Glyphosate is a highly effective broad-spectrum herbicide that is commonly sold under the trade names of Roundup® and Ranger Pro®. The use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) has increased worldwide. In the United States alone, usage has increased nearly six-fold. This followed the introduction of genetically modified crops that were designed to be “Roundup-ready” in 19961. Studies in recent years have shown a cause for concern over the use of glyphosate resulting in a decrease of usage since 2009.
How did we get here?
Although glyphosate was created to be applied early on in a crops growth life, its use has been changed in a way that is beneficial for farmers, not consumers. GBH’s persist in the environment for extended periods of time and are likely to be at higher concentrations after an application process called “green-burndown.”1 This method requires farmers to apply glyphosate shortly before a crop is harvested in order to speed up the decay of leftover plant matter. Studies have consistently shown that long term and high rate exposure to GBH’s coincides with the persistence of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). Rather than addressing this, policymakers responded by increasing the allowable levels of GBH’s on consumables.
It’s expected at this time that GBH’s would be found in food, water, and dust. Beyond direct contact with plants, glyphosate has been traced to fish, berries, baby formula, and cereal grains.
How much of a bad thing is too much?
In 2018, researchers wanted to take a deeper look into the correlation between GBH’s and NHL in a way that hadn’t been done before. All studies before this had focused on the link between general exposure and cancer risk. Researchers Zhang, Rana, Shaffer, Taioli, and Sheppard were interested in determining if the amount of exposure and/or the duration of exposure increased the risk for developing NHL1. To do this, a meta-analysis of data from six large-scale health studies was conducted. Their hypothesis was based on the current understanding that the higher and longer exposure rates would yield a higher risk estimate1. The main goal was to show that a true cancer association exists if there is an exposure risk.
Complete data analysis from nearly 65,000 participants revealed a 41% increased risk for developing NHL following extended exposure to GBH’s1. When evaluated against the results of the 2005 and 2018 Agriculture Health Study, there were no significant variations in the occurrence of NHL. Due to these findings, the researchers were able to conclude that exposure to glyphosate and its metabolites were, in fact, associated with an increased risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The unfortunate truth
Glyphosate can be found in nearly all products that have been in contact with the herbicide. It is unclear how long GBH’s persist in the environment, leaving current and future landowners concerned over the value of their property. If policies were to change today, there is no scientifically approved way to remove glyphosate from the environment.
1. Zhang, L., Rana, I., Shaffer, R., Taioli, E., & Sheppard, L. (2019, February 10). Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1383574218300887