No reprieve for glyphosate

Many toxicologists disagree with the assessment that glyphosate is a human health risk

The public conversation around glyphosate is all flowing in one direction. A cluster of environmental campaigners, organic food activists and crusading scientists are dominating the discussion around the controversial herbicide.

Over the last few weeks, groups like the Organic Consumers Association and Beyond Pesticides have blitzed the North American media with news releases and social media activity to convince the public that glyphosate is a grave risk to human health.

In their statements, they claim that human exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, causes autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, depression, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and a list of other ailments.

To defend their comments, they point to scientific studies and legal decisions that support their side of the story.

Meanwhile, North American farm groups and growers who use glyphosate say little or nothing in defence of the herbicide. The silence is surprising, seeing how glyphosate is a critical tool for weed control and that dozens of regulatory bodies around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada, have concluded that the herbicide is not a health risk.

The absence of public support from farm groups means ag industry groups such as Crop Life Canada are left to do much of the work defending the safety and benefits of modern agriculture.

“That’s why I’m suggesting that farmers take a crack at it, as well. Because I think that’s who people want to hear from,” said Owen Roberts, director of research communications at Ontario’s University of Guelph.

“I encourage all farmers to make communications, social media in particular, a part of their farm management strategy.”

The effort may be needed because groups like the Organic Consumers Association are pushing strong messages in their opposition to Roundup. In mid-May, the organization referred to a study out of Italy and claimed that glyphosate is a health threat, even at minuscule concentrations.

“The U.S. EPA has … (been) claiming that exposure to the chemical at low levels is harmless,” said Ronnie Cummins of the OCA. “This new pilot study confirms what many responsible scientists have been saying all along: there is no such thing as ‘safe’ levels when it comes to glyphosate, especially when it comes to children.”

Many toxicologists disagree with the assessment that glyphosate is a human health risk, including John Giesy of the University of Saskatchewan.

Nonetheless, the campaign against the herbicide is affecting market perceptions and Canadian farmers.

Breweries are refusing to buy malt barley if it’s been sprayed with glyphosate before harvest, oat millers are telling growers not to apply the herbicide, pre-harvest, and Italian pasta makers are refusing to buy Canadian durum partly because of concerns over glyphosate residues.

Roberts isn’t convinced that average citizens are worried about glyphosate in their food, but it’s obvious that farmers need to enhance their public engagement.

“I’m not sure the public has embraced the so-called dangers (of glyphosate) that activists are talking about,” he said, adding folks who dislike modern agriculture use the herbicide as a weapon against the industry.

“To me, they are more anti-technology people than they are anti-glyphosate people…. It (Roundup) may represent some of things that people are going to be angry about.”

He said farmers might counter some of the negative perceptions by developing relationships with consumers through Twitter and Facebook.

Once trust is established, they could refer their social media followers to another group, such as the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, for more information on herbicides and other farming technologies.

The key, though, is a change in thinking.

Producers who talk to the public about farming shouldn’t worry that they’re “grandstanding” or worry about what other farmers will think, Roberts said.

That’s because communication is just part of the new reality of agriculture.

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  • Janet

    It is not only human health that is impacted by Glyphosate, this pesticide is killing many beneficial insects and birds. The populations of both of these is drastically down from healthy levels. Ask yourself if you would spray some glyphosate on your lunch and then eat it? That is what we are doing to all creatures who live in the fields and who are the foundation for soils being nutritious places for plants to grow. The next destination for glyphosate sprayed on fields is the water table in those fields, where does water drain and where does the evaporated water go? In water, glyphosate is still toxic and still kills living beings, thus fish and other water life are destroyed too. Regarding human health, there are organic farmers who used to be roundup using farmers, and have left that method due to health problems that did not continue to develop after switching to organic farming. There IS much research supporting the human and other detrimental health effects of using glyphosate.

    • walleyeman

      organic farming ?
      Sure and produce 30% of what is the norm, pay a very high price for your food, like double or triple of present price.
      It is like DEF that governments mandated for use in diesel trucks.
      Try to control pollution has resulted in a lot of issues that California is now finding not good.
      Since the DEF mandate the State of California is now finding that the roadside ditches no longer have insects or nesting birds.
      So pick your evil.

