foods like kimchi have a bacteria that can help your body break down pesticides, another reason I regularly include fermented foods in my diet.