The current situation with glyphosate is that it is now ubiquitous and we’ve been sold a pup. The theory was that glyphosate works on a certain channel in plant physiology, the shikimate pathway, and as animals don’t have this pathway, glyphosate couldn’t affect animals that is humans, insects and invertebrates. The reality though is very different.
Yet because of this sales pitch by Monsanto originally and then other glyphosate producers once it came off patent, means that glyphosate (Roundup) is everywhere. People drank the Kool-Aid. Now farmers will only use x amount of glyphosate because they’re running a business and they have costs to keep under control. The use of GMO corn and soybean and BT cotton and that sort of thing that works in conjunction with glyphosate has a certain level of use built into the system and because of the way it’s setup there’s enough glyphosate used to keep the crop safe but not destroy the income of the farmers. After all, parasites (Monsanto) never want to destroy their hosts (farmers).
There are entities for whom cost is less of a concern because they’re not spending their own money. And these are local authorities: County Councils, City councils, Shire Councils, local townships and cities. The panic over invasive species which can be real in some cases but not necessarily all and the bush regeneration movement from the 80s and 90s and so on through till now went there. Attacks on invasive species had to be relentless and ongoing. A bit like 1984: The war wasn’t meant to be won it was meant to be continuous. Monsanto was able to convince these local authorities to continually use glyphosate on any plant they deem to be a weed or an invasive species. The most popular ones in Australia are things like lantana and blackberry. In parts of Europe there’s the Japanese knotweed invasion and these things rely on continual spraying with glyphosate amongst other chemicals.
Of course there are other approaches. Changing the ecology of where these things are growing and seeing them as part of the overall web of life. Let’s take blackberries as an example. Blackberries arise where soils are overgrazed. It forms a dense mat, puts out deep roots, holds the nutrients in place and covers the ground so soil doesn’t get washed away with wind or rain. And there are certain ways you can get rid of blackberries without having to resort to glyphosate. These involve slashing grazing, there’s even a technique of grenading them with chokos and allowing the chokos to grow up and smoother them. Now, of course, slashing is not feasible if you’re using a tractor on sloping ground. It gets a bit dangerous but there are ways and means you can also use goats and certain breeds of sheep to keep on top of blackberries. Cattle trample the young shoots as do sheep and goats. So there are ways that don’t involve chemicals but the ways don’t involve chemicals do take more time.Councils have to plan their noxious weeds eradication programs every year. The idea of actually having some long-term plan other than spray and go gets a bit difficult. Particularly when the glyphosate was sold as safe for use around everything except the thing it’s been sprayed on.
We need a little bit of background on how toxicity test works and will do that now. There was a Background Briefing program on the ABC last year maybe the year before so 2018, 2017 I can’t remember. It explains how toxicity tests work. You have a substance you want tested. You go to a lab registered to conduct these tests and have the substance tested for toxicity. This is where it gets odd: the rules that are set up by the food and drug administration in the US or whatever the local authorities are. So the system works something like this.
“I want to see if this causes illness, death or cancer in 30, 60 or 90 days.” This is a very short period of time when you talking about chemicals but that’s the way the rules are. Two groups are set up, the control group which is fed a normal diet and the second group which is fed a diet that includes the substance wishing to be tested for. The control group of mice or rats is genetically identical to the test group. So let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and so they’re going to test for 90 days because that’s the longest option. After 90 days, measurements of growth rates, toxicity and of illness in the control group are taken. The test group is then measured for illness, toxicity and illness and the two compared. Then both the control and the test groups are euthanized. And incineratored. If there were any long-term effects we’re never going to know because the test only went for 90 days and all the exposed animals are then destroyed.
Glyphosate in the Environment
But I would argue that the toxicity testing done on glyphosate even when it was funded by Monsanto was it such a low level we were never going to know whether or not they’re any long-term effect. Now the argument is also that the glyphosate doesn’t wash into rivers because the rivers were checked where they were spraying the stuff in test runs and there was none in the water. Therefore the glyphosate must have broken down in the environment.
I will just add a point here. There’s stories running around the interwebs claiming glyphosate is turning up in breast milk or is being added to vaccines. Neither of these has any basis in reality. These things can be checked over at: https://www.snopes.com/
I also read an article for study in 2011 or 2012 that showed in glyphosate was forming colloidal structures in the soil and inhibiting the uptake of nutrients, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. That was why the glyphosate wasn’t showing up in the waterways, it was stuck in the soil.
The Return of the Microbiome
All of this seems reasonable if you’re selling me stuff and you’re just testing for toxicity over a short time and you understand that there’s no shikimate pathways in humans or any other animal for that matter. However in the last 10 or 15 years or so it’s been a lot of work done on microbiomes. Microbiome in humans in the gut in particular seems to be connected with our immune system in a fairly intimate way.
Then of course we a microbiome growing all over us that we don’t see but it’s there anyway keeping us healthy and keeping your skin intact and that sort of thing. There’s also a huge number of microbiotic animals in the soil, in healthy living soil. Soil grown organically, or regeneratively. Soil that is not sprayed with glyphosate, is not drenched in chemical fertilisers.
