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"The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself." — Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“If we have declared a war against the soil itself, then we are literally committing a species level suicide.” — Dr. Vandana Shiva
In light of this quote, had Monsanto been around during Roosevelt's time, he would not have taken too kindly to their business strategy. After all, in 2007, 176 million lbs of an extremely toxic herbicide known as glyphosate,1 first created by Monsanto, was sprayed onto the soil (and everything standing between it) in this country, with untold environmental and human health fallout.
Untold, that is, until now...
Roundup (Glyphosate): The Science Vs. Marketing
2011 was a watershed year, as far as scientific revelations into the nature and extent of the damage associated with glyphosate-based herbicide usage and exposure is concerned. An accumulating body of peer-reviewed and published research now indicates glyphosate may be contributing to several dozen adverse health effects in exposed populations. And as we shall see, human exposure is as universal as is the contamination of our food, air, rain and groundwater with this now ubiquitous chemical.
Ever since Monsanto developed, marketed and patented the glyphosate molecule -- Roundup (®) herbicide's active ingredient -- beginning in the early 70's, a substantial and ever-growing portion of the earth's arable surface has been transformed into an environmental and human health experiment, of unprecedented scale. Non-industry funded human research on glyphosate exposure is only now being performed, and the preliminary picture being painted isn't very pretty. Recent experimental research found that exceedingly small concentrations of glyphosate (450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications) induce DNA damage in human cells. Given these findings, it is likely that the widespread adoption of GM agriculture has and will continue to result in massive collateral health damage; the fall-out of which we are only beginning to understand, and yet which we are all no doubt are already experiencing, mostly subclinically.
Roundup Ready (®) (glyphosate resistant) genetically modified (GM) plants (also created by Monsanto) now constitute 70% of all genetically modified food plants on the market today.2 This has required the use of increasingly larger quantities of glyphosate-based herbicides in the regions where these plants are cultivated, making human exposures inevitable, and now simply a question of to what degree. Despite manufacturers' claims, pest resistance to GM crops and commonly used herbicides, are becoming a serious problem, and companies like Dow Agrosciences are seizing the opportunity with newly created GM crops that are 'three herbicide" resistant, requiring the future use of even more toxic combinations and greater quantities of herbicides in America's farmlands, including 2,4 D, a chemical once used in Agent Orange.
Glyphosate is now contaminating groundwater in vast subterranean stretches in areas directly and indirectly exposed to the application of this agrichemical; a finding that runs contrary to manufacturer's claims that glyphosate is readily "biodegradable" and even "makes the soil cleaner," which it does not. Moreover, one 2011 study found glyphosate in 60-100% of all US air and rain samples tested, indicating that glyphosate pollution and exposure is now omnipresent in the regions within which it is applied.
It is one thing to know that when you consume GM food, you are ingesting glyphosate residues (and secondary chemical metabolites) -- at least, as a consumer you always have a choice (economics permitting) of buying explicitly labeled non-GMO, certified organic food. It is another thing to know that simply engaging in necessary biological functions, such as breathing or consuming water, will result in exposure to albeit minute, and yet nonetheless toxicologically relevant and measurable concentrations of this chemical. Where, then, do we draw the line? Is this a form of chemical assault, or simply collateral damage in the agricultural war against pests?
One thing is for sure: Roundup-ready plants are, through their inherent design, destroying the biodiversity upon which our existence depends. Monoculturing itself, as the name implies, involves selecting one plant, or a few chosen "ones," out of the tens of thousands that once occupied a pre-agricultural habitat, and renaming all other non-target plants as "other" or "weeds," requiring their destruction. Monoculturing and genetic engineering have transformed what were once unimaginably biodiverse and vast habitats, into agrichemical-saturated wastelands, with half-living, chemically-assaulated GM plants just holding on for dear life by a human-held string, until harvest time.
And yet, the more fundamental and unrecoverable problem may be what has happened to the soil itself during this process of GM farming. It takes approximately 1,000 years for the earth to produce (on its own) a 2.5 inch thick layer of fertile soil. And yet, it may take only a single application of Roundup to irreversibly alter the microbial populations within the soil -- much in the same way that a single round of antibiotics may seriously and irreversibly alter your gut flora for the rest of your life.