Glyphosate is not the problem. It’s a symptom of a much, much larger problem.

Glyphosate is not the problem. It’s a symptom of a much, much larger problem.

Across the U.S., people are engaged in hot debate over the EPA’s release of a draft risk assessment concluding that glyphosate – the most widely-used herbicide and key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup – is non-carcinogenic. The EPA is accepting comments until April 30, 2018, so now is the time to learn and make your opinion known on the topic.  

While reports are mixed on whether the herbicide is indeed cancer-causing, HowGood believes the issue is much bigger than glyphosate: what we really need to be concerned about is the industrial food system that relies on it.

The facts on glyphosate.

  • Early 1970’s: Glyphosate is developed by Monsanto – right at the time that agriculture is forever changed by the “Get Big or Get Out” mantra of the USDA. American farmers are encouraged to use cheap inputs, increase fertilizers and pesticides, and produce as much as possible in the short-term: the foundation of modern industrial agriculture.
  • 1996: Glyphosate use skyrockets when Monsanto comes out with their first crops that are genetically-engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. This allows for mass usage to kill off any other weeds in the field with the exception of the corn or soybean crops planted. It also heralds the beginning of herbicide-resistant “super weeds” -- and so the cycle to stay one step ahead of nature continues.
  • 2000: Monsanto’s patent expires, allowing glyphosate to be used by any herbicide manufacturer. Usage continues to soar – as does the growth of super weeds. Concern mounts about the health impact on humans, animals, and the environment.
  • 2015: The World Health Organization (WHO)’s cancer research department classifies glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This report is confirmed by some subsequent studies and challenged by others.
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The issues behind the issue:
2 minutes on glyphosate with HowGood EVP of Research Ethan Soloviev

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Is getting rid of glyphosate a solution to the problems that plague us in modern agriculture?

Glyphosate is not the problem. Glyphosate is a symptom of an industrial food system that relies on petrochemical-based inputs to control the agricultural environment. Glyphosate, especially in its combination with genetically modified crops, has dominated a significant portion of the United States’ commodity crop production ever since ‘Roundup Ready’ corn and soy crops were introduced.

I believe that the current focus on glyphosate’s carcinogenicity is a red herring. The larger issue is mechanized industrial agriculture – it systematically focuses on short-term yields while decreasing biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Outlawing glyphosate (or any single chemical) because it's carcinogenic would not produce significant change in the system. Scientists at agrochemical companies are well on their way to developing the next-generation replacements for glyphosate, which when released will start the cycle over again without any fundamental difference in the technology or approach to modern farming.

Do farmers have reasonable alternatives to systemic herbicides like glyphosate?

From HowGood’s perspective, there are countless approaches to large-scale, profitable, no-till agriculture that are more environmentally-responsible and don’t require chemical herbicides. Check out the work of Gabe Brown or the Rodale Institute’s Roller-Crimper technology. These farmers are still getting significant yields while protecting their land for the long-term.

What should a consumer do with this information?

Well, to answer the initial question of whether glyphosate is carcinogenic or not -- honestly, different studies say different things. It's important to recognize that toxicity and dose are two very separate issues. In most cases, anyone eating food grown using glyphosate isn’t directly exposed to a very high dose. That said, I wouldn't drink it, I wouldn't want my kids playing in it. But as a conscious consumer, if you are concerned about glyphosate, the most important thing you can do is simple: choose better food. Don't buy foods that contain highly-processed corn- or soy-based ingredients. If you do eat corn or soy, buy organic.

In short, the answer is the same as it is to many agriculture (and health, for that matter) issues: choose simple, fresh foods over highly-processed ones – you will be actively working against glyphosate usage and the industrial food system that depends on it.

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