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Immediate release (31 Aug 2011)

It’s Official: Glyphosate used on GM crops found in US rivers, rainfall

Monitoring by the US Geological Survey (USGS) has revealed that glyphosate and its breakdown product Aminomethylphosphonic acid (known as AMPA) are frequently found in rainfall and rivers in the Mississippi Basin, where most GM crops tolerant to glyphosate are grown. [1]

Glyphosate (the basis of Monsanto’s brand name product Roundup) is widely used in the US with Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM crops, which have been genetically modified to tolerate the weedkiller, so they survive when a field is sprayed with it. Herbicide tolerant GM plants are not currently grown in the UK due to concerns about adverse impacts on wildlife associated with the loss of habitat caused by the weedkiller. However Monsanto has lobbied persistently for their introduction. Roundup Ready soya and maize are imported from the US for use in animal feed, and meat and dairy products fed on GM feed are not labelled in many British supermarkets.

The USGS results are based on two studies of rain and watersheds in agricultural areas of the Mississippi Basin where the “the greatest use” of glyphosate takes place to control weeds in GM maize, soya and cotton tolerant to glyphosate/Roundup. The USGS reports that glyphosate use rose by more than eight fold, to 88,000 tons, in the 15 years to 2007, further eroding the myth that GM crops reduce chemical use.

Monsanto has repeatedly denied that glyphosate washes off fields in significant amounts, claiming the herbicide binds to soil particles and therefore cannot be leached. [2]

The USGS results confirm warnings from other countries that glyphosate is more mobile in some soils than the biotech corporation is prepared to admit. [3]

The presence of glyphosate and AMPA in surface waters means that drinking water quality and aquatic wildlife may be put at risk. Studies have shown many aquatic species are affected by the herbicide and its breakdown product, and there is growing concern about the safety of the product for human health. [4] In addition the overuse of glyphosate on GM soya, cotton and maize crops is driving an escalation and spread of problem weeds resistant to the weedkiller, meaning even more Roundup has to be used, often in combination with other herbicides, in an attempt to control these new “super” weeds.

The USGS found glyphosate in more than 60% of air and rain sampled at three locations in Mississippi, Iowa and Indiana, with AMPA found in more than 50% of samples, at concentrations up to 9.1ng/cubic metre and 0.49ng/cubic metre respectively. [5] Researchers from the USGS estimate that about 1% of glyphosate sprayed in catchments ended up in surface waters in the four areas where monitoring was conducted in streams and rivers. Concentrations varied between different river systems that formed part of the monitoring programme. The highest median level of glyphosate detected was 5.7μg/litre. [6] This level would not be allowed to enter public supply untreated under the EU Drinking Water Directive.

This year the European Commission postponed to 2015 a scheduled safety review of the European approval of glyphosate. [7]

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“The Mississippi Basin has been subjected to glyphosate application on a massive scale for the last 15 years. As a result of this giant uncontrolled experiment, the USGS is now finding that glyphosate and its breakdown products are turning up in rainfall and rivers, and not, as Monsanto would have us think, being safely locked up in the soil.

“Politicians and regulators need to take note of these findings and suspend the use of Roundup tolerant crops wherever they are grown to protect water supply, wildlife and public health. The first step should be to urgently reschedule the safety review of glyphosate, ensuring it is both transparent and independent of data supplied by the industry.

“Thanks to opposition from the public and some Members States, the EU has escaped being part of the Monsanto experiment and has the opportunity to say ‘No’ to GM herbicide tolerant crops, which are now rightly seen as an escalation of the chemical arms race which began in the 1950s. On the basis of this latest USGS survey results, it’s time to use new tactics. The mounting evidence on the safety and movement of glyphosate now merits a ban on GM tolerant crops. ”

ENDs

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Notes

[1] USGS press release, 29 August 2011. “Widely Used Herbicide Commonly Found in Rain and Streams in the Mississippi River Basin

[2] “From soil and plant applications of glyphosate herbicide it is expected that a small amount of the applied glyphosate may enter surface waters through runoff or attached to soil particles that wash off treated fields.” Monsanto. 2003. Backgrounder. Glyphosate and water quality. Updated November 2003.

[3] See GM Freeze report Herbicide Tolerance and GM crops - Why the world should be ready to Roundup glyphoste. Chapter 4

[4] See GM Freeze report Herbicide Tolerance and GM crops - Why the world should be ready to Roundup glyphoste. Chapters 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7

[5] Chang FC, Simcik MF and Capel CD, 2011. “Occurrence and fate of the herbicide glyphosate and its degradate Aminomethylphosphonic acid in the atmosphere”. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 30, 548–555

[6] Coupe RH, Kalkhoff SK, Capel PD and Gregoire C, 2011. “Fate and transport of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid in surface waters of agricultural basin”. Pesticide Management Science, 67, doi: 10.1002/ps.2212

[7] See GM Freeze action Is Roundup Safe?