Science in Society Archive

Glyphosate Herbicide Could Cause Birth Defects

Argentina Considers Ban. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Glyphosate herbicide causes malformations in amphibian embryos, scientists in Argentina reveal in their as yet unpublished study [1].

“The observed deformations are consistent and systematic,” said research team leader Andres Carrasco, professor and director of the Laboratory of Molecular embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School, and lead researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET).

Reduced head size, genetic alterations in the central nervous system, increase in the death of cells that help form the skull, and deformed cartilage, were effects repeatedly found in the lab experiments.

Carrasco said the study came up with precise data but the final report was not yet ready for publication. Nevertheless, he believed it was necessary to make the results public due to their “general interest”.

Monsanto's head of communications in Argentina , Fernanda Perez Cometto, said the company had “several studies that show the herbicide is harmless to humans, animals and the environment.” But the company declined to issue an opinion until the study is published. She insisted that Roundup was tested in 1996 by authorities in Argentina and reported it was unlikely to pose “acute risk”.

Carrasco explained that in the first phase of the experiment, amphibian embryos were submerged in a solution of herbicide diluted to 1 500 weaker than that used on GM soybean in Argentina . The embryos suffered head deformations. In the second stage, embryonic cells were injected with glyphosate diluted with water, without the additives that go into the commercial product. The impact was even more negative, showing that the active ingredient account for the embryonic defects, rather than the additives, which have other potent cytotoxic effects in combination with glyphosate [2] ( Death by Multiple Poisoning, Glyphosate and Roundup , SiS 42).

Some 200 million litres a year of glypohsate are used in Argentina . Soybeans (mainly genetically modified) cover nearly 17 million hectares, 50 percent of all farmland, and are the country's main export product. The herbicide is mainly applied by aerial spraying

Environmental and social organisations have been complaining for at least five years that populated areas near fields of GM soybean have suffered a sharp increase in the number of cases of cancer, birth defects, lupus, kidney disease, and respiratory and skin ailments [3] ( Argentina's GM Woes , SiS 20).

. The Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR) launched a “Stop the Spray” campaign in 2006 in provinces where soybeans are most extensively planted, and published a report this year based on the accounts of rural doctors, experts and the residents of dozens of farming towns.

GRR lawyer Osvaldo Forman said the federal courts were presented with the report and asked to investigate the approval process for herbicides and pesticides. He also said that based on the cases of people whose health has been allegedly affected, the precautionary principle should be applied, and the use of the Roundup should be banned.

President Cristina Fernandez ordered the creation of a committee made up of staff from the Health Ministry, the Secretariats of the Environment and Agriculture, and the National Institute of Agricultural Technology to investigate the health and environmental impacts of glyphosate.

In May 2009, the Environmental Lawyers Association of Argentina initiated a lawsuit to ban the herbicide [4], citing potential health dangers as suggested in Carrasco's study.

Carrasco also holds a post at the Defense Ministry, which recently banned planting of GM glyphosate-tolerant soybean on land it rents to farmers.

Argentina 's powerful farming industry sees the Defense Ministry's ban as the latest in the government's ‘anti-soy campaign'. But the Science and Technology Minister Lino Baranao distanced the government from the study, saying it was not commissioned by the government, and had not been reviewed by scientific peers.

The evidence on the dangers of glyphosate and its commercial formulations continues to pile up and a worldwide ban is in order [5] ( Ban Glyphosate Herbicides Now , SiS 43).

If people suffer ill health or death from glyphosate herbicides in the future, the company representatives, government regulators and other scientists who pronounce these herbicides safe in the face of all the evidence should be liable to prosecution for criminal negligence or manslaughter.

Article first published 14/07/09


  1. “Health-Argentina: scientists reveal effects of glyphosate”, Marcela Valente, IPS News, 15 April 2009,
  2. Ho MW and Cherry B. Death by multiple poisoning, glyphosate and Roundup. Science in Society 42 , 14, 2009.
  3. Joensen L and Ho MW. Argentina 's GM woes. Science in Society 20 , 14-15, 2003.
  4. “Argentine herbicide lawsuit alarms soy farmers”, Nicolas Misculin, Reuters, 8 May 2009,
  5. Ho MW. Ban glyphosate herbicides now, scientists confirm potent hormone disupting effects. Science in Society 43.

Got something to say about this page? Comment

Comment on this article

Comments may be published. All comments are moderated. Name and email details are required.

Email address:
Your comments:
Anti spam question:
How many legs on a cat?

There are 3 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Pete Brenton Comment left 14th July 2009 21:09:59
The sooner Round Up is banned from stores and garden centres the better. Growers of sustainable food cultures should feel threatened by such products,as well as possible insidious GM and other contamination resulting from blinkered advise to use any old animal waste onto soils.Perhaps the last paragraph in bold should also apply to GM oils and foods from GM fed animals.

Dr. Debal Deb Comment left 15th July 2009 03:03:31
This work by Argentinian scientists may be considered to be an extension of RICK A. RELYEA's work on Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. [refs: 1) RELYEA, Ecological Applications, 15(2), 2005, pp. 618–627; 2) RELYEA, Ecological Applications, 15(4), 2005, pp. 1118–1124] There was a hostile attempt from some science politicians to suppress Relyea's findings, and many ploys to show that his statistics were poor, but Relyea roughed up all these buffoons in his sharp response [Ecological Applications, 16(5), 2006, pp. 2027–2034], and wondered why some scientists who had earlier proved the detrimental effects of glyphosate suddenly changed their view. It would be enlightening if you publish Relyea's work in I-SIS for the benefit of readers.

Alicia Comment left 13th October 2010 02:02:49
Other than being informed about this and taking the necessary steps for conscious consumption, what can people do to prevent the furthering of this misguided production? If anyone has a link to share of petitions please share.