Attacks on the Microbiome
These microbiota are in fact subject to effects from glyphosate.The effect though, takes time to have to influence our health. There was a test at the University of Texas Austin on a beehive. Half the bees were exposed to glyphosate and the other half weren’t. Little red dots on the ones that had been exposed allowed for observation. The hive was behaving normally, collecting honey, pollen and the other stuff that the honey bees do. Then the hive was exposed to a bacterial infection. Now as I mentioned above the microbiota seem to be connected to the immune system in an intimate way and when this hive was subjected to bacterial infection the bees without the Red Dot, the ones that hadn’t been exposed to glyphosate, pretty much all survived and those that had been exposed, the red dot group was wiped out.
Now because the microbiome in the gut is related to the immune system and everyone’s gut microflora is different, everyone’s immune system is a little bit different. How the microbiome reacts to glyphosate and how much exposure is needed to have an effect upon the gut microbiome is not known. The research is still in its early days. It would appear from court cases in the US and now there’s some starting in Australia, people exposed to reasonably heavy loads of glyphosate have contracted non hodgkin’s lymphoma and that’s obviously an immune thing. Our immune systems deal with lots of proto-cancers all the time. Remember cancer is just a cell what’s started to divide uncontrollably and each cancer is obviously different because it involves different cells and different parts of the body.
Lower level effects of damaged gut microbiome might include things like leaky gut, intolerance to certain foods, hyper reactions to certain foods, allergic reactions and possibly irritable bowel syndrome. Who knows what else? And that’s the problem we just don’t know.
What Are we To Do?
The most obvious thing to do would be to stop using glyphosate because we don’t know what it’s long term effects are. We are starting to see some and they are not pleasant. The longer term effects of leaky gut and compromised immune systems are not understood but do they expose people to more bacterial infections?
I hear people scream, almost literally in some discussions: “But if we get rid of glyphosate will have to use more dangerous chemicals!” One wonders what could be more dangerous than a carcinogenic substance but yes there are more toxic chemicals that affect humans and other animals more directly.
Feeding The World
The obvious answer is to stop using chemicals in the first place. Yes but industrial agriculture is how we feed the world and there’s more people coming. As it turns out there was a UN report a couple of years back which showed the only way to feed everyone that’s coming over the next 50 years is with small-scale local organic production. Not surprisingly, small scale local organic production doesn’t use any glyphosate. What it does use is healthy soils, full of microbiota. In the space of 2m by 1m apparently there’s 60 billion individual species or perhaps individuals, I can’t recall now but either way there’s a lot of life in soil. And that was in the top 10 centimetres over that area.
Now the earth has been around for about 4.7 billion years. There’s been life on the planet for the 3.70 billion. During the last 350 million tears, at least, animals and plants have co-evolved. That being the case, the microbiome in the soil. the microbiome in the gut of the animals and on their surfaces and everywhere else that it grows have evolved to work together. Yes things can get out of balance. We can get bacterial infections and need antibiotics which have saved millions of lives since they were first developed. Equally we need to then rebalance our own gut microbiome after we’ve had a dose of antibiotics because that can upset the balance.After millions of years of coevolution of plants and animals and microbiota and fungi, we start pouring millions of tons of glyphosate and other chemicals on the soil over the last thirty or forty years. Does seem a little short sighted.
On an up note, the thing with natural systems is that they will rebalance given enough time. Regenerative farming, regenerative agriculture and regenerative gardening will help to ameliorate the effects of glyphosate in the soil. I’m not entirely sure of the process or how it works but the effect seems to be there. Until the science comes in it’s a “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” situation.
By converting to organic methods, regen methods, permaculture or biodynamics, we create the conditions for the soil biota to regrow. The soil biota is capable of dealing with all the assaults that have come at it over the last 50 – 60 years. Now there are some things like organophosphate and organochlorides which will take hundreds of years to degrade in the system. Those areas have been fenced off and excluded to stock and people because they are known carcinogens.
So you can see why Monsanto and now they’re who have bought out by Bayer are concerned. If glyphosate is deemed to be carcinogenic and the World Health Organisation declared glyphosate as a probable carcinogen which is not the same as a definite one but it’s moving up the list. If, or maybe when, glyphosate is declared a carcinogen then the manufacturers will be up for some cost to remediate the soils and cover the cost of medical bills for those that are suffering from severe diseases. And given the huge use of glyphosate across the world that will bankrupt any company that has anything to do with the stuff. Naturally they will fight and fight the same way that tobacco companies did, using the same tobacco company playbook.
So if you’ve got gardens and you live in suburbia, don’t spray “Feed and Weed” because that’s full of glyphosate. Don’t use commercial fertilisers like nitrogen phosphorus and potassium. Even blood and bone nowadays has got other stuff added to it. Lime is not a bad thing to use if your soil is acid and it doesn’t appear to have any long-term or even short-term health effects. By caring for the soil under your feet where you live, you can begin the fight back against glyphosate, its side effects and its health effects and it’s ubiquity.
How to Use Your Living Soil
Once you’ve got your living soil and it’s all growing like mad you can produce your own veggies or you can plant pollinator gardens. You can even manage lawn in such a way that it continues to be a regenerative place where the soil grows. (More on these options in coming posts)
Remember, growing soil is soil with more organic matter (read soil carbon). Increases in soil carbon equals decreases in atmospheric CO2. So therefore not using glyphosate and looking after your soil regeneratively is a win-win for you and a win-win for the planet.
Any questions give me drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.