glyphosate-resistant weeds
Glyphosate-resistant weeds: [L to R] Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri), Horseweed (Conyza canadensis) and Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)

New Delhi: The RSS-affiliated SJM on Sunday demanded a ban on the use of glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, which it claimed to be carcinogenic.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s co-convener Ashwani Mahajan said soon the organisation will approach Home Ministry and will submit a memorandum in this regard.

In 2015, International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC), a body under the World Health Organization, had found in its research that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic, Mahajan said. He further said glyphosate is an active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp and risk of cancer increases by 41 per cent due to glyphosate.

People around the world are reeling under the risk and suffering due to glyphosate, Mahajan said, adding that the makers of weed killers with glyphosate as the main ingredient are not ready to accept the fact.

Despite being convicted by the court every time, they continue with legal appeals due to their strong financial muscles, he said.

After being clinically proved that glyphosate causes cancer, many countries have taken a decision to ban it, Mahajan said.

According to SJM, the sale of glyphosate has been prohibited in Punjab, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

In many States, there has been a demand to ban the glyphosate by bringing central government as an authority to initiate action, he said.

The central government hasn’t initiated the process yet, Mahajan said.

What exactly does science say about glyphosate?

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate (IUPAC name: N-(phosphonomethyl glycine) is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant. It is an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate, which acts by inhibiting the plant enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase.

Controversial because Monsanto discovered it

Glyphosate is used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops. It was discovered to be a herbicide by Monsanto chemist John E Franz in 1970. Monsanto brought it to market for agricultural use in 1974 under the trade name Roundup. Monsanto’s last commercially relevant United States patent expired in 2000.

But farmers in the US loved it

Farmers quickly adopted glyphosate for agricultural weed control, especially after Monsanto introduced glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready crops, enabling farmers to kill weeds without killing their crops. In 2007, glyphosate was the most used herbicide in the United States’ agricultural sector and the second-most used (after 2,4-D) in home and garden, government and industry, and commercial applications. From the late 1970s to 2016, there was a 100-fold increase in the frequency and volume of application of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) worldwide, with further increases expected in the future, partly in response to the global emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds.

Toxicity of glyphosate

In a 2017 risk assessment, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) wrote: Where skin irritation has been reported, it is unclear whether it is related to glyphosate or co-formulants in glyphosate-containing herbicide formulations.” The ECHA concluded that available human data was insufficient to support classification for skin corrosion or irritation.

The consensus among national pesticide regulatory agencies and scientific organisations is that labelled uses of glyphosate have demonstrated no evidence of human carcinogenicity.

The Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), the European Commission, the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment have concluded that there is no evidence that glyphosate poses a carcinogenic or genotoxic risk to humans. The EPA has classified glyphosate as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

There is only one international scientific organisation, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), affiliated with the WHO, that has made the claim of carcinogenicity in research reviews. In 2015 the IARC declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic”, which SJM lifted because it was convenient.

Conclusion

Activists are known to cherry-pick from scientific reports parts that suit their agenda. Swadeshi Jagaran Manch’s Mahajan had once said to editor-in-chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta that on the question of FDI in retail, GMO and agricultural science, the media need not interview him, as his opinions on these matters are well-known and non-negotiable. Is there any point in telling him what part of his assertion about glyphosate is right and what is not?

However, as is the case with most discoveries in agricultural science, including chemicals as well as genetically modified crops, glyphosate cannot be a panacea for all weeds. Ryegrass (Lolium rigidum), for example, can defy the application of glyphosate. Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) is another weed on which glyphosate does not work. Conyza bonariensis (also known as hairy fleabane and buva) and Conyza canadensis (known as horseweed or marestail) are other weed species that have lately developed glyphosate resistance. Glyphosate-resistant Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) is found in glyphosate-resistant soybean cultivation in northern Argentina.

Unlike activists, however, Sirf News would not feed its readers with partial or convenient parts of findings by scientists. We conclude that the scientists who say glyphosate is not carcinogenic are in an overwhelming majority. However, if the SJM were to say that there are weeds that are resistant to glyphosate, there would be more merit in its claim.