What’s On Your Plate? Rounding up the evidence of health effects of toxic chemicals in food.

Betsan Martin, March 2018

Responsible food production includes taking account of the way weeds and pests are controlled in growing crops, and knowing about the toxic effects of herbicide sprays on food crops. The herbicide Roundup, which is the trade name for glyphosate, is widely used for weed control in industrial agriculture, but research gives evidence of the toxic effects of this herbicide and its detrimental effects on the nutritional value of food. It asks questions about links between toxic chemicals in food systems and soils and cancer, obesity, autism, diabetes, reduced sperm counts and male infertility.

The debate around glyphosate

The debate – or rather the deep discord the surrounds the issue of the toxic effects of chemical sprays – is worldwide. It reached a crisis point in Europe at the end of 2017, and has surfaced in other food-growing countries alongside the vexed matter of genetic modification.

Glyphosate was relicensed for sale in Europe in November 2017 after a bitterly fought battle to stop its use by scientists and food-safety advocates, including Greenpeace. The renewal for five years is a reprieve from the fifteen-year license sought through the EU Food Safety Authority, EFSA. Generally, industrial farming interests lobby for the use of glyphosate, most notably associated with Monsanto. Farmers associations in Europe threatened legal actionon the basis they would have to change farming methods. French farmers are opposed to the relicensing of glyphosate, whereas farmers in Germany and UK insist on using it.

There are strong links between genetic modification and Roundup. Its use is permitted on the premise that it is deemed to have minimal toxicity and is widely used for weed control in food production. Roundup kills plants when applied to foliage, is also absorbed into the plant and reacts with enzymes that are vital for protein synthesis, plant growth and development. Glyphosate also adsorbs (binds) to soil and can contaminate water.

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Mesnage, R. Bernayc, B. Séralini G.-E. (2013) Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity. Toxicology 313 (2013) 122–128