What could kill weeds could kill us too

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There is a huge difference with knowledge and experience. And while experience has always been considered the best teacher, knowledge is just as important when an experience is undergone with a total ignorance of why such an experience happened. In my case, I knew something first for quite a while before I experienced it firsthand. It is about Glyphosan, one of the brands of the chemical Glyphosate, an herbicide banned in many countries.

Yesterday I told Narin, my Governance Project Assistant (GPA), that I wanted to propose a cleanup around the office compound on Saturday. I was hoping those who would be available will be able to come and have some fun try getting our hands dirty.

However, this morning, while I was working at my desk, a man came and started spraying the weeds around the office compound. I immediately felt the inconvenience, first the super powerful smell that is still very strongly marked in my mind as if I’m still smelling it at the moment. Second, I started having a huge headache which I thought was just because of the smell. Third, my eyes started to dry up, and then, my mouth started to feel parched too. It was only a few minutes after the spraying started and I said I wanted to go home because I just couldn’t take it. And since I was the only one who seemed to be overly affected, I thought it was just because I have been taking care of myself and for a long time have minimized, if not stopped using products with harmful chemicals at home and for personal use. Maybe I was just really sensitive.

Frustrated, I asked Narin to find out what the brand of the chemical was. When he came back and said it was Glyphosan, I immediately knew it was Glyphosate. As a supporter of organic agriculture and being vocal against genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) for a long time, I knew about Glyphosate for quite a while. I knew there were studies that link it to several types of cancers, and I knew that it was also banned in many countries. Activists around the world are working to have it banned where it is still commercially available, and Monsanto has known about its negative effects since 1991 and spent billions to clear Glyphosate’s bad name under the brand Round-up.

I immediately closed my laptop and gathered my things, preparing to leave. Then I asked Narin if there was a space upstairs where I could work. The second floor is being occupied by our host organization. He said I could work at the meeting room upstairs, so up I went. After a while Narin also came up because he couldn’t take the strong smell too.

From our window upstairs, we looked down and saw that the guy spraying does not have protective gear. Over his folded pants and shirt, he was actually wearing a raincoat. He was also wearing slippers, with no gloves, and no mask. I took pity on the guy. If only he knows the proper gear for someone spraying Glyphosate. However, he seems to be perfectly ok with it. And I wondered about the thousands of other farmers who trustingly sprayed the chemical who ended up very sick but never attributed their illness to the real cause. More sadly, there were a few plots of vegetables right next to the weeds being sprayed.

I did a quick google search and told Narin about Glyphosate, and offered to share to our host organization about its negative effects, as well as what I have directly experienced. But I was wary of how to approach it. First, language is such a huge barrier when the topic is something so technical and sensitive. Technical because I understand how unknowing farmers consider weed-killers their friend and to be able to explain it, I have to give very good basis for my argument. Sensitive because as an international volunteer being hosted in a local organization, I don’t want to come up so strong, however strongly I felt about it, and offend my hosts. I asked Narin what he thought about how to approach it. He said that I could not just approach the director and tell him about it. He said that he will find a good time and open it up to them. I told him I’m willing to share about it if they are interested, and now I am writing this blog and preparing a powerpoint presentation with the materials I gathered. I hope to complete it over the weekend. I won’t be proposing the cleanup on Saturday anymore, since I don’t want to pull up weeds that have been sprayed with Glyphosan.

Although Glyphosate’s classification under the IARC is ‘Group 2A, Probably Carcinogenic’, there is also what the IARC classifies as ‘mechanistic evidence’, such as DNA damage to human cells from exposure to the chemical. It has been found present in human urine, and two possible sources are direct exposure, or through residues of the pesticide in genetically modified food. Sadly, it is the most common herbicide being used throughout the world despite its being banned in many countries. Where there are regulations, enforcement are lax. In fact in the US  instead of decreasing, EPA increased its allowable limits for some crops. It was also found to be a biocide and antibiotic, killing bacteria in soil.

Throughout the day, I washed my eyes several times and drank lots of water. But until now, about 12 hours after it happened, my eyes are still dry and my throat parched if I don’t drink for about an hour. There is still the headache and the nauseating smell that wouldn’t leave my mind, even if had left my nose. I felt like I was living a farmer’s nightmare which s/he is actually not aware of.

Here are some important links that you can read about Glyphosate. I have added a short excerpt from each so if you don’t have time to go to the links yet, you get at least a piece of learning from each:

The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) cancer authorities – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – recently determined that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A). Glyphosate is the most heavily used pesticide in the world thanks to widespread planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, which are genetically engineered to survive spraying with it. Use and exposure will increase still more if glyphosate resistant turf grasses currently being developed for lawns, playing fields and golf courses are introduced.

The supreme irony is that the EPA has set new standards that drastically increase the amounts of glyphosate allowed [17]: in oilseed crops such as flax, soybeans and canola, it is doubled from 20 ppm to 40 ppm, while in food crops, it is multiplied 30-fold, from 200 ppm to 6 000 ppm. So although pesticides as a group is acknowledged to be carcinogenic, glyphosate is still considered a non-carcinogen by the EPA, the same as in 1985 [13]. But since 1994, the first year that GM crops were commercially grown, the use of glyphosate herbicides has gone up enormously, with regulatory authorities putting up the allowable levels to track the upward trajectory [18].

Dr. Samsel understood that his gut problems were related to bacteria and that just as healthy soil needs beneficial microbes, so does your gut. This was something instilled in him by his grandfather, who taught him that healthy bacteria in the soil help grow healthy crops. Not surprisingly, when he cleaned up his diet, his gut dysbiosis cleared up, as did a number of neurological problems he’d started experiencing.

At that point, he began delving deeper into the science of the human microbiome. Many are unaware of the fact that glyphosate is patented as an antibiotic. It’s designed to kill bacteria, which is one of the primary ways it harms both soils and human health. Recent research has even concluded that Roundup (and other pesticides) promotes antibiotic resistance. Dr. Samsel was actually the person who dug up the patents showing glyphosate is a biocide and an antibiotic.

Monsanto might call this cherry-picking, which is in fact one of their strengths in misleading people about their products. So despite the excerpts, I highly encourage you to read more, and read even Monsanto press releases. Find for yourself the reality which is just out there. Do not wait to have such an inconvenient experience before knowing about it. And let me know what you think.

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