With Monsanto/Bayer seeking the renewal of the authorization of glyphosate by the European Union in 2022, we look at the mounting evidence for the degradation of soil fertility, loss of pollinators and what should be definitive negative effects on human health that could help regulators refuse the license. In an article this month, the University of Michigan shared their research on exposure to glyphosate during pregnancy. The study found that the odds of preterm birth were significantly elevated among women with higher urinary concentrations of glyphosate and AMPA, between 24 and 28 weeks. Levels recorded earlier in the pregnancy were found to be less relevant to the birth outcome. The article mentions AMPA  as the main ‘degradation product’ in glyphosate. It is also the main toxic residue. They were able to measure the levels because “neither chemical is metabolized by mammals” and therefore shows up in the urinary tract.

It is widely understood that premature babies have an increased risk of adverse longer-term health issues. Have a look at  IRT’s recent video, if you would like to know more about the hugely complex exchange that takes place between mother and baby before, during and after birth, to install the microbiota that determines later health. It might well motivate you to join us in taking action against the use of glyphosate and the genetic modification of food crops to be glyphosate-resistant. These GM crops are designed to survive the weed killer so they can tolerate being sprayed with glyphosate during the growing season to keep down the weeds. The concentrations allowed in the food supply and used in many applications in conventional farming make it hard to think how pregnant women or any of us can avoid exposure to glyphosate. The report mentions a “control” which is necessary for comparison in any scientific inquiry. Pregnant women with very low concentrations of glyphosate must have been difficult to find for such a control group,

The second article involves a report on farming systems in Brazil using glyphosate for 35 years. The study was supposed to demonstrate that “GMO farming with herbicides conserves and enriches soil and sequesters more carbon, as well as reducing the fossil fuels that would otherwise be used in tractor plowing.” Instead, they found high levels of soil contamination. They also found that weeds had developed a resistance to glyphosate and farmers were having to use a variety of other chemicals. Many returned to plowing, with no adherence even to the soil protection practice of planting cover crops.

The researchers found that glyphosate and AMPA were present in the highest levels anywhere so far recorded, with peak concentrations of 66.38 mg/kg soil for glyphosate and 26.03 mg/kg soil for AMPA. The authors do not hold back in pointing out that these compounds are endocrine disruptors and provide a long list of diseases linked to glyphosate exposure, including ADHD, kidney disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, miscarriage, and birth defects.

The expression readers might not recognize is the relatively new term “ecosystem services maintenance” and “environmental services.” These refer to new political efforts to put a market value on organically or sustainably farmed land when in the past the market only recognized increased yields and quantity of produce. They refer specifically to the protection of pollinators.

The third article starts with a stark account of the relationship between the widespread use of glyphosate and the decline of bees. They explain how insects need their microbial partners to survive. Glyphosate has been shown to prevent the symbiotic bacteria from providing the building blocks for the insects’ exoskeleton, making them more vulnerable to drying out, desiccation and to predators.

In recent months at IRT, we have been learning and teaching about the extraordinary, beneficial symbiosis between microorganisms, supplementing nutrients and providing chemical defenses. This report further confirms that organisms do not exist in isolation but in an intricate network of ecological interactions and that these interactions must be kept in mind when judging the impact of human activities.

Furthermore, these interactions must be considered when judging the impact on human health. The author writes “Glyphosate is … supposed to selectively suppress the growth of plants by inhibiting the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids via the shikimate pathway. Animals, on the other hand, do not encode the shikimate pathway, and thus have been claimed to be unharmed by glyphosate”. Earlier, however, they referred to an experiment where the rat gut microbiome was affected. Tobias Engl, one of the lead researchers says, “An impact of glyphosate on animals via their essential bacterial partners that use or even specialize in the shikimate metabolic pathway seems obvious. Many animals engage in interactions with symbiotic microbes that rely on the shikimate pathway to produce amino acids.”

They conclude that the herbicide glyphosate in agriculture endangers vital symbiotic relationships between insects and microorganisms and thus poses a serious threat to our ecosystems.

In just these three short articles we can see the extent of the problem. Glyphosate threatens our ability to reproduce and thrive, soil fertility to produce food or provide habitats for the vital beneficial insects and respected microbial partners.