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Understanding the Glyphosate Controversy

There has been a lot of controversy over the past few years regarding a popular weedkiller, and its potential risk to our health and the environment. What appears to be a simple problem (weeds) and a quick solution (herbicide) has transformed into what is starting to look like a major health and environmental issue. Scientists are continuing to research what is shaping up to be a bit of a mess, brought to us by the company who brought us genetically engineered foods and Agent Orange, also known as DDT.

Glyphosate

Over the past several years, more studies and articles have been published, exposing the long-term effects of toxins that have inundated our environment. Glyphosate, also known by its brand name RoundUp, recently found its way into the newsonce again, as one of the substances central to this controversy about toxic exposure, and side effects. This chemical could be pretty detrimental to both soil health to human health.  

While there are varying views on exactly how toxic this chemical is, some controversy surrounds the fact that many studies claiming glyphosate’s safety are funded by Monsanto itself (the company that produces it). Many people are concerned that the lines have been blurred between politics, profits, and science. Although glyphosate is still in use in the United States currently, countries like Germany and Australia both have exit plans to end their use of the herbicide, and Austria recently became the first country in the European Union to ban it entirely. There are now 17 countries around the world that have outright bans or heavy restrictions on Glyphosate, and recently 500 workers in Sydney banded together and went on strike when they were given an ultimatum to use the weed killer or find other work. So as you can see, the controversy surrounding this chemical is far from over.

In fact, as you learn more about this toxin, you might be at a loss trying to understand why glyphosate is still used at all. Amid the controversy and Monsanto’s defense of their herbicide, a new study recently emerged that investigatesepigenetics and glyphosate. This type of study is the first of its kind concerning glyphosate specifically.

Epigenetics

Epigenetics is a branch of study that observes the way we pass down changes in genetic expression to our offspring. There’s much more to epigenetics than that, but that’s what brought scientists to a recent discovery about glyphosate. A study published in the journalScientific Reports claimed that glyphosate is an environmental toxin that may actually be passed down to children and grandchildren, affecting the health of future generations. The study was conducted on rats and found that the offspring of rats exposed to the chemical demonstrated exposure-related changes and illnesses like birth abnormalities, obesity, kidney disease, and ovarian and mammary gland diseases. The change in genetic expression were found in the DNA from sperm. Scientists have started calling these changes “generational toxicology” and are concerned with what this could mean to humans. It has been just over ten years since scientists began suggesting that we can essentially inherit exposure to toxins and suffer from the unintended consequences that come along with it.

Toxins, Exposure and Human Health

Toxins are not kind to our DNA and we’re only beginning to understand just how far that goes. According to the aforementioned study, there is a possibility that if you’ve been exposed to glyphosate (and much of the world’s population has been), there’s a chance you’ll be passing that exposure on as far as the second and third generation — sort of a genetically modified “RoundUp ready” family trees none of us want.

So what does this mean for our health? Let’s take a look at some of the reported adverse side effects to glyphosate exposure and what exposure looks like (hint: it’s not limited to herbicide sprayers). As we mentioned in anearlier article on glyphosate, we now know that this toxin can be found in many packaged cereals served to children. Exposure to this weed-killer has been linked to certain cancers like leukemia, breast cancer, and others. The list of glyphosate-related illness is long and can be daunting to read. But this doesn’t mean we’re all doomed. The more this information is in the public eye, the better the chance of reducing the prevalence of this harmful chemical in our environment.

These findings do, however, introduce some new problems and questions in the world of environmental toxins. If glyphosate can cause transgenerational problems, what other toxins can do the same? Have we inadvertently made mistakes that could impact future generations? Fortunately, scientists are working on trying to answer these questions.

There are a lot of other environmental questions regarding the use of glyphosate as well, including the possibility of unethical mining practices used in its production, the health and safety of wildlife in areas where it is mined, and the possible infringement on the rights of Native American tribes, as companies continue to expand mines needed to continue production of things like RoundUp. Contamination to the land and water from selenium and other byproducts of phosphate mining has already caused widespread damage to nearby animals and people. 

There are protections in place that miners must employ, but these attempts at preventing environmental toxins from escaping into the groundwater have failed in the past. While we consider what we’ve discovered about how we are able to pass down exposure to toxins like glyphosate, we should also think about what other environmental toxins could do to damage human health. 

So, Now What?

Science has plenty of work to do in the realm of glyphosate studies, and the discovery of inheritable consequences to exposure to toxins could lead scientists on a path that helps us understand the damage done to our bodies. This product could very well be on the path to being listed right beside DDT in terms of damage done to the environment and to our health. Our bodies should probably never have been exposed to these toxins, but the more we learn about the damage, the faster we can learn how to fix it. 

As scientists continue to discover and report the full extent of the environmental toxin problem, we can move toward a healthier world. It’s crucial that we make decisions and take actions that are healthy for the environment and our bodies. So stay informed, stay educated, and do what you can tokeep your environment safe and toxin-free.

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