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Canada To Examine the Impact of Monsanto’s Roundup on Amphibians

(Beyond Pesticides, November 23, 2011) A Federal Court of Canada has ordered Health Canada -the nation’s public health department- to take a second look at the impacts on amphibians of glyphosate-based pesticides, one of the most widely-used pesticides in Canada and the U.S., which includes products like Monsanto’s Roundup. The decision was the result of an action brought by a pesticide-activist and pediatrician, Josette Wier, M.D., and orders Health Canada to address requests by the public for a review of the safety of a pesticide where there is serious scientific concern about its risks.

Dr. Wier’s legal challenge focused on wetlands that provide critical habitat for many species of frogs and amphibians. The original request for a special review of glyphosate-pesticides, especially those containing the “inert” ingredient polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), and a subsequent 2009 legal challenge was brought because of her concern about possible aerial spraying of Monsanto’s pesticide in the forests near her community in Smithers. In her suit, Dr. Weir stated that the evidence “challenges the scientific validity of the previous evaluations” that led to the registration of the glyphosate herbicides containing POEA. Judge Michael Kelen of the Federal Court of Canada in his decision wrote, “[Dr. Wier] is entitled to a proper analysis as to whether the pesticide in issue presents an environmental risk to amphibians inhabiting ephemeral wetlands [those that are sometimes dry] which are subject to the aerial spraying of the pesticide in silviculture.”

“Health Canada knew that there were risks with these pesticides, and yet failed to act to protect amphibian species, many of which are endangered,” said Dr. Wier. “The judge affirmed that Health Canada should take a precautionary approach –and re-examine their approval of pesticides where scientists don’t agree on the risks.”

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is a general herbicide used for eradication of broadleaf weeds. It has been linked to a number of serious human health effects, including increased cancer risk and neurotoxicity, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. The inert ingredient, POEA, has been shown to kill human embryonic cells. It is also of particular concern due to its toxicity to aquatic species as well as instances of serious human health effects from acute exposure. One study found that Roundup alone is “extremely lethal” to amphibians in concentrations found in the environment. Another found that Rana pipiens tadpoles chronically exposed to environmentally-relevant concentrations of glyphosate formulations, containing POEA, exhibits decreased snout-vent length at metamorphosis, increased time to metamorphosis, tail damage, and gonadal abnormalities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its registration documents for glyphosate determined that glyphosate, its salts and metabolites are likely to impact adversely the endangered California red-legged frog based on prey and habitat reduction.

A report released earlier this year finds that industry regulators have known for a long time that glyphosate causes birth defects. The report, “RoundUp and Birth Defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?” published by Earth Open Source, says that regulators misled the public about the safety of glyphosate for over 20 years! In 2009, Beyond Pesticides, submitted comments to the EPA showing new and emerging science, which illustrates that glyphosate and its formulated products pose unreasonable risks to human and environmental health, and as such should not be considered eligible for continued registration. Some of the most widespread uses of glyphosate that have been attracting public attention include its use in invasive weed management and home gardening. The increase of glyphosate use in these areas is directly tied to the larger problem of poor land management, including over grazing, over development, soil compaction, and other stressors.

Recently, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official speaking at an agricultural conference said that the heavy use of Roundup, an herbicide manufactured by Monsanto and used heavily on Roundup Ready genetically engineered (GE) crops, appears to be causing harmful changes in soil and potentially hindering yields of crops that farmers are cultivating. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has detected glyphosate in significant levels in rain and rivers in agricultural areas across the Mississippi River watershed, according to one of their recent reports. The greatest glyphosate use, according to USGS, is in the Mississippi River basin where most applications are for weed control on GE corn, soybeans, and cotton. Overall, agricultural use of glyphosate has increased from less than 11,000 tons in 1992 to more than 88,000 tons in 2007.

Monsanto created “Roundup Ready” crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide and so, growing Roundup Ready crops such as soy, cotton, and corn has led to greater use of herbicides. It has also led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres throughout the U.S. and other countries where such crops are grown, as well as contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly to U.S. farmers. Because of GE crops, Roundup has become the most popular pesticide ever. USGS has submitted the studies to EPA to be included in data that is being considered as EPA reviews the registration of glyphosate. The agency expects the review to be complete by 2015, at which point it will issue a decision to either continue to allow unrestricted use of glyphosate or institute limitations or a ban on the chemical in light of emerging science.

Beyond Pesticides is currently involved in multiple lawsuits involving Roundup Ready and other GE crops. One lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and seeks to end cultivation of GE crops on 25 national wildlife refuges across the U.S. Southeast. The suit charges that FWS unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GE crops in eight states without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and in violation of FWS policy. This is the third in a series of lawsuits challenging FWS’s practice of permitting GE crops on wildlife refuges. In 2009 and 2010, groups successfully challenged approval of GE plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware –Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, which forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern region.

As researchers scramble to find new ways of chemically coping with weed control and increased weed resistance brought about by Roundup and other chemicals, they overlook the glaring fact that there already exist alternative systems such as organic farming, which erases the need for these drastic measures through its systemic pest prevention approaches. Organic farming can be at least as productive as conventional chemically-reliant farming, while having none of the toxic side effects that create significant risks to ecosystems and human health. To learn more, see Beyond Pesticides’ page on organic food and agriculture.

Source: Pacific Free Press

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


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