The world's No. 1 non-weedkiller

March 2018

Monsanto has been insisting for years that glyphosate, the staple weedkiller of the modern world and pillar of GM crops, is safe [1]. Regulators concur.

The latest published, independent science on the subject also agrees: glyphosate is safe. In fact, it's so safe it doesn't even kill plants.

Let's be clear: at recommended agricultural dilutions glyphosate had "no observable adverse effect" on plants nor on human cells.

So, what's killing all those weeds so effectively around the globe when they're treated with glyphosate-based sprays?

The scientists who found glyphosate was a non-weedkiller went on to explore that very question.

Culprit number one was the formulation additives put there to stabilise glyphosate and aid its penetration into the plant. These are mainly petroleum derivatives which on their own are excellent herbicides, and they don't do human cells any favours either. In fact, other published experiments have shown common glyphosate co-formulants to cause cell membrane disruption, cell death, inhibition of cell respiration and DNA damage.

Culprits two, three, four, five and six were heavy metal contaminants of petroleum: arsenic, cobalt, chromium, nickel and lead, all at levels well above those permitted in drinking water, and all highly toxic. These same toxicants were also found in eleven additional (non-glyphosate-based) pesticide comparators. All of which were "heavily contaminated".

That said, glyphosate itself didn't come out of the experiment so well when its endocrine disrupting qualities were examined. It's co-formulants fared even worse. Also, the spuriously present heavy metals are known endocrine disruptors.

Regulation of pesticides has been unaccountably blinkered for decades. First, because only the glyphosate is considered an 'active' ingredient and therefore assessed, while all its co-formulants are deemed 'inert' and therefore ignored. Second, only acute effects on the eye and skin are routinely investigated. Third, the 'Acceptable Daily Intake' (ADI) for formulations is set using glyphosate in isolation, and may be several orders of magnitude higher than the ADI which would be set for the cocktail of toxins we're actually exposed to.

The authors of the study point out that they haven't demonstrated that glyphosate doesn't disrupt the amino acid synthesis and protein production in plants as claimed, nor that long-term toxic effects of glyphosate don't occur. However, their findings certainly raise questions requiring further study, especially with regard to the ADI and to the synergistic effects of the many toxic substances in glyphosate-based herbicides, and in all the other pesticides in our food chain.


We need modern safety tests using real-life exposure simulations for each and every pesticide formulation on the market everywhere in the world.

More scientific and cash resources moved into alternatives to the agri-chemical/biotech mind-set we seem to be trapped in would be a more practical way forward. Suggest it.


[1] GLYPHOSATE: SAFE AS SALT (Doc) - GMFS Archive - February 2009

  • N. Defarge, et al., 2018, Toxicity of formulants and heavy metals in glyphosate-based herbicides and other pesticides, Toxicology Reports 5 
  • Glyphosate herbicides contain toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, GM Watch, 8.01.18
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