First registered for use in the U.S. in 1974, Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States and one of the world’s most widely-used plant killers (Monsanto’s Roundup which uses glyphosate is found in garden sheds around the world). It’s used on about 298 million acres (121 million ha) of agricultural cropland every year in the US. Brazil, which under Jair Bolsanaro has seen an explosion in pesticide use and subsequent mass die-offs of bees, has approved 87 products containing glyphosate since September 2016, including eight in 2020 alone.
In 2018 environmental campaigner Erin Brockovich wrote a damning article in The Guardian ‘The weedkiller in our food is killing us‘ which stated that Glyphosate “is now an ingredient in more than 750 products…For more than a generation, Americans have been using Roundup and other glyphosate-based chemicals to improve agricultural yields, manage forests, ripen fruit and kill the dandelions sprouting from our front lawns.” She went on to say that high levels of Glyphosate residues are found in “almonds, carrots, quinoa, soy products, vegetable oil, corn and corn oil, canola seeds used in canola oil, beets and beet sugar, sweet potatoes…“.
In 2015, The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. In May 2019, a California court awarded more than $2bn to a couple who said the weed killer caused their cancer – a claim denied by the manufacturer Bayer, which faces other lawsuits. The National Farmers Union here in the UK lobbies hard for its continued use, despite plants developing resistance (the overwhelming majority of corn and soybean plants in the US are now Roundup-resistant) and its potential harm to people.
Now the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose mission is to protect human health and the environment – despite being stuffed with Trump appointees bent on dismantling protection from everything to migrating birds, wolves, and wildernesses in favour of energy companies and intensive agriculture – has reported that glyphosate is “likely to injure or kill 93% of the plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)”. The ESA is one of the most popular and effective environmental laws ever enacted in the US. Designed to prevent extinctions, in the four decades since the Act became law, 99% of species protected under it have survived (though again Trump’s efforts to smash the ESA have weakened the protections given to a whole tranche of species).
For the EPA to declare that a single ingredient is likely to ‘injure or kill’ almost every single one of the plants and animals protected under the ESA (a total of 1,676 endangered species) is huge. In a world where the survival of species, biodiversity, and entire ecosystems actually mattered, it shoud mean that glyphosate would be taken off the shelves immediately. of course, in a world where short-term profit and the influence of industry lobbyists demonstrably matters more than, for the example, the climate and the long-term survival of life on earth, it’s doubtful that anything will be done….
EPA Finds Glyphosate Is Likely to Injure or Kill 93% of Endangered Species
The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft biological evaluation today finding that glyphosate is likely to injure or kill 93% of the plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act..
The long-anticipated draft biological evaluation released by the agency’s pesticide office found that 1,676 endangered species are likely to be harmed by glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and the world’s most-used pesticide.
The draft biological opinion also found that glyphosate adversely modifies critical habitat for 759 endangered species, or 96% of all species for which critical habitat has been designated.
“The hideous impacts of glyphosate on the nation’s most endangered species are impossible to ignore now,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Glyphosate use is so widespread that even the EPA’s notoriously industry-friendly pesticide office had to conclude that there are hardly any endangered species that can manage to evade its toxic impacts.”
Hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate are used each year in the United States, mostly in agriculture but also on lawns, gardens, landscaping, roadsides, schoolyards, national forests, rangelands, power lines and more.
According to the EPA, 280 million pounds of glyphosate are used just in agriculture, and glyphosate is sprayed on 298 million acres of crop land each year. Eighty-four percent of glyphosate pounds applied in agriculture are applied to soy, corn and cotton, commodity crops that are genetically engineered to tolerate being drenched with quantities of glyphosate that would normally kill a plant.
Glyphosate is also widely used in fruit and vegetable production.
“As we prepare to feast on our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, the ugly truth of how harmful industrial-scale agriculture has become in the U.S. has never been so apparent,” said Burd. “If we want to stop the extinction of amazing creatures like monarch butterflies, we need the EPA to take action to stop the out-of-control spraying of deadly poisons.”
The EPA has, for decades, steadfastly refused to comply with its obligation under the Endangered Species Act to assess the harms of pesticides to protected plants and animals. But it was finally forced to do this evaluation under the terms of a 2016 legal agreement with the Center.
Emails obtained in litigation brought against Monsanto/Bayer by cancer victims and their families have uncovered a disturbingly cozy relationship between the agency and the company on matters involving the glyphosate risk assessment.
In one example, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it would be reviewing glyphosate’s safety, an EPA official assured Monsanto he would work to thwart the review, saying, “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.” The Health and Human Services review was delayed for three years.
Monsanto/Bayer has also enjoyed broad support from the Trump White House. A domestic policy advisor in the Trump administration stated, “We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation.”
Earlier this year, relying on confidential industry research, the EPA reapproved glyphosate. The EPA’s assessment contradicts a 2015 World Health Organization analysis of published research that determined glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.
President-elect Joe Biden has already tapped Michael McCabe, a former consultant to chemical giant DuPont, to join his Environmental Protection Agency transition board, drawing broad outrage, including from Erin Brockovich.Center for Biological Diversity press-release, 25 Nov 2020