"The most dangerous thing about glyphosate is the van that delivers it"

Sean Sparling - Glyphosate Outlook on Country File

Filming a piece on Glyphosate for BBC Country file - but when did it become totally acceptable for groups who oppose anything - whether that be glyphosate, GMs, or indeed the general use of agrochemicals or anything else for that matter - to routinely spread spurious information and downright falsehoods in order to achieve their aims?

UK food production and indeed world farming would be decimated and unnecessarily compromised if glyphosate were to be removed from use when its re-evaluated in December 2017. It is as vital a tool to agriculture as the farmers themselves and, to put pseudo-scientific and knowingly false claims into the public domain just to create public distrust of what is one of the safest actives we use, is a disgracefully calculated and cynical act. The overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows that glyphosate is NOT in any way carcinogenic to consumers, it is NOT mutagenic, it is NOT an endocrine disrupting agent - the overwhelming mountain of independent scientific assessments and reports from world renowned bodies such as the EFSA have proved that over and over again - but apparently all you need to do to get an active ingredient banned - no matter how safe - is simply put an unqualified rumour into the public arena and that undoes, undermines and negates all of the years of science and fact?

We used very little glyphosate up until around 25 years ago when we had straw burning - the burn did the job of the glyphosate by destroying weeds and weed seeds prior to crop establishment. When the burning ban came in, we turned to glyphosate as the only alternative - and it worked pretty well to a degree. When we had burning, we had little in the way of resistance, because fire kills everything. But weeds have evolved, and now we see herbicides failing in the growing crop - hence pre cultivation glyphosate and stale seedbeds are the only way forward in the fight against weeds like blackgrass.

If the reason certain groups are demonising glyphosate, is to help the drive to prevent GM crop technology from developing in the future - "no Glyphosate no GM" being their logic - then these groups should consider a few things in the meantime.

  1. Over 75% of world supplies of glyphosate are NOT made and/or sold by Monsanto, therefore over 75% of the worlds glyphosate would never be used in GM crop production anyway - even if GM technology were to be universally adopted which is looking highly unlikely. So to remove glyphosate "because without it they cant develop GM crops" or "just in case all else fails in getting GM crops stopped" is a ridiculous standpoint - from a food production AND a human health point of view. Why human health? Because, as an example, if grass weeds are not controlled pre drilling in the seedbed before any cereal seed ever goes in the ground, because our "in crop" herbicide options are now so limited thanks to legislation and resistance issues, the incidence of Ergot (claviceps purpurea to name but one) which can lead to abortion and miscarriage will increase dramatically - now that IS dangerous to human health . . . . . . BAN ERGOT! The effects on conventional agriculture are almost incalculable, not least with weeds like blackgrass which need to be controlled PRIOR to cereals being planted. Long-term feeding studies have shown that glyphosate does not cause birth defects or reproductive problems in laboratory animals either. Glyphosate has consistently been shown to be without effect in an extensive battery of mutagenicity and genotoxicity assays designed to measure gene mutations, chromosome aberrations, and DNA damage and repair.

  2. Glyphosate is being demonised as a "toxic" compound. Looking at that, it has an LD50 (which is the universally accepted toxicology rating, where the number is the quantity in mg required per kg of bodyweight to kill 50% of test subjects), of 5600. The lower the LD50, the more toxic the item. So on the same scale, CuSO4 (widely used organic fungicide) has an LD50 of just 30, Nicotine has an LD50 of 50, Rotenone (widely used organic insecticide) has an LD50 of 150, caffeine has an LD50 of 197, alcohol of 200 . . . . So with an LD50 of 5,600 why is glyphosate public enemy number 1 . . . . Shouldn't these others be banned first, before we get to the higher numbers like glyphosate, purely on the "public safety" grounds which are being used as justification for ridding us of glyphosate? . . . . . . . . . BAN NICOTINE, CAFFEINE, COPPER SULPHATE, ALCOHOL, SALT, BLEACH, PARACETAMOL . . . . . . . .
    The EPA classifies herbicides for acute toxicity in four categories where "I" is the most toxic and "IV" is the least toxic. Glyphosate is rated as an EPA Category IV for acute oral toxicity based on tests conducted on rats - that's pretty much as safe as it gets.

