This Week in ... Roundup, Monsanto's Most Notorious Herbicide

Both the science and regulation around Roundup have taken major strides forward recently.
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(Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

(Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

If you've ever had a conversation with a friend about Roundup—Monsanto's famed herbicide—you know it's tough to prevent such discussions from developing into shouting matches. Emotions around the herbicide (and genetically modified organisms and Monsanto in general) run high, and people seem to be set in their opinions on the issue. This week, however, both the science and the regulation around Roundup have seen major developments.

Here's what you need to know:

1. ROUNDUP'S ACTIVE INGREDIENT IS ABUNDANT

Herbicides containing glyphosate, the same weed-killing ingredient that's in Roundup, are now "the world's most heavily applied" herbicides, according to a "Statement of Concern" authored by 14 scientists, published last week in the journal Environmental Health. Farmers today use 15 times as much glyphosate as they did 20 years ago. There's good evidence that traces of glyphosate show up in soil and groundwater and on genetically modified soybeans.

Yet the effects of the chemical on human health are understudied, the Environmental Health team argues. The scientists recommend that specific research be done immediately to answer questions about the herbicide.

Around the same time the Environmental Health review was published, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would begin testing food in the United States for traces of glyphosate in 2016. The FDA tests foods for various pesticides, but has never tested for glyphosate before.

2. MONSANTO IS GETTING SUED ... AGAIN

In a controversial move, last year the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate to be a "probable" carcinogen. Since then, Monsanto has been the target of several lawsuits based on the notion that Roundup causes cancer, Reuters reports. Last month, Monsanto struck back, suing California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to prevent the office from adding glyphosate to its own list of cancer-causing agents.

3. ROUNDUP IS EVERYWHERE

Glyphosate has shown up in a couple of unexpected places recently. The Munich Environmental Institute says it's found the herbicide in German beers. Meanwhile, an investigation by a French magazine found traces of glyphosate in a French brand of organic pantyliners.

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