Scientists go public on devastating ecological impacts of Roundup Ready cropping systems while USDA keeps mum Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Glyphosate-tolerant (GT) crops have spread rapidly around the world since they were introduced in the US in 1996, and are now planted on 85 percent of the global area growing genetically modified (GM) crops . Concomitantly, glyphosate (commercial formulation Roundup), promoted as safe for health and the environment, became the most widely used herbicide in the world.
But ecological and health impacts of the GT cropping system soon came to light, and have been worsening relentlessly over the years while regulators turn a blind eye (see [2, 3] Roundup Ready Sudden Death, Superweeds, Allergens..., SiS 28; Ban Glyphosate Herbicides Now, SiS 43).
Glyphosate binds with and inactivates EPSPS, the critical enzyme in the shikimate pathway required for the synthesis of aromatic plant metabolites including essential amino acids phenylalanine, tryptophan and tyrosine, as well as downstream products such as plant growth promoter, indoylacetic acid and plant defence compounds, phytoalexins . But glyphosate has multiple adverse effects that act synergistically on crop health and productivity that extends well beyond the plant into the soil ecosystem and the wider environment.
The GT trait depends on incorporating an EPSPS from the soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens that is insensitive to glyphosate, hence glyphosate is taken up by GT plants and translocated to the growing parts of roots and shoots, and even exuded into the rhizosphere (soil surrounding the roots) so it can affect the soil community of microorganisms and also subsequent crops planted in the soil.
Two senior scientists in the US who have been investigating the ecological impacts of glyphosate and the Roundup Ready cropping system for decades are warning of “dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious.”
Don Huber, recently retired from Purdue University, and co-author G.S. Johal, at Purdue’s Dept of Botany and Plant Pathology, stated in a paper published in the October 2009 issue of European Journal of Agronomy that the widespread use of glyphosate in the US can “significantly increase the severity of various plants diseases, impair plant defense to pathogens and diseases, and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use.”
Further, glyphosate stimulates the growth of fungi and enhances the virulence of pathogens such as Fusarium, and “can have serious consequences for sustainable production of a wide range of susceptible crops.” They warn that “Ignoring potential non-target detrimental side effects of any chemical, especially used as heavily as glyphosate, may have dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious.”
In an interview  with the Organic & Non-GMO Report, Huber said he has been researching glyphosate for 20 years, and began noticing problems when he saw a consistent increase in “take-all”, a fungal disease of wheat, when glyphosate had been applied in a previous year to control weeds. He found glyphosate reduced manganese in plants, which is essential to many plant defence reactions against disease and environmental stress. Glyphosate can immobilize plant nutrients such as manganese, copper, potassium iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, so they are no longer nutritionally functional. Basically, glyphosate completely weakens the plant, making it susceptible to soil-borne fungal pathogens. “That is one reason why we see an increase in plant diseases,” he said.
There has been a general increase in the number of plant diseases in the past 15 to 18 years. Four primary soil fungi, Fusarium, Phythium, Rhizoccccctonia, and Phytophthora, have become more active with the use of glyphosate; and concomitantly, diseases caused by these fungi have increased, such as head scab in corn, or root rot in soybeans, crown rot in sugar beets. Fusarium head blight, which affects cereal crops, is a disease that produces a mycotoxin that could enter the food chain.
There are more than 40 diseases reported with the use of glyphosate, and the number keeps growing as people recognize the association, Huber said.
When asked if glyphosate is “environmentally benign” as claimed by proponents, he answered “Absolutely not. That’s an outright mistaken notion. Glyphosate is the single most important agronomic factor predisposing some plants to both disease and toxins. These toxins can produce a serious impact on the health of animals and humans.
“Toxins produced can infect the roots and head of the plant and be transferred to the rest of the plant.” Huber explained. “The toxin levels in straw can be high enough to make cattle and pigs infertile.”
One way in which glyphosate can affect human health is that “micronutrients such as manganese, copper, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc are essential to humans. All of them can be reduced in availability by glyphosate; so glyphosate treated GT plants as well as other plants exposed to glyphosate have less mineral nutrients. “We are seeing a reduction in nutrient quality [in our food].”
“The [Roundup Ready] gene will reduce micronutrient efficiency up to 50 percent for zinc and manganese…This could also account for the yield drag [reported for GT soybeans].”
“Unfortunately, most researchers are forbidden to do work in the area. They don’t have access to isogenic lines [conventional and Roundup Ready plant lines that are otherwise genetically identical], the materials are denied to researchers.”