    The results from other extensive, chronic toxicology tests recently resulted in an EPA classification of glyphosate as a "Category E" herbicide, or "evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans," the most favorable rating possible that can be granted.

    EPA Categories are on a scale of A to E where A is carcinogenic to humans and E is not carcinogenic to humans . . . *Glyphosate is rated as Category E

  3. These "Anti-Glyphosate" groups are also pushing for a group of the adjuvants used within some glyphosate products - tallow amines - to be banned because of how toxic IT is . . . tallow amines are derived from animal fats, they are surfactants and wetting agents and belong to the polyoxy-ethylene-amines group of surfactants. These wetters are also widely used in our domestic soaps, shampoos, washing up liquids, hand creams, shower gels and other general everyday products, so should we not be removing these deadly domestic soap bars from use too, after all, how can it be safe to apply these compounds directly to ones skin but not safe to apply to a field 3 years BEFORE we get to use it . . . . BAN IMPERIAL LEATHER AND CAMAY . . . . do you see where this is going?

  4. Glyphosate is being quoted as being "carcinogenic to humans" because apparently that statement was contained in "a report". The actual context of the reference in that report, was that "glyphosate could be perceived as being carcinogenic to spray operators who are over exposed to it, but this risk is minimised by the routine and statutory use of protective equipment which reduces operator exposure to negligible levels". It was NEVER stated that there is any risk at all to consumers from glyphosate - that was just poetic licence from taking a comment out of context and is at best VERY misleading. The fact is, that based upon field rates of 1 litre per hectare of a 360g formulation of glyphosate applied pre harvest of a milling wheat crop as a harvest aid, even if wholemeal flour was used, based upon 550g of flour in an 800g loaf we would get over 18000 bread loaves per hectare treated and, taking into account that 99% of the applied glyphosate would stay in the field on the straw and chaff and never even touch the grain owing to the fact that because it is a translocated material, when applied to a crop at less than 30% moisture (when it would be applied), it can't penetrate the glumes that envelope the grain itself - you find out that one would have to eat in excess of 750 loaves of wholemeal bread a day for a lifetime to get to just 1% of the safe dose or MRL of glyphosate! Yet a teaspoon of salt or a cap-ful of bleach will kill a child within minutes - BAN SALT & BLEACH should be the cry from these groups surely . . . . . I think a little perpective is required don't you?!

  5. If these groups don't want GM technology to progress, I have no problem with that view, but to demonise vital tools such as glyphosate that are fundamentally and scientifically proven by the EFSA and hundreds of other organisations to be consumer safe and to pose no threat to anything other than the plants they were designed to kill, should at best be viewed as misrepresentation. Such accusations need to be proven by independent bodies with no hidden agenda and no ulterior motive, otherwise anyone can say anything about anything, then before you know it, it's the bloody Salem witch trials all over again.
    It's also worth noting that the IARC also classifies some organic pesticides as carcinogenic too, does that mean that they cause cancer in the amounts consistent with actual practical usage? No, not necessarily, but the extreme emphasis some people are putting on glyphosate's reclassification to the exclusion of the other "natural" compounds is a huge double standard, and double standards are usually a pretty good indication of a strong bias on the part of the people making the most noise about it.


  6. Great headlines were made from the fact that glyphosate turned up at a minutely trace level in a Euro MP's urine. Firstly, that shows that someone other than me is taking the p*ss out of Euro MPs, secondly and most importantly it shows that the human body is doing its job and removes anything remotely "waste" as far as its concerned; thirdly the levels of arsenic, cyanide, aluminium, lead, mercury, cadmium and selenium in the same urine sample, were most likely thousands of times greater than the glyphosate levels - but it wasn't deemed necessary to include that fact in the headlines, because they're not trying to get these elements banned are they . . . . the picture begins to come together doesn't it? In fact bio-accumulation test results show that glyphosate does not accumulate in animals, birds, or aquatic species such as fish, clams or shrimp; therefore, glyphosate does not accumulate in the food chain. The lack of accumulation reflects the high water solubility of glyphosate and its rapid elimination from the body - also hence the aforementioned Euro MP's widdle! in factcurrent regulations state that no more than 0.5 parts per billion (PPB) or microgrammes per litre of pesticide are allowed in our drinking water, but they allow 4x more mercury, 10x more cadmium, 20x more Selenium, 30x more lead, 100x more arsenic and 400x more aluminium and cyanide in that water . . . . perspective please. The fact its in there is irrelevant, as Paracelsus (the father of toxicology) said, "its the dose that makes the toxin". Indeed, there's enough flouride in 23 tubes of toothpaste to kill us, enough caffeine in 15 cans of redbull to kill us, 6 litres of water in one go will kill us . . . . . its the dose thats key, not the presence.

