What does Glyphosate do to the soil?
In 2010, Reuters published an article highlighting how US government regulators are “dropping the ball” on agricultural biotechnology. USDA scientist Dr. Robert Kremer has spent the last twenty years looking at Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate (the prime ingredient in "RoundUp"), the most commonly used pesticide in the world and the companion to Monsanto’s "RoundupReady" lines of genetically engineered seeds. The theory behind these seeds is that if a crop is resistant to the weedkiller, then a higher dose of weedkiller can be used to try to combat weeds that are becoming Roundup-resistant.
Use of RoundUp has escalated with literally millions of tonnes being used worldwide on an annual basis. With the expiry of Monsanto's patent, glyphosate is now used by many different manufacturers who are desperate to steal a slice of RoundUp's massive market with their own weedkillers. This has caused the glyphosate weedkiller price to drop due to all this competition. Cheaper prices have faciliated more farmers to be able to afford it and with such a squeeze on farmer margins, it is almost impossible to not use it and maintain crop yields at a financially sustainable level. But what is the long term cost to the soil and soil organisms?
Glyphosate has a reputation as the “safest” of all the agricultural herbicides and has become the primary means of weed control in industrial agriculture throughout the world. Whilst being the best of an extremely nasty bunch is a rather dubious accolade, the Agrochemical industry and the authorities who oversee it rely on this perception, which has been fuelled by dubious vested interest research indicating that the chemical dissipates quickly and shows low toxicity (as poisons go) to humans.
Research indicates that while glyphosate on its own may be relatively “safe,” it is actually quite toxic in combination with the other (supposedly “inert”) ingredients in commercial preparations of the herbicide, i.e. what the farmers actually spray on their fields.
Nothing is more predictable than nature's ability to adapt which has given rise to the spread of superweeds that glyphosate can no longer kill. Thanks to this adaptation, thousands of acres in Southern USA have had to be abandoned to resistant strains of giant pigweed. How many acres have to be unusable throughout the world before we wake up to the lost food production as our populations increase?
Dr Kremer: Glyphosate damages the Soil Environment
Dr. Kremer's work, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of European Agronomy, further tarnishes glyphosate’s golden status. He has found that glyphosate’s side-effects in the ground are far more severe than previously thought. Glyphosate causes:
- damage to beneficial microbes in the soil increasing the likelihood of infection of a crop by soil pathogens
- interference with nutrient uptake by the plant
- reduced efficiency of symbiotic nitrogen fixation
- overall lower-than-expected plant productivity as the picture below demonstrates
Based on his findings, Dr. Kremer has provided a set of recommendations for farmers who use glyphosate or who plant Monsanto’s RoundUpReady seeds. According to Dr. Kremer, the worst of the problems can be avoided if
- farmers rotate crops adequately and only plant RoundupReady crops every other year in the same field,
- come up with alternate crop residue management techniques and
- plant cover crops "to revitalize soil biological and ecological processes as well as improve other aspects of soil quality."
A USDA scientist wouldn’t recommend measures like this if he wasn’t convinced his results merited it. Far from recognising the importance of Dr Kremer's work and recommendations, it has been acknowledged but rather belittled. Dr. Shannon of the USDA/ARS admitted that Dr. Kremer’s results are valid, but said that the dangers he highlights are pale in comparison to the superweed threat. In fact, Shannon specifically likened Dr. Kremer’s new findings to unfortunate but unavoidable side-effects like any drug might have, as if a planetary effect is on anywhere like the same scale of an individual's side-effects?! A nasty drug side-effect may kill one or many individuals but poisoning Planet Earth has serious implications for every species and individual. What good is money/profit then?!
To add insult to injury and in contribution to this major cover-up, the ARS refused to publicise Dr Kremer's work on glyphosate. While ARS spokesperson Sandy Miller Hays admitted that an announcement about his findings was written, she claimed it was withheld due to the quality of the writing. In other words, the ARS buried the findings because they couldn’t be bothered to do some light editing.
"Why Glyphosate should be banned - A Review of its Hazards to Health and the environment" by Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji and Dr Mae-Wan Ho