The Relationship between Genetically Modified Crops, Herbicides, and Human Safety

Key Takeaways:

  • The use of herbicides, particularly glyphosate, has significantly increased due to the rise of genetically modified crops that are resistant to these chemicals.
  • Despite their initial approval, there are growing concerns regarding the safety of these herbicides as the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen” and another herbicide, 2,4-D, as a “potential human carcinogen.”
  • Weeds are developing resistance to herbicides, causing farmers to use larger quantities and multiple types of herbicides, which can further increase potential health risks and environmental impact.
  • Studies show traces of these herbicides found in water sources and human urine, indicating potential wider environmental and health impact.
  • Experts are calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to delay the usage approval of new herbicide products due to these rising safety concerns.

As genetically modified crops that are resistant to various chemicals expand, there is a resultant rise in the saturation of herbicides, believed to be carcinogenic, within agricultural fields. This perspective has been put forward by two experts who have extensively studied this topic.

The Escalating Use of Glyphosate

The use of glyphosate, typically known as Roundup – a weedkiller, has surged more than 250 times in the U.S. Glyphosate usage rose from approximately 0.4 million kilograms in 1974 to a staggering 113 million kilograms in 2014.

The surge in usage can be linked to crops such as corn and soybeans, that are genetically manipulated to be “Roundup-Ready,” thus, are not impacted by these herbicides, stated Research Professor Charles Benbrook of Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The genetically altered crops remain unaffected by the herbicides while weed growth in agricultural fields is still controlled, according to Benbrook and his colleague Dr. Philip Landrigan of the preventive medicine department at the Icahn School of Medicine located in New York City.

Rising Concern Regarding Herbicide Safety

There has been growing worry regarding the safety of such agricultural herbicides, which were once deemed harmless to humans due to their targeted effect on plants and not animals. This concern has been raised by Jennifer Sass, a senior expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council based in New York City.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), earlier classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen,” following studies that linked the chemical to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The IARC also classified another widely used herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), as a “potential human carcinogen.”

Both herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-D, are combined in a new product from Dow AgroSciences named Enlist Duo, which was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014.

Due to the heavy usage of these herbicides, Benbrook and Sass are worried about the potential health risks to people associated with agricultural work or those living in proximity to farm fields.

Increase in Herbicide-Resistant Weeds

Farmers are resorting to applying larger quantities of herbicide on their fields since weeds are evolving resistance to the chemicals. This situation is similar to how genetically modified crops have developed resistance, as noted by Benbrook.

However, weeds resistant to glyphosate have been observed in around 100 million acres across 36 states, necessitating fields to be treated with multiple herbicides including 2,4-D, according to a paper by the authors.

As resistant weeds proliferate, farmers have responded by escalating their spraying efforts and quantities, augmenting both the volume of weedkiller used and the frequency of their field spray operations.

Potential Impact of Herbicides on Water Supply

There are indications of these chemicals seeping into the water supply in the vicinity of large farming setups. Recent research has discovered traces of glyphosate in surface water, rainfall runoff, and even human urine.

Meanwhile, Dow AgroSciences maintains that the safety of glyphosate and 2,4-D has been proven through “comprehensive data.”

Despite the claims by Dow AgroSciences, Benbrook and Landrigan have appealed to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to postpose the implementation of its decision to allow the use of Enlist Duo, due to the carcinogenic concerns surrounding glyphosate and 2,4-D.

Learn More

For further information on glyphosate, visit the International Agency for Research on Cancer.


Greetings from the trails and tracks! I'm Tim, but most folks know me as TJ. I've spent the last 5 years diving deep into the world of content writing, with a particular penchant for nutrition and the intricate science behind it. Every bite we take, every nutrient we consume, tells a unique story – and I'm here to unravel it for you.Beyond my keyboard, you'll often find me on a winding hiking trail or pushing my limits on a long-distance run. These pursuits not only keep me fit but constantly remind me of the vital role nutrition plays in fueling our passions and adventures.Through my writings, I aim to bridge the gap between complex nutritional science and everyday eating habits. Whether you're looking for the latest research updates, practical diet tips, or stories from the running track, I'm committed to serving you content that's as engaging as it is enlightening.So, lace up your shoes, grab a healthy snack, and join me in this exploration of food, science, and the great outdoors. Together, we'll journey towards better health and incredible experiences!
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