The scientific evidence is mounting that glyphosate-based herbicides, which are the most heavily applied in the world, may not be the panacea for feeding the world's hungry as its proponents have argued. A year ago the World Health Organization's
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
concluded that glyphosate (also known by "Roundup", one of its brand names) is "probably carcinogenic to humans." Last month, over a dozen researchers published a
Statement of Concern
, asserting that regulations have not kept up with the emerging science on links between glyphosate exposure and human health concerns, particularly in light of the 100-fold increase in the use of the herbicide since the late 1970s. Just this past Monday, a
new biomonitoring study
was published that found the vast majority of Germans have glyphosate residues in their bodies, and a third of the population has levels 10 to 42 times higher than what is currently considered a safe threshold of exposure.
Over the past decades, we have watched this pattern unfold with DDT, lead, BPA, and other chemicals of concern: Published research links exposures to adverse health outcomes; self-interested parties contest the science; the evidence grows, making it harder for even the most entrenched interests to deny; consumer demand for safer environments and products escalates; and finally, often quietly to avoid legal action, industry shifts to what are deemed to be safer alternatives (which, alas, have too often proved to be regrettable substitutions, but that's another story). In this protracted process, often overlooked are the courageous scientists who refuse to let their research be obfuscated, the NGOs who demand action from decision makers, the all-too-rare elected officials who adhere to their principles (rather than check with public opinion polls first), the community leaders and parents who won't take "no" for an answer, and many others who educate multiple sectors, advocate for prevention, and implement intervention strategies.
None of us know how the particular story of glyphosate will unfold yet, but it's clear that without the extraordinary network of those who prioritize children's health over all else, our kids would still be dancing behind trucks spraying DDT and ingesting far more lead than they are now. With this kind of dedication, it's possible that we could leave the glory days of the industrial era chemicals behind forever
- and create more truly glorious days for current and future generations.