Huber and Johal recommend using as little glyphosate as possible.
Unfortunately, reducing the dose of glyphosate will be insufficient for killing weeds, particularly as numerous weeds are becoming highly resistant to the herbicide (see  GM Crops Facing Meltdown in the USA, SiS 46)
Robert Kremer is a microbiologist with the USDA-ARS (US Department of Agriculture- Agricultural Research Service) and an adjunct professor in the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri. He started in 1997 to investigate how the new Monsanto Roundup Ready system (Roundup herbicide and GT cropping) would change the level of nematodes in soybean. His research team began looking at the roots and saw microorganisms colonizing the roots, and suspected that glyphosate was having an impact. There was a root fungi problem that seemed to encourage sudden death syndrome.
In fact, the system is “altering the whole soil biology.” Kremer told The Organic & Non-GM Report . “We are seeing differences in bacteria in plant roots and changes in nutrient availability. Many studies show that glyphosate can have toxic effects on [some] microorganisms and can stimulate [others] to germinate spores and colonize roots systems. Other researchers are showing that glyphosate can immobilize manganese, an essential plant micronutrient.”
Glyphosate is toxic to beneficial bacteria like rhiozbia, which fixes nitrogen, but increases the incidence of pathogens like Fusarium. “Some Roundup Ready varieties even without using glyphosate, tend to be more susceptible to Fusarium,” possibly an unintended effect of genetic modification.
If the soil is full of phosphate (as when livestock manure is used as a fertilizer), glyphosate could leach into ground water (and poison other wild-life and human beings).
“We saw the increase of these fungi in the Roundup Ready system, both soybeans and corn.” Kremer said.
The papers describing the work of his research team, published in the European Journal of Agronomy  received no publicity in the US. Kremer said : “I was working with USDA-ARS to publish a news release about these studies. I’ve gone all the way to the administrators, but they are reluctant to put something out. Their thinking is that if farmers are using this (Roundup Ready) technology, USDA doesn’t want negative information being released about it. This is how it is. I think the news release is still sitting on someone’s desk.”
Kremer concluded : “We’re looking at some methods that could be used to overcome negative effects if we continue to use Roundup Ready crops, such as supplementation of nutrients by foliar application,” but added, “I’m more interested in sustainable agriculture. More farmers are interested in using cover cropping to maintain soil quality and other organic amendments. But it’s a steep learning curve for them.”
Article first published 19/05/10
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Clive Dyer Comment left 19th May 2010 23:11:32
This information is critical to Ndima Community Services as we embark in cooperation with Bread for the World Africa Group upon a pilot community food security and sovereignty project in South Africa. Thank you!
plant more trees Comment left 21st May 2010 21:09:03
The shroud of secrecy and government pandering it itself is toxic to the US and the world. If we wish to achieve any progress, we must actively start challenging our elected leaders on these issues and their choice of political appointees. It is the only really pervasive superweed: the US govt's patronage of Monsanto - and most shockingly that is is wholly bipartisan.
William Boeder Comment left 20th May 2010 22:10:56
Well, once again the world of the corporate chemical big-boys has been running riot over the farmers and croppers all around the world! Just you tell me that corporate profits dont take priority over every thing that stands in the way of its profits and world domination? I hope the corporate executives are proud of what they have now achieved, the world will suffer at their greed-tainted poisoning hands for all time to come.
Rory Short Comment left 20th May 2010 06:06:19
Western culture was apparently very successful in meddling with the inorganic world so that we now have things like computers and the worldwide web. The problem with that success is that there are now many who want to apply that kind of thinking to the organic world and as a result they have come up with things like GMOs which are an unnecessary disaster fr all life on earth.
Todd Millions Comment left 23rd May 2010 12:12:05
If canadian experince holds,anouther line of investigation that may be of use would be the increase in black smut infections of trees in areas where glyphosate has being used.Since the late 1980's these bark and trunk infections have become endemic in high stress areas of s.w. saskatchewan,including economic berry crops (saskatoon's,chokecherries ect.).The conventional fungicides are expensive,ineffective and (un-officially) toxic. I have had some luck with treatments of english chamomile tea-though this "weed"(official designation)hardly thrives on our sub artic plateau. Anouther new area of concern are the new herbisides and crops,now approved here and owned by a german company of a certian repute- These beauties work by interfering with the 'production and storage of caretanoids' in weeds. Insofar as I can determine-these are the same caretanoides that we require in our diet for health and to prevent us from turning into a blob of tumours. The amounts we have in our bodies is deternined by our heridetary genetics and some people have much higher levels and requirements. So if I'm on to something(right or somewhat so),we can expect an up swing in the cancer rates -FIRST in people of southern asian decent who use these compounds in the skin for UV protection-if there is active residue from these crops and herbisides.The rest of us will be right behind them in any such upswing. But I'm sure the usda/fda and ag/health canada did extensive trials on this before they gave approval-as they are SO evidence and competence driven!
