This past Friday as I got home my wife told me I need to watch the CBS news, as there was going to be a news report on a weed herbicide. I really like Scott Pelley, and he was trying to give a fair report on the fact that a judge in California had ruled that Roundup, a common herbicide used in agriculture and lawns for over 40 years, can add a “Cancer warning” on the label. An international health organization from France had last year submitted a report that stated the chemical in Roundup, glyphosate, “probably causes cancer.” This, in spite of the fact that glyphosate has the approval from over 800 health and safety studies over more than 40 years, including our own E.P.A, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and the European Food Safety Agency to name a few. This latest ruling from a California judge has caused much confusion, as it flies in the face of every other scientific study on Roundup.
Roundup is the most common herbicide used in agriculture in helping to grow crops. This article is not intended to justify the use of Roundup by agriculture. But suffice it to say, that without it, feeding the world becomes even more challenging and expensive. One would need to plan on spending more at the local grocery store, as farmers would lose an important tool which many use. In fact, most of the corn, soy, and cotton grown in the U.S. are genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup, allowing these crops to be sprayed with the product to effectively control weeds without harming the crops.
Roundup is also used some in home lawns, parks, sports fields, and other urban turf areas, but on a much smaller scale. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, affects only plant enzymes, and is very effective in killing green unwanted plants. So unless you’re a plant, you’re good. And once it is absorbed and utilized, it has a very short half-life, on average of 32 days, and is bound to soil particles before being broken down by soil microbes. At LawnAmerica, the main application we have for Roundup is during winter and very early spring. When the bermudagrass is dormant at that time, we spot-treat fescue clumps to kill them, since the dormant bermudagrass turf will not absorb the product. We also use Roundup on a spot-treatment basis to carefully treat weeds in shrub beds. I personally like to use Roundup to treat along borders to kill a small band of bermudagrass or zoysiagrass, so that I don’t have to use the weed-eater (saving trees and less emissions from an engine). And I’ll use it to kill weeds in non-turf areas such as cracks in driveways. I’ll use it in mulched areas and even around my blueberry patch and in gardens, as long as it’s not sprayed on desirable plants. So in reality, we use a very small amount of this product and only in spot-treatment cases in the lawn care industry.
My concern is the confusion and fear reports like this can cause to the public. Even my wife was alarmed when she heard the headline about cancer, before I set her straight. The facts are that the toxicity of glyphosate, or the LD50, comes in at 5,600 with scientific studies. This means that it’s slightly toxic. Then as I put salt on my potato tonight, with an LD50 of 3,000, eat biscuits made from baking soda (LD50 of 4,200), take acteminophin from the headache I got over this article (LD50 of 1,944), and then drink my cup of coffee the next morning (LD50of 192), I’m putting stuff into my body with lower LD50’s and are more toxic then the Roundup that I spot-spray on a lawn every now and then!
Truth is that it’s the dose that makes the poison, and how something is used which determines if it’s a valuable tool, or something that can harm you. For example, most medicines can be for good if used properly, but can kill if not. For some good information on this Roundup issue, relative toxicities, and what “probably causes cancer” actually means, visit here for a link to a website from gmoanswers. And for more information on Roundup specifically, with links to various information, visit here.
Rest assured, that after 32 years of caring for lawns, we’ll never use a product that is not fully tested and proven to be effective and safe. If anyone should be concerned it’s the people handling the products and applying them daily. Both of my adult sons are now working for LawnAmerica, and applying many of the same products I’ve applied for 32 years. I believe in their safety if used properly, and we do. Now I’ll go have a glass of wine this evening (which could kill me or others if used improperly), and enjoy a good night of sleep before I wake up and drink that caffeine-loaded cup of coffee in the morning, even knowing that it’s rated as very toxic. It’s still very good!