The Biggest Myth About Glyphosate
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. Found in Monsanto's flagship product Roundup, as many as 250 million pounds of the chemical are sprayed annually in the United States. Thus, it's no wonder that its pervasiveness has prompted paranoia.
Articles shared across the internet blare "horrific truths" about glyphosate, specifically that the herbicide is harmful and leads to a host of diseases in the Western world -- from autism and allergies to cancer and cardiovascular disease. This fearmongering free-for-all is fueled by one of the most persistent myths about glyphosate:
It is toxic!
This is oversimplification of the highest order. While glyphosate is readily toxic to the weeds that compete with crops sown across the U.S., it is far less dangerous to humans and other animals.
To begin debunking the myth, let's start with a comparison. The LD50 -- the dose of a chemical necessary to kill fifty percent of test animals -- is an oft-used measure of toxicity. The LD50 of glyphosate is roughly 5600 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. Compared to other "noxious" chemicals, like the acetaminophen in your Tylenol (with an LD50 of 1944 mg/kg), the caffeine in your coffee (an LD50 of 192 mg/kg), and the Vitamin D in your multivitamin (an LD50 of 10 mg/kg), glyphosate is positively benign!
So in the most basic sense, glyphosate is not toxic -- it won't kill you unless you drink a whole lot of it. But many worry that the chemical's toxicity is more nefarious in nature, that it harms us subtly and slowly. Let's analyze that concern.
It's true that residues of glyphosate and other pesticides end up in the food that we eat. But the dosage is minimal and can easily be reduced even further by washing any produce before eating it. Still, some scientists suspect that repeated exposure to these tiny amounts could do damage over time. But these researchers are vastly in the minority, and their alarming studies are dwarfed by overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Even if you neglect to wash your fruits and vegetables, you need not worry. According to EPA estimates based on long-term studies on rats and mice, a 165-pound human would need to eat 150 milligrams of glyphosate per day before he or she would need to start to worry about chronic adverse effects. Considering the miniscule amounts of pesticide residues permitted in our food, our 165-pound person would need to eat somewhere around 65 pounds of produce every day!
Last year, the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic" based on a review of the available evidence. While that classification has been disputed by another prominent agency, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), it still isn't as disconcerting as it sounds. The "probably carcinogenic" ranking places glyphosate's cancer causing potential behind bacon, sausage, and other processed meats that many people enjoy on a regular basis.
Then why does the myth of glyphosate's toxicity persist while bacon is put in everything from burgers to ice cream? Writing over at the Washington Post, food columnist Tamar Haspel proposed a likely explanation:
According to David Ropeik, author of “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts,” exposure levels aren’t what scare us. “We are more afraid of threats that are human-made than those which are natural,” he says. As well as “threats we can’t detect with our senses,” “risks that are imposed on us” and “threats generated from sources we don’t trust.”
Glyphosate is four for four: made by humans, undetectable, hard to avoid and generated by Big Agriculture.