pengdawei Comment left 30th May 2010 14:02:19
i want to copy this article to my website in chinese ,www.0zjy.com,to Reveal GM crops ,so i ask you permission.
pengdawei Comment left 30th May 2010 14:02:10
i want to copy this article to my website in chinese ,www.0zjy.com,to Reveal GM crops ,so i ask you permission.
Mae-wan Ho Comment left 30th May 2010 20:08:20
Pendawei, you are welcome to translate this article into Chinese and post on your website. But please give proper credit including the URL of the original article, keep the links and send your translation to us. We also have French and some Chinese translations of our articles on ISIS website. Thanks
BeCreative Comment left 5th July 2010 16:04:18
Thank you so very much for your in depth, succinct article on "Glyphosate Poisons Crops". There are two good bills proposed to the Congress by Congressman Kuinich: Bills HR5577, 5578, and 5579. Yes, simply proposed, but it is a start. We must find a way to "turn around the atitude", well, and education. Most Americans have no clue! I even spoke to a woman who was actually working with vegetables in a grocery who never heard of GMO/GE foods. When I gave her some facts - She was upset! She said: "Why aren't we told this!" (She was in her 60's). I have been trying to think of a way to inspire people and teach them at the same time: "Being Healthy is PATRIOTIC! Staying Healthy IS PATRIOTIC!...We can help our country keep the cost of health care down - by STAYING HEALTHY....etc. By tying together a positive, that will hopefull motivate them - AGAINST GMO FOODS OR GMO INGREDIENTS. What is causing all of our illnesses? (Also need to go against Aspartame and Splenda) This information about the harm of Genetically Modified Food just has to get out to The People: Now especialy is the time: the elections of the House of Representatives and The Senate are more important than at any time in our history! Is there anyway that a choosen group of people can contact by email or mail: Men's groups: ie: The Lions Club, Kawanis Club, Shriners - Women's groups, any group of people working with children, churches....even Indian Tribes, Environmental...Give them information that will "grab their attention" and motivate them to thinking more about "what they eat, and how their lives can be more healthy, more enjoyable - if they drop GM food from their diet. Plus, maybe some of them will raise their voices against Monsanto! We can still VOTE WITH OUR DOLLAR: not buying GE food! Hit Monsanto in their wallet! My heart goes out to my country: we are being harmed in so many areas: air, water, our very soil, and our food. Our Democratic voice is being silence on one of the most important rights: The Right To Healthy Food To Eat that will heal and enrich our lives so that we can be a benefit to our Great Country. Thank you so very much for your time and caring. Please keep it up. We need people like you: who work hard to make a difference in this world!
dooby Comment left 11th June 2010 23:11:40
These documents demonstrate once again, that the problem is not GMO or any technique, the problem is a System of power, a System of empire deciding what is good or not. If means overload goal, if secrecy is the norm, if money decides for our choices of our life, our society is obviously a dictature.
Ndima Community Services Comment left 19th May 2010 23:11:11
This information is critical to Ndima Community Services as we embark in cooperation with Bread for the World Africa Group upon a pilot community food security and sovereingty project. Thank you!
Mesfin Tessera Comment left 18th October 2011 20:08:27
Dear Colleague, Thanks for the information. It is very important to revisit the use of this herbicides in our farms. Regards.
David Ironside Comment left 2nd July 2012 19:07:34
If I use Glyphosate spray on weeds while ground is fallow, will it be okay to dig over the soil after disposing of the dried up weeds and then plant up the season's crop? Or will the Glysophate stay in the garden soil and be dangerous to the new plants?
Mae-Wan Comment left 2nd July 2012 19:07:55
Hi David, On the information provided, also in the accompanying article - Glyphosate Tolerant Crops Bring Diseases and Death - I would say that spraying with glyphosate is damaging to the soil,even if you spray when fallow, but not as damaging as spraying on the crops, which lead to concentration in the rhizosphere (root zone). Best not to spray at all.