What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate was first discovered and developed by a chemist named John E. Franz while working for the multinational chemical company Monsanto in the early 1970s. The initial purpose behind the development of Glyphosate was to provide farmers with a powerful herbicide that could control a wide range of weeds effectively. It is used to eliminate unwanted weeds that compete with crops for sunshine, nutrients and water.
The introduction of glyphosate-resistant crops in the 1990s further increased its popularity, as farmers could use glyphosate to control weeds without harming their genetically modified crops.
While it is praised for its effectiveness in weed control, concerns about its potential negative impacts on human health and the environment have raised significant alarm bells. In this blog, we will delve into the ill effects of glyphosate, shedding light on the potential risks associated with its widespread use and the natural alternates could be used instead.
- Human Health Concerns
a. Residue in Food: The use of glyphosate in agriculture has led to its residues being found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, and grains. This has raised concerns about the long-term effects of consuming food with glyphosate residues, especially considering its potential impact on human health.
b. Carcinogenicity: One of the most significant controversies surrounding glyphosate is its alleged link to cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015. This classification sparked a wave of lawsuits against Monsanto, the maker of herbicide Roundup, alleging that exposure to glyphosate had caused cancer in many individuals.
c. Endocrine Disruption: Glyphosate has also been suggested to disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormones in the body. Studies have indicated that exposure to glyphosate may interfere with hormonal balance, potentially leading to various health issues, including reproductive problems and developmental abnormalities.
- Environmental Impact
a. Soil Health: Glyphosate can affect soil health by disrupting the microbial communities that play a crucial role in nutrient cycling and maintaining soil fertility. Prolonged use of glyphosate may lead to soil degradation, impacting the overall health of ecosystems.
b. Water Contamination: Runoff from fields treated with glyphosate can find its way into water bodies, leading to water contamination. Studies have detected glyphosate in rivers, lakes, and even groundwater, raising concerns about its potential ecological impact on aquatic life and the quality of drinking water.
c. Impact on Non-Target Plants: While glyphosate is designed to target specific weeds, it can also harm non-target plants. This collateral damage can affect biodiversity and disrupt ecosystems, particularly in areas where glyphosate is extensively used.
- Resistant Weeds and Increased Herbicide Use
a. Evolution of Glyphosate-Resistant Weeds: Prolonged and widespread use of glyphosate has led to the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds. This poses a significant challenge for farmers, as they are forced to use alternative, often more potent, herbicides to control these resistant weeds.
b. Escalating Herbicide Use: The emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds has resulted in increased herbicide use, negating one of the primary advantages of glyphosate – its perceived environmental friendliness. This escalation in herbicide use contributes to a cycle of dependence on chemical solutions with potential consequences for both agricultural sustainability and environmental health.
Herbicide brands that use glyphosate:
Glyphosate-based herbicides are produced and sold by various brands. Some well-known global herbicide brands containing glyphosate include:
Roundup by Monsanto (acquired by Bayer in 2018), Touchdown by Syngenta, Rodeo by Dow AgroSciences (now part of Corteva Agriscience), Credit Xtreme by UPL limited, Glyphomax by Valent U.S.A, Durango DMA by Albaugh, LLC.
Around 35 brands of glyphosate are available in India, according to a report by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a non-profit working on pesticide issues.
These are Allkill, Azad, Bound off, Brake (manufactured by Biostadt), Brake up (Plant Rem), Cedar, Clean-up (Indofil), Cleanup, Clinton, Dera, Everspread, Excel Mera71, Fausta, Gladiator (Devidayal), Globus, Glory, Glycare, Glycel (Excel), Glyfokil, Glyfos, Glyphogal SL, Glyphos, Glytaf, Glytech, Kill shot, Nippout, Noweed, Root-up, Roundup (Insecticide India), Safal (Tropical AS), Safal 71, Srigent (Jayasree Rasayan Udyog), Sweep and Weedoff.
It's important to keep in mind that the availability of specific products and formulations may change over time due to mergers, acquisitions, and changes in the industry. Check with local agricultural extension services, regulatory agencies, or the manufacturers themselves for the most up-to-date information on glyphosate-containing herbicides.
Countries Restricting or Banning Glyphosate:
India: In an order released on 25th of October 2022, the Indian government restricted the use of chemical Glyphosate in India, fearing risk to human and animal health. The order stated that Glyphosate will be applied only through pest control operators (PCOs).
Though the use of glyphosate is restricted to tea crops and non crop areas in India, farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Telangana and West Bengal were found using glyphosate illegally in more than 20 field crops (16 food crops) during a field study by PAN India in 2017.
- France: In 2017, France announced its intention to phase out glyphosate use, aiming to ban it for most uses by 2021.
- Austria: In July 2019, Austria became the first European Union country to ban the use of glyphosate.
- Vietnam: In 2019, Vietnam banned the import of glyphosate-containing herbicides.
- Malawi: In 2019, Malawi announced a ban on the importation and use of glyphosate.
Regulatory status of glyphosate is subject to change, and decisions can be influenced by ongoing research, public opinion, and evolving scientific understanding.
What are the alternates to glyphosate?
As concerns about the environmental and health impacts of chemical herbicides, including glyphosate, continue to rise, there is growing interest in exploring alternative methods for weed control. Here are some eco-friendly alternatives to chemical herbicides:
- Description: Mulching involves covering the soil around plants with a layer of organic or inorganic materials, such as straw, wood chips, or plastic.
Benefits: Mulch suppresses weed growth by blocking sunlight, preventing weed seeds from germinating. It also helps retain soil moisture and regulates soil temperature.
- Description: Manual removal of weeds by hand or with hand tools.
Benefits: This method is effective for small-scale weed control, especially in gardens. It is precise and avoids the use of chemicals, promoting organic and sustainable practices.
- Description: Planting crops that cover and protect the soil during periods when the main crop is not growing.
Benefits: Cover crops suppress weeds by outcompeting them for sunlight and nutrients. They also improve soil structure and fertility, contributing to overall agricultural sustainability.
- Description: Herbicides made from vinegar (acetic acid) can be used as an alternative to synthetic chemicals.
Benefits: Vinegar-based herbicides are considered a more natural option. However, caution should be exercised as they can also affect non-target plants, and repeated applications may be necessary.
Natural Oil Extracts:
- Description: Citrus oil extracts, derived from citrus fruits and certain essential oils derived from clove, cinnamon and eugenol have shown herbicidal properties and can be used as an alternative to synthetic herbicides.
- Benefits: Natrual oil extracts are considered biodegradable and may have lower environmental and health impact compared to some chemical herbicides.
It's important to note that the efficacy of these organic herbicides can vary depending on factors such as the type of weed, application timing, and environmental conditions. Additionally, integrated weed management practices, combining different control methods, are often recommended for sustainable weed control.
A different approach to agriculture
Shifting from a conventional, chemical-intensive approach to agriculture to one that embraces ecological principles involves recognizing the value of various plants, including those traditionally labeled as "weeds."
While weeds are often seen as nuisances in modern agriculture and gardening, many of them do indeed serve valuable ecological and even culinary purposes. Many of these so called weeds have been forgotten and hence could be called as forgotten foods.
We will look into this aspect in our next blog.
Consume naturally farmed foods.
Replace rice with millets in your diet.