Monsanto: The Chemicals in our Crops

More than 365 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto Co. in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, filed by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks. Additionally, thousands of other plaintiffs have made similar claims against Monsanto in state courts. Plaintiffs’ attorneys estimate the total number of plaintiffs at approximately 3,500.

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Monsanto are the company who sued hundreds of small farmers across the USA for breaking their patent laws. One in particular case came about after a 75-year-old farmer bought soybeans from a grain store near his farm in Indiana and used them to plant a late-season second crop. He then used some of the resulting seeds to replant more crops in subsequent years. He was taken to court, along with numerous other independent farmers, for illegally growing patented Monsanto crops. Arguably, seed patents to this extent should never have been allowed to happen. Lawsuits such as this one do not appear to be because Monsanto are protecting their intellectual property – they appear to be infringing on independent farmers’ rights to grow food.

This time though, it is Monsanto who have been taken to court over their weedkiller Roundup, which has been accused of causing cancer in hundreds of people.  The accused carcinogen in Roundup is a chemical called glyphosate.  It is used to kill weeds, especially weeds and grasses that compete with crops. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the history of agriculture, employed by farmers and landscapers as a powerful weed killer.  (Since 1974 in the U.S alone, over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate have been applied to crops). The trademarked name – Roundup Ready, is the herbicide notorious for its use with GM seeds to resist the otherwise toxic effect glyphosate has on most vegetation. By creating Roundup and their GMO seeds, Monsanto have created an irresistibly useful (and enormously profitable) product: crops that can be sprayed with the most effective herbicide on the market without suffering any damage themselves.

There is no definitive outcome on whether glyphosate is a carcinogen – the World Health Organisation suggests that glyphosate ‘may’ cause cancer, and in the ongoing court cases,  an epidemiologist at the University of California has testified about how she evaluated scientific studies of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, to arrive at her conclusion that it can definitely cause cancer – in particular Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Monsanto obviously deny that there is any link between the two, and have numerous studies to back up this claim. Although early studies on glyphosate suggested that it breaks down quickly in the environment, more recent studies report the opposite, suggesting that its presence is more persistent and mobile than previously thought.

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So, what can we do to avoid this potentially fatal carcinogen?  Roundup is the most commonly used weedkiller across the globe, which therefore means that it is very difficult to avoid – particularly when you take into account the natural spread of tainted seeds, soil and water. Conventional farmers not only use Roundup as weedkiller, but also use it as a drying agent on grain and bean crops. In this common technique, farmers apply glyphosate to the crop as it is nearing maturity in order to speed the drying process up –  two weeks after a glyphosate application, the crop is dry and ready for harvest, a much quicker turnaround than waiting for the crop to dry down on its own. In November 2017, the EU also renewed the license of glyphosate for another five years, despite the potentially fatal side effects of its use, and the environmental factors. (There have been studies that suggest that the use of Roundup is extremely harmful to the bee population.)

However, glyphosate is banned for use with organic farming.  The glyphosate is most commonly found in bread – which means that even switching to an organic bread can massively reduce the amount of glyphosate that enters your body.  By sticking to a local baker or farmer, you can also ensure that the land on which the crops have been grown have never been contaminated by Roundup.

The importance of eating food that has not been contaminated by chemicals is really highlighted in cases like this.  It’s very easy to think that, because so much money and advertising is thrown at reassuring you that a product is safe, therefore it is. The truth is, that because of the reassurance that we find in branding and statistics, we’ve never actually been farther from the source of our food. For example – would you expect to be okay and healthy if you were sprayed with toxic chemicals routinely throughout your growth? If not, then why not think about the effect that these chemicals have on the genetically modified plants that are growing in contaminated soil whilst being sprayed with toxic chemicals that are designed to kill vegetation? We worry about overdoses of UV light from the sun as a carcinogen – which is something that we have evolved to need to survive. Why do we not worry about an entirely new chemical entering our bodies in large quantities, every time we eat? When thought about logically and from an entirely natural point of view, it’s a no brainer that GM free is better for your health,

So let’s break the cycle – lets reconnect with our food and the farmers that grow it. Let’s do it for the plants that work so hard to grow, and the land that needs to be nurtured naturally, and for our own health and the health of our families.

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