Roundup: Friend or Foe

dirt on field


Roundup or glyphosate (RR) is the most common agricultural herbicide used to kill broadleaf and grass weeds. In the USA, 280 million pounds of RR annually is used on about 298 million cropland acres. Worldwide, about 19 billion pounds RR (almost 10 million tons) have been applied since 1974. Roundup (RR) is a common generic name for glyphosate but it also called Rodeo, KleenUp, Accord, Imitator, Eraser, Pronto, Touchdown, Cornerstone, Buccaneer etc. The USA is the biggest user of RR in the world.

Since many crops have been genetically modified to tolerate RR, it is commonly used on corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, cotton, and alfalfa. But it is also used as a weed burndown or to terminate cover crops before crops are planted or emerge including wheat, oats, sunflowers etc. Glyphosate (RR) is used almost everywhere because it kills most weeds effectively and cheaply.

Over time, many weeds have become weeds resistant to RR because of over usage. Weeds are very resilient and often mutate to find a way to survive. At least 41 weeds species are classified as RR resistant (18 in North America) including horseweed (marestail), ragweed (common and giant), pigweeds (Palmer, waterhemp), some lambsquarter, Johnson grass, ryegrass, etc. After nearly 50 years, the agricultural benefits of using RR to kill common weeds is decreasing.

Other problems are occurring with using RR especially due its ability to chelate or tie up minerals. RR is a chelator that binds most metal minerals with a 2+ chemistry valence. Iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, cobalt, and nickel are tied up and have reduced plant availability due to RR chelation. RR crops sprayed with glyphosate generally have lower concentrations of these minerals in the food we eat or a lower nutrient density. All these nutrients are important plant, animal, and human minerals needed for our survival and existence. All crops, even organic crops and food, has some RR in them due to wind, water or soil runoff.

Roundup or glyphosate (RR) was always considered safe for humans. RR kills plants by tying up minerals that activate and produce certain key amino acids in the shikimate pathway. Since humans do not have this pathway, RR was considered safe. That is until we learned that RR hurts our gut microbes (bacteria) which are very similar to plants which do have this pathway. The microbes in our gut synthesize many important amino acids, proteins, and enzymes. Even though humans are not directly affected by RR, indirectly the gut microbes are hurt and this may disrupt human health slowly hurting us over time.

The link to possible human health concerns with RR is quite long. Human diseases like Alzheimers, autism, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, kidney and liver disease, obesity, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer have all been correlated to increased RR exposure. Important note, “Correlation does not equal Causation!” meaning that it has not been absolutely proven. A common saying, “Where there is smoke there is fire.” Right now, we see a lot smoke but the actual flames are much harder to observe at this time. However, mathematicians can statistically look at all these possible correlations with a possible biological link to human health and the statistics are grim. There’s about 1 chance in 100,000 that there is not some detrimental health effect linked to RR usage.

Roundup and glyphosate (RR) have been around for a long time and will probably continue to be used by farmers. Up until now, there were not many good substitutes for killing weeds. However, new ways of killing weeds are becoming available. New herbicides like Reviton and Harpe (an organic herbicide) are now coming on the market. Planting cover crops suppresses weeds along with crimper crop rollers (mechanical weed control). New robotic electrical weed zappers along with propane and targeted flame throwers can also control small weeds between the rows.

Other herbicides like Liberty (glufosinate, more expensive) and Gramoxone (paraquat, corrosive dessicant)) can also be used to burndown weeds in place of RR. Sharpen or Verdict (saflufenacil) is a popular choice to minimize RR usage. Lumax or Lexar (atrazine + metolachlor (Dual II Magnum + mesotrione (Callisto)) can be used to control dandelions and most winter annuals. Dicamba (Banvel) + 2,4-D controls broadleaf weeds as an early burndown but famers may need to wait a period of time before planting. Dicamba + Atrazine and some older herbicide chemistry can be used to minimize RR usage. Always read and follow the herbicide label. Although generally a little more expensive, farmers have some herbicide alternatives to reducing or eliminating glyphosate (RR) usage. Your gut microbes and your longterm health may thank you!