      • ed

        Actually organic yields are significantly higher. In a world that produces ten times more bulk grain calories annually than the entire population of the earth could annually eat at three squares a day, that truely is not that important however. What is important is having a food supply that does not bring on early cancers in the populations and does not drive grain prices so low that our good farmers become slaves on their grandfathers farms, having to rely on a multitude of other sources of income to make ends meet. These sources include things such as Federally and Provincially heavilly subsidized AgriStability, AgriInvest, AgriRecovery programs, Federally and Provincially heavily subsidized Crop Insuranse programs, government subsidized Zero Interest Cash Advance Schemes, government subsidized low interest farm loans and land buying programs for younger farmers, (young being 45 and under now???), and a long list of other heavily government subsidized programs, machinery loans, free or subsidized training programs etc., as well as multiple self subsidizing off farm employment scenarios, right down to driving the rural kids on the school bus to town. Modern Conventional Ag. is not really that conventional at all, does not produce cheap results, and is a basicall a ramped up version of the old “Shell Game”. It is sadly more of a fraudulent food supply system than the actual honest one that it replaced and once was.

  • Denise

    I guess it must be human nature to want to find and attach labels to people who oppose your beliefs.
    In truth, there are many ordinary folks who are just concerned and care about the quality and safety of the food they are feeding their families.
    Informed consumers make better and healthier choices when they shop.
    The citizens who are not concerned about glyphosate are so because they don’t even know what glyphosate and GMOs are or haven’t bothered to find out. I know it’s hard to believe. They blindly trust the system!
    I don’t honestly know anybody that is anti-technology. We all hope for a better life from the technological advancements, made by man, but when something turns out to be a bust, do we keep driving over the cliff?
    Modern agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean we have to use chemical agriculture (Roundup Ready seeds and glyphosate based herbicides).
    It might mean regenerative agriculture where chemicals/ pesticides are used very sparingly.
    You wonder why North American farm groups and farmers don’t defend glyphosate?
    It’s pretty hard to defend the indefensible.

  • Frank

    What I find especially bothersome is this strategy of putting the onus on Farmers to speak out, (also see the stalled social license smokescreen). Who is the customers here? I think this is backwards, Farmers should be coming right back to big Agra business and put the onus back on their

  • grinninglibber

    Another Monsanto PR piece for their toxic wares.
    BAN IT!

  • walleyeman

    to the groups that want to ban glyphosate.
    Be careful of what you wish for.
    Farmers are told to feed the worlds population.
    Farmers try to fill that need.
    Remove glyphosate from the market will result in lower yields, higher input costs for farmers which will force farmers to look at other crops for income or not grow a food crop at all.
    If you wish to see a starving population in regions that are already struggling to eat grains then continue your pressure tactics.
    These groups all want to end all chemical application.
    They certainly love dandelions and mosquitos as they complain about any application to control these ugly items.
    But god help anyone who contacts west nile because the mosquitos are left to breed uncontrolled.

    • Progressives Progress

      typical Monsanto script

    • patzagame


    • Rob Bright

      More antiscience, propagandist, gibberish from someone who either doesn’t know any better, or is intentionally trying to misinform people with agrochemical industry propaganda.

    • SonyHater

      I don’t see a need to ban glyphosate. But the preharvest application leaves too much residue in food. Agree?

  • ed

    Turn to Social Media. You first have to make the wild assumption that some people still partake in such garbage. That being said, the “Big” companies did the same thing long ago, hiring doctors for goodness sakes, (shakes your faith in those guys a bit), to do cigarette aids claiming that smoking was like, “a breath of fresh air”. Seriously. This is like a version of Back to the Future. Back in Time we go Hewy.

  • Rob Bright

    University of Guelph is apparently owned and operated by the agrochemical/ biotech industry. Sad when a public institution becomes a tool and propagandist mouthpiece for corporate interests.

  • SonyHater

    Hi Cooperators,
    Great article but I notice two factual errors:
    Breweries aren’t refusing to buy malt barley if it’s been sprayed with glyphosate before harvest because of “negative perceptions”. Preharvest application of glyphosate affects the seed’s ability to germinate .

    Oat millers are not telling growers not to apply the herbicide pre-harvest because of “negative perceptions”. Terry Tyson, Grain Millers procurement manager disagreed in a 2015 cooperators article.

    Oh, and I am an “average” person concerned about glyphosate in my food too. I think preharvest application puts too much residue in food.

    • Denise

      The best kept secret is that glyphosate is sprayed on many crops before harvest. I know it was not intentional to keep it a secret but, i do know that, if you don’t ask the right question you will never get the right answer.
      We ,as consumers, feel a bit sheepish about asking these questions.
      What you don’t know won’t hurt you, does not apply here.
      Here is the list of crops desiccated with glyphosate:
      non-GMO soybeans
      sugar beets
      Thanks for the information @
      I did not know the extent of the use of glyphosate for pre-harvest desiccation on so many grains, seeds, and vegetables,which we depend on as our daily source of food.


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