The World's Biggest Selling Herbicide

w w w . m o n s a n t o . u n v e i l e d . i n f o

Monsanto has built much of its corporate empire upon the back of one chemical-glyphosate. Introduced 25 years ago, glyphosate, marketed mainly as the herbicide Roundup, is Monsantos key agri chemical product. Glyphosate product sales are worth $1,200 million a year1 In 1994, it was used on almost 800,000 acres in the U.K2

Registered in the United States since 1974, glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide used to kill crop weeds. It is used on a wide variety of annual, bienniel and perennial grasses, sedges, broad leafed weeds, woody shrubs and commercial crops and is the eighth most commonly used herbicide in US agriculture and the second most commonly used herbicide in non-agricultural situations.3 It generates a remarkable annual growth of about 20 per cent.

However, there is a natural barrier to continued significant increases in the use of Roundup. The use of too much of the herbicide on any crop will not only destroy unwanted weeds, but also the crop itself. Monsanto's solution to this dilemma was to create crops resistant to the herbicide. Farmers who used the new resistant crops could use far greater ammounts of Roundup without fear of destroying their plants. This means Monsanto can sell the herbicide resistant plants and more amounts of Roundup.....

Severe toxicity problems associated with Roundup, however, are not thought to stem primarily from the active ingredient glyphosate, but rather from unlabelled "inert" ingredients designed to make Roundup easier to use and more efficient. Roundup consists of 99.04 per cent "inert" ingredients, many of which have been identified, including polyethoxylated tallowamine surfactant (known as POEA), related organic acids of glyphosate, isopropylamine, and water. Researchers have found that the acute lethal dose of POEA is less than one third that of glyphosate alone.4 Studies by Japanese researchers on poisoning victims discovered that this "inert" ingredient caused acute toxicity in patients. Symptoms of acute POEA poisoning included gastrointestinal pain, vomiting, excess fluid in the lungs, pneumonia, clouding of consciousness and destruction of red blood cells.5Another Roundup "inert" isopropylamine, is extremely destructive to mucous membrane tissue and the upper respiratory tract.6 Ultimately, the Japanese researchers calculated that the ingestion of 200ml (three quarters of a cup of Roundup) would be fatal.7 Subsequent laboratory studies have also shown that glyphosate containing products cause genetic damage and reproductive effects in a wide variety of organisms.8  .

Some Health Consequences of Roundup Poisoning

Increased use of the chemical poses numerous health and ecological risks. Roundup is known to cause a variety of often serious health problems. Symptoms of acute poisoning in humans following ingestion of Roundup include gastrointestinal pain, vomiting, swelling of the lungs, pneumonia, clouding of consciosness, and destruction of red blood cells. Eye and skin irritation has been reported by workers mixing, loading and applying glyphosate.

A series of suicides and attempted suicides in Japan during the 1980's using Roundup herbicide allowed scientists to calculate a lethal dose of six ounces. The herbicide is 100 times more toxic to fish than people, toxic to earthworms, soil bacteria and beneficial fungi. Breakdown of glyphosate into N-nitrosoglyphosate and other related compounds has heightened concerns about the possible carcinogenicity of Roundup products.1

A 1993 study at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Public Health found that glyphosate was the most common cause of pesticide related illness among landscape maintenance workers in California, and the number three cause among agricultural workers.2 A 1996 review of the scientific literature by members of the Vermont Citizens Forest Roundtable- a group which successfully lobbied the Vermont Legislature for a statewide ban on the use of herbicides in forestry- revealed updated evidence of lung damage, heart palpitations, nausea, reproductive problems, chromosone aberrations and numerous other effects of exposure to Roundup Herbicide3

Taken from an article by Brian Tokar

  1. Carolyn Cox, "Glyphosate Fact Sheet," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Volume 11, No 2, Spring 1991.
  2. Carolyn Cox, "Glyphosate, Part 2: Human Exposure and Ecological Effects," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Volume 15, No.4 Fall 1995.
  3. Sylvia Knight, "Glyphosate, Roundup and Other Herbicides- An Annotated Bibliography," Vermont Citizens Forest Roundtable, January 1996.

Analysis also revealed that Roundup can cause a number of negative environmental impacts. For instance, while it is claimed that that Roundup is inactivated rapidly in soil, it is more accurate to say it is usually absorbed into soil components. Thus, glyphosate remains active in soils, and residues of glyphosate have been found in lettuce, carrots and barley planted one year after glyphosate treatment.9 The chemical has detrimental environmental effects. Glyphosate containing products have been found to kill beneficial insects such as parasitoid wasps, lacewings and ladybirds.10 Roundup has also been shown to affect earthworms and beneficial fungi, to inhibit nitrogen fixation, and to increase the susceptibility of crop plants to disease11

Despite Roundup's myriad risks, Monsanto's ads for the product continue to represent the herbicide as environmentally benign or even beneficial. Some government officials have begun to address this gross misrepresentation.
In 1991, for example, the New York State Attorney General challenged Monsanto's use of language in its advertisements, in particular, the use of the terms "biodegradable" and "environmental friendly". The State got Monsanto to agree to stop using the language and to pay $50,000 towards pursuit of the legal effort.

  1. Greenpeace "Glyphosate Fact Sheet," (July 27, 1998.)
  2. Greenpeace "Glyphosate Fact Sheet."
  3. Cox, Carolyn, "Glyphosate, Part 1: Toxicology," Jrnl of Pesticides Reform, 15:3 (Fall 1995) p.15
  4. Martinez, T,T., and Brown, K., Oral and pulmonary toxicology of the surfactant used in Roundup herbicide. Proc. West Pharmacol. Soc. 34: pp 43-46 (1991).
  5. Sawada, Y.Y, Nagai, M.,/Ueyama, and Yamarnoto, I. Probable toxicity of surface active agent in commercial herbicide containing glyphosate. Lancet 1 (8580):229 (1988).
  6. Sigma Chemical Co., Aldritch Chemical Co.and Fluka Chemical Corp. Material safety data sheet: isopropylamine. St Louis, MO, Milwaukee,WI, and Ronkonkona, NY (1994).
  7. Ibid.
  8. Cox, Op. Cit. 7,pp. 18-19.
  9. US EPA. Office of Pesticide Programs. Special Review and Reregistration Division. Reregistration eligibility decision (RED) glyphosate. Washington DC (September 1993).
  10. Hassan, S.A., et al. Results of the fourth joint pesticide programme carried out by the IOBC/WPRS working group "Pesticides and Beneficial Organisms." J.Appl.Ent. 105 : pp. 321-329 (1988).
  11. Cox, Op.cit. 7, pps, 18-19.

Extracted fromThe Ecologist
Sept/Oct 1998 Vol 28 No 5
by Joseph Mendelson
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view Monsanto's Roundup Ready Products, Herbicides and Seeds

original page by Rowena Tollitt
last update : 25 April, 2005
by Roger lovejoy