Glyphosate: public health vs profit in Argentina.

Posted by Negin P. Martin, Ph. D at Jun 04, 2009 05:05 AM |

A May 29th article published in the Financial Times covers the controversy surrounding a petition in front of Argentina's Supreme Court to ban the use of the herbicide glyphosate because of health concerns.

Reporters Jude Webber and Hal Weitzman give an excellent account of the financial impact that this ban would impose on Argentina's economy. The writers adequately balanced the article by providing the health concerns of the herbicide raised by a recent study conducted in Argentina.

The petition to ban the chemical was filed after scientists reported that glyphosate causes genetic alterations that especially affect the nervous system and results in malformed heads and skulls in amphibians.  Lead author Andres Carrasco directs the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School. He is surprisingly referred to as Mr. Carrasco throughout the article instead of Dr. Carrasco.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in Argentina and the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup products. Its ban would result in restructuring of agricultural practices. Since Argentina relies heavily on agricultural exports to support its economy, this restructuring could have dramatic fiscal consequences.

Although the article aimed to report the developments in Argentina, the health concerns of residual glyphosate and other inert ingredients in Roundup formulations are widespread throughout the world. These chemicals can find their way into waterways and water and food supplies.

For example, French scientists, Drs. Seralini and Benacour, have published a number of scientific papers about the harmful effects of Roundup and its ingredients on human embryonic and placental cells. A Swedish scientific team lead by Dr. Akerman published an epidemiological study disclosing that exposure to glyphosate is a risk factor for developing Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Dr. Busbee – an American scientist – demonstrated alterations in estrogen-regulated genes after exposure to dilute concentrations of glyphosate.

Mr. Webber and Mr. Weitzman would have provided additional insight into their glyphosate controversy by mentioning that concerns about glyphosate extend beyond Argentina and amphibians.