  7. "Glyphosate contaminates the soil" is yet another spurious claim. The fact is that glyphosate quickly breaks down in the soil (within 40 days or so) into inert compounds such as carbon dioxide, water and other compounds that actually nourish some soil organisms and, what doesn't break down just locks firmly onto soil particles and deactivates. This means it goes nowhere, it cannot get into the water table because its immobile and is locked onto soil particles. Glyphosate inhibits the production of an enzyme called EPSP synthase, which in turn prevents the plant from manufacturing certain aromatic amino acids essential for plant growth and life. The pathway is known as the Shikemic acid pathway. This pathway is unique to plants and to a tiny number of bacteria - bacteria which, incidentally, if the said amino acid production is disrupted, are able to harvest the missing aromatic amino acids from their immediate environment and therefore suffer no adverse effects as a result - much as a cereal plant will produce the enzyme malate which mimics the actions of sulphate if Sulphur is deficient. Its also fair to say that organic farms use extensive quantities of glyphosate in the 18 months leading up to organic certification, so surely that soil must also be contaminated if conventional agriculture use leads to contamination . . . . . the fact is that it doesn't contaminate soils at all so the "contamination" argument is utterly moot.

  8. FACT - No one has EVER died as a result of the correct use of ANY pesticide . . . . EVER, yet every year thousands of people die from eating wild berries and leaves - 4kg of Spinach or rhubarb has enough naturally occurring toxin in it to be lethal to an average adult. BAN BERRIES AND SPINACH

  9. There are more toxins and carcinogenic compounds in 1 cup of coffee, a few glasses of wine, or a few pints of beer than there are in all the pesticide residues you ingest from your food over an entire year - perspective strikes again.

  10. On the same scale of "dangerousness" from the IACR and WHO which is demonising glyphosate, glyphosate ranks at the same risk level as eating red meat, eating apples, in fact eating all fruit, hairdresser products, emissions from frying foods, smoke from wood burning and - perhaps most worryingly - working a night shift . . . . . . BAN NIGHT SHIFTS

  11. Conservation tillage is an important part of the solution to soil erosion across the world, and glyphosate contributes to the success of this environmentally beneficial agricultural technique. In conservation tillage, enough crop residue is left on the soil surface to protect it from water & wind erosion. Without traditional cultivations, however, weeds emerge that interfere with planting or compete with growing seedlings for sun, water and nutrients. When glyphosate is sprayed on the field before planting, the competing weeds are killed while the residual vegetation continues to protect the soil surface from erosion and moisture loss. Crops can then be planted shortly after the glyphosate is applied. Conservation tillage programs also conserve energy, because fewer trips over the field are required, so farmers can significantly reduce their fossil fuel use. In fact, they can save around 70% of the fuel they would have used for conventional farming practices. As far as water contamination goes, several glyphosate formulations are actually approved for controlling weeds in waterways in both the U.S. and in Europe.

  12. Generally, a 100-fold margin of safety is considered adequate for exposure to a herbicide. This means that the highest potential amount of herbicide residue in food or the highest potential amount of herbicide exposure to workers using it must be at least 100 times less than the amount of the compound that causes no effect in animal studies. Glyphosate's safety margin is much greater than required. It has over a 1,000-fold safety margin in food, and over a 700-fold safety margin for workers who manufacture it or use it.

