Joining together toward a herbicide-free community garden

While there is substantial evidence that many herbicides harm humans, considerable controversy regarding the use of Roundup continues to percolate within our gardening community. I hope that this article helps stimulate an informed dialogue.

Roundup, manufactured and sold by Monsanto since 1973, is the most widely-used herbicide in the U.S, with about 100 million pounds applied yearly. Past safety research has examined the effects of glyphosate, the identified active ingredient. Roundup also contains a set of ingredients portrayed by Monsanto as biologically “inert” that have, until recently, been far less examined.

‘False advertising’

Courts have found Monsanto guilty of falsely and misleadingly advertising Roundup as safe and biodegradable. In 1996, Monsanto agreed to discontinue false and misleading advertising after being sued by the Attorney General of the State of New York (NYAG). In the agreement, the NYAG described how Monsanto’s claims (that Roundup is “biodegradable,” “won’t build up in the soil,” “stays where you put it,” “can be used where kids and pets’ll play and breaks down into natural material” are: 1) not accurate because soil particles with glyphosate bound to them have been shown to ‘wash’ through or over soils, and 2) contradict EPA labeling requirements that, among other things, caution use of extreme care and avoid drift during application and inform that minute quantities can cause severe damage or destruction to the crop, plants, or other areas for which treatment was not intended.

Recent research has shown that herbicides have harmful affects on plant and amphibian life. One study, published in 2005, examined the impact of several herbicides on biodiversity of aquatic communities. Among other findings, application of Roundup resulted in a 22% reduction of overall species richness and a 70% decline in the species richness of tadpoles.

Disrupts hormone balance

Most strikingly, in an experimental study published earlier this year, a French team of biologists found that:

  1. One of Roundup’s so-called “inert” ingredients, abbreviated as POEA, was more toxic to human cells reproductive cells than glyphosate itself and killed human cells.
  2. These “inert” ingredients amplified the toxic effect of Roundup on human cells, even at concentrations much lower than those recommended for use on farms and lawns. The authors concluded that “the [inert ingredients] in Roundup formulations are not inert,” and “the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels.” Monsanto criticized the study’s methods as not reflecting the real-life conditions of use.

It is my hope that this extremely brief review will stimulate you to:

  1. Join me in balancing your desire for immediate relief from weeds and insects with a consideration of the likely long-term effects of your gardening strategies on yourself and other humans and organisms,
  2. Reconsider any urge you might have to use Roundup or any other herbicide around our community garden.
  3. Motivate you to consider using efficient ways of reducing weeds without the rather dubious “help” of man-made commercial chemical herbicides.

Written by David York, Plot 7A