Glyphosate harms the womb

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
The two words which agrichemical manufacturers least want to hear are "endocrine disruptor". These conjure up the spectres of fertility damage, cancer, no safe level of exposure, and commercial disaster.

Glyphosate-based herbicides, such as 'Roundup' formula, are used for urban and rural seed-clearance, for pre-harvest withering of seed and tubour crops, and are heavily applied to, and accumulated by, most GM crops. Residues of glyphosate-based herbicides are now ubiquitous in our air, water, soil, livestock and bodies [2]. This is not a presence you want to find associated with long-term harm, yet evidence has been mounting for some time that Roundup and its cousins are endocrine disruptors [1].

Due to widespread growing of Roundup Ready soya in Argentina and concerns about the health of the people near Roundup-sprayed areas [3], Argentinian scientists have been particularly busy checking the herbicide out.
The latest published study used newborn female rat pups as a model for Roundup's effect on the vital early development of the uterus (womb).

Key to a healthy, functioning uterus is the structural and physiological maturation occurring immediately after birth. The development of this organ is highly sensitive to even a brief exposure to an endocrine disruptive substance with consequences in adulthood. Rat pups which were injected with the maximum allowable level of Roundup during the first few day of their lives were found to have a number of ominous changes to their uterus.

In particular, acute effects included cell proliferation which could indicate an increased susceptibility to cancer of the womb. Also, cell chemistry known to be important for implantation of the embryo in the womb was disrupted, a clear indication of possible fertility problems.

The authors found no signs of toxicity or differences in weight gain in the glyphosate-treated pups. Routine testing in which such measurements are a mainstay will not identify the potential for fertility defects.

Further tests two weeks after the glyphosate exposure showed lasting changes in some key biochemical markers for endocrine disruption further indicating a potential for long-term harm.

The difficulty in testing for endocrine disruption is that "the timing, nature, and severity of endocrine system impacts will vary depending on the levels and timing of (glyphosate-based herbicide) exposures, the age and health status of exposed organisms", plus simultaneous exposure to other endocrine disruptors now prevalent in the environment. Endocrine disruptor exposures "can trigger a cascade of biological effects that may culminate later in chronic diseases".


Converging evidence is pointing to a role for glyphosate-based herbicides in endocrine disruption, reproductive dysfunction and cancer.

There's no reason not to consider newly born rat pups a good model for human babies with regard to Roundup exposure and development of the uterus.

The experiment above was designed to administer a precisely timed, precise dose of Roundup at a level regulators consider safe: injection was necessary to be certain of the actual exposure of the suckling pups to the test substance.

Real-life contamination by Roundup could be through the placenta, the mother's milk, and the skin. It would therefore be likely to arrive 'drip-fed' at much lower concentrations by several routes, rather than in a one-off dose at a higher (but considered 'safe') level as in the experiment. Given that endocrine disruptive effects of a substance can be stronger at lower concentrations, the experiment might have underestimated the potential damage to the uterus under more realistic conditions.

Glyphosate-based herbicide use in Europe and its presence in imported GM animal feed look set to be part of our world for the foreseeable future. We, urgently, need to establish whether infants are being fed Roundup by their mothers before and/or after birth. Also, since glyphosate is absorbed through skin and even more so through compromised skin [4], we urgently need to establish just how much Roundup can pass through sensitive infant skin.

Get your local, Scottish, UK and European environmental health authorities on the case.


  • Marlise Guerrero Schimpf, et al., 2016, Neonatal exposure to a glyphosate based herbicide alters the development of the rat uterus, Toxicology

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