Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, has earned the ominous distinction of being the most heavily used agricultural chemical of all time.1 Use skyrocketed starting in 1996, when Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-tolerant crops (soy, corn and cotton) were introduced. The GE crops are impervious to Roundup's toxic effects, which allows farmers to spray the chemical onto their crops with abandon.
As such, use increased nearly 15-fold since 1996.2 The chemical is now so ubiquitous in the environment that over a period of 23 years — from 1993 to 2016 — levels in humans increased by more than 1,200 percent.3 We're now set to find out what the results of this giant human experiment pan out to be, whether we like it or not, as glyphosate has been detected in blood, breast milk and urine samples, as well as numerous foods such as oatmeal, bagels, coffee creamer, organic bread and honey.
In short, Americans are already being exposed, and if what's happening in the environment serves as a form of bellwether, there's cause for serious concern. Two recent studies have raised red flags, including one indicating that glyphosate may be contributing to antibiotic resistant and another showing Roundup may be harming beneficial fungi in soil.
Glyphosate Linked to Antibiotic Resistance
In 2015, researchers first found that commonly used herbicides promote antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to more readily become resistant to antibiotics.4 This includes Roundup (the actual formulation of Roundup, not just glyphosate in isolation), which was shown to increase the antibiotic-resistant prowess of E. coli and salmonella, along with dicamba and 2,4-D. Rodale News reported:5
"The way Roundup causes this effect is likely by causing the bacteria to turn on a set of genes that are normally off, [study author] Heinemann says. 'These genes are for 'pumps' or 'porins,' proteins that pump out toxic compounds or reduce the rate at which they get inside of the bacteria...'
Once these genes are turned on by the herbicide, then the bacteria can also resist antibiotics. If bacteria were to encounter only the antibiotic, they would instead have been killed. In a sense, the herbicide is 'immunizing' the bacteria to the antibiotic ... This change occurs at levels commonly used on farm field crops, lawns, gardens, and parks."
The new study, published in the journal Microbiology, set out to determine what ingredients of the commercial formulations caused this effect, with results showing the active ingredients are to blame.6 "Active ingredients induced changes in antibiotic responses similar to those caused by complete formulations. This occurred at or below recommended application concentrations," the researchers noted.
It's important to note that dicamba was also found to promote antibiotic resistance, especially in light of Monsanto's new GE Roundup Ready Xtend soy and cotton, which are resistant not only to Roundup but also dicamba (this means dicamaba usage is set to increase).
Could Glyphosate Residues on Food Promote Antibiotic Resistance in Humans?
While the concentration of glyphosate necessary to induce antibiotic resistance is lower than that typically found as residue on food, adults could probably reach the level that causes antibiotic resistance by eating large amounts of food with low levels of residue, while children could also be at risk, according to the researchers.7 Siouxsie Wiles, microbiologist and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, told Scoop news:8
"This paper by Professor Jack Heinemann and his colleagues builds on their earlier work looking at the impact of pesticides on bacteria. Now they have shown that exposure of two common gut bacteria to commercial pesticide formulations and some of their active ingredients can change how much antibiotic is needed to kill the bacteria. The bacteria they have examined [salmonella and E.coli] are both able to infect humans and other animals, including farm animals."
Heather Hendrickson, senior lecturer in molecular bioscience at Massey University told the Genetic Literacy Project, "The message from the paper is clear, we need to reconsider our use of herbicides in light of the effect that they are having on the microbial world."9 Already, at least 2 million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 die as a result every year.10