One of the world's top-selling herbicides, Roundup is manufactured by the agricultural giant Monsanto. In 2008, the company made a gross profit of $595 million from the herbicide, according to the Washington Post. Despite the high sales of the glyphosate weed killer, a long-standing debate rages over its safety and the ethics of the company that manufactures it. France's highest court ruled in 2009 that Monsanto had not told the truth about the long-term soil effects of the herbicide and called into question its very safety.
For more than two decades, Roundup has been one of the world's best-selling herbicides, according to the BBC. In the 1970s, the St. Louis-based company Monsanto, owned by Pharmacia Corporation, patented the herbicide. It quickly became the seventh leading herbicide used in commercial agriculture in the nation. Monsanto would go on to genetically bio-engineer numerous crops, such as soybeans, maize and cotton, that would be unaffected by the herbicide, which allows farmers to use it widely in their crop production to reduce weeds without the herbicide affecting the crop itself. Over 90 percent of the soybean crops now grown in the U.S. are resistant to large quantities of Roundup.
Significance of Human Cell Death
Roundup is under investigation both for environmental safety but also for human health safety. Scientific American reports that Roundup has been found to kill embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. Despite the many fears over the active ingredient of glyphosate within Roundup, the true danger appears to be the solvents, preservatives and surfactants within Roundup that cause human cell death. Residents of Argentina who live within crop-spraying areas appear to have elevated incidences of birth defects and cancers, which caused Argentina's Supreme Court to ask for a ban on Roundup in 2009.
Foods, such as soybeans, that have been genetically bio-engineered by Monsanto to withstand large amounts of Roundup have been shown to actually absorb the chemicals in the herbicide. This appears to increase the plant's residue of chemicals that are not rinsed away but end up in the food production of the crops. The crops show Roundup still residing within their cells a year after application, according to the Organic Consumers Association. The association also says that Roundup shows medium- to long-term toxicity with genetic damage in crops, effects on reproduction in animals and human and carcinogenicity (an increase in certain cancers) in humans.
Glyphosate poses a danger to wild and native plants from aerial spraying of fields. When sprayed from the air, the herbicide can drift 1,200 to 2,500 feet past fields or other target areas where it quickly kills plant life and settles in water. Studies have shown that Roundup added to ponds will result in a 50 to 100 percent death rate of all tadpole life within the water, according to Scientific American. Trees exposed to Roundup show dieback and lack of winter hardiness.
Humans and animals exposed to Roundup suffer headaches, nausea, numbness, eye and skin irritation, elevated blood pressure and heart palpitations on occasion. Rats allowed to inhale glyphosate fumes have shown lung congestion, difficulty breathing and pulmonary bleeding. Farm workers exposed to Roundup usage have a higher incidence of miscarriage and birth defects, according to Mindfully Green.