  13. It is also worth noting that when glyphosate IS "shown" to be toxic or dangerous to non plant organisms in these "scientific studies" carried out by its opponents, invariably it is only when huge doses are injected directly into the subjects - this is NOT representative of how it is used in practice. To put that into context, you can take 2 paracetamol 4 times a day for headaches with no ill effects. BUT, if you were to take 1000 paracetamol 4 times a day, it would kill you. THIS IS NOT A JUSTIFICATION FOR BANNING PARACETAMOL!!!

To summarise, RISK and HAZARD are 2 very different things. Virtually all agrochemicals are HAZARDOUS, but we lessen the danger by understanding them, respecting and abiding by stautory regulations and directions, and by mitigating the RISK. The best analogy of this is a roller skate on the stairs. The roller skate is the HAZARD, the chances of standing on it is the RISK. What you do, is you make sure you know where the roller skate is and you take measures to avoid standing on it.


The truth is, that glyphosate is most certainly NOT the deadly, carcinogenic and mortally dangerous herbicide that those who wish to see its removal have hyped it up to be. When used as it is intended to be used, legally, safely and when all usage instructions and safety equipment recommendations on the labels are adhered to - as people like me ensure they always are in this industry of ours - it is almost totally innocuous to the operator and a thousand times less dangerous than that to us as consumers. Furthermore, when you compare its safety to products like paraquat that were replaced when its use increased following the burning ban over 25 years ago, it was a huge step forward in safety. Opponents of glyphosate often seem to hold this biased, utopian and wholly unfounded notion that, if they can manage to get glyphosate banned or even willingly abandoned under a wave of public pressure, then it would mean an improvement in both food and environmental safety, but the truth is that it would be more likely be the exact opposite of that. Weeds have to be controlled in agriculture, it has always been that way - that is an inescapable truth - and without glyphosate, we would have to develop something else to do the job, because currently there is no alternative other than cultivations which are useless in comparison. The problem is that the overwhelming likelihood is it would most probably be something far more caustic and far more dangerous to both us and the environment . . . but almost certainly not less so.

In 1989, virtually the entire Canadian milling wheat harvest had to be abandoned because wet weather had prevented fungicides being applied, and the resulting explosion of mycotoxins on the grain - which conventional fungicides would have prevented from forming - rendered the wheat totally unfit for human health. There is always a risk WITH EVERYTHING - too much sun will kill us, too much alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, salt, fat, calories, water, oxygen carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, stress . . . . the list is endless, but understanding that those risks can be managed is fundamental to modern life and indeed our future as a species. Canada is testament to the fact that without man made chemicals, mother nature has an almost incalculable portfolio of ways to severely compromise our health and the health of the plants we are trying to grow for food.

And by the way, Just because an agrochemical is an "organic" or "natural" compound it doesn't mean its safer than a synthetic one. Many compounds used in organic farming are derived from natural sources, which allows them to be used in organic farming. If you ask 100 people why they buy organic food, the overwhelming response is because "its grown without pesticides". It isn't. It just means the pesticides that are used are derived from natural sources, because many plants have their own "in-built" fungicidal properties, insecticides, phytoalexins and other toxins (lectins in kidney beans, glycoalkaloids in green potatoes, patulin in mouldy apples, mycotoxins produced by the moulds themselves) which enable plants to repel insects, disease etc, and its these compounds that are used in organic farming. Copper Sulphate is a naturally derived fungicide for example, Rotenone is a naturally derived insecticide. But just because its natural does not mean its safer than conventional chemicals - mother nature can be quite the chemist! In the late 1980's, a fungicide we used on apples called "Alar" was removed from use overnight, because 2 parts per billion (2ppb) of its active ingredient - a HYDRAZINE based fungicide - was found in apples & this was considered to be far too carcinogenic to humans. The thing is, that mushrooms, peanut butter and burnt toast all contain levels of naturally ocurring HYDRAZINES well in excess of 500ppb - in excess of 250 times greater than the banned fungicide!!! That doesn't mean these foods are mortally dangerous, but it DOES mean that natural is NOT always better for us and that its NOT always the safer option.

The constant drip drip drip of pseudo-science, lies and misinformation into the unsuspecting and trusting public domain regarding glyphosate MUST be stopped and, possibly more importantly, MUST be shown up for the calculated and cynical means to a dubious end that it really is, because in my opinion, the most dangerous thing about glyphosate is the van that delivers it!

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