Atrazine and Glyphosate More Harmful Than Scientists Once Thought
Monsanto marketed its potent weed killer glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—and the corn and soybeans genetically engineered to withstand it, by claiming it would replace other, more toxic weed killers such as atrazine.
But, it didn’t happen.
Since the mid-1990s, American farmers have reduced the amount of atrazine spread on corn fields by just 22 percent, from 0.83 to 0.64 pounds per acre.
At the same time they have increased their glyphosate usage by 3,000 percent, from 0.03 pounds per acre to just more than 1 pound per acre. Glyphosate has become the most popular agricultural herbicide in the U.S. and globally.
Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a document—technically, a "draft assessment"—warning that atrazine threatens wildlife. This was no surprise to scientists who have studied the harmful effects of atrazine for decades. Researchers have found substantial evidence that the chemical contributes to the feminization of male frogs and to reduced sperm count in men.
Because of atrazine’s health hazards and its persistence in groundwater, the European Union has banned it in agriculture.
Recent scientific research suggests that both atrazine and glyphosate are more harmful than scientists once thought.
For instance, several studies have shown that frequent exposure to glyphosate doubles a person’s risk of developing a blood cancer known as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Last year, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.”
In light of new evidence on the dangers of glyphosate, European Union nations failed to pass Monday a short-term extension of glyphosate’s license for agricultural use. The pesticide could be barred in the EU as soon as next month.
Proponents of GMO crops claim that they will feed the world and reduce chemical herbicide use, but we now know these promises have fallen flat. Glyphosate hasn’t replaced atrazine. Instead, GMOs have led to more superweeds. Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences and other agricultural chemical manufacturers are coming up with more toxic mixtures of chemicals to fight hardier weeds that have evolved to withstand weedkillers.
It’s a vicious cycle that will be broken only when Congress recognizes the importance of conservation on farms.
A recent report on genetically engineered crops by the National Academy of Sciences recommends that instead of turning to new designer chemicals to combat weeds, farmers should employ integrated weed management techniques such as cover crops and crop rotations. These practices can reduce the amount of chemical herbicides dumped on American farmland and can also save farmers money.
But integrated weed management gets very little funding: Only 1.2 percent of total conservation funding between 2006 and 2015 has gone to promoting prudent weed management practices.
This year, a bill proposed by the House Appropriations Committee would cut U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs that promote weed management aimed at reducing chemical applications on farms.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
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The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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