What would happen if a USDA scientist discovered that one of the most commonly used pesticides on the planet with a reputation for having saved millions of tons of US soil from erosion was — rather than a soil savior — a soil killer?
That, to quote a certain paranormal expert, would be bad. And yet, it’s true.
This news came to the fore thanks to a recently published must-read article from Reuters on how government regulators are “dropping the ball” on agricultural biotechnology. It begins with the story of USDA scientist Dr. Robert Kremer. Kremer has spent the last fifteen years looking at Monsanto’s blockbuster broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate (aka RoundUp), the most commonly used pesticide in the world and the companion to Monsanto’s possibly monopolistic RoundupReady lines of genetically engineered seeds.
While exact figures are a closely guarded secret thanks to the USDA’s refusal to update its pesticide use database after 2007, estimates suggest upwards of 200 million pounds of glyphosate were dumped on fields and farms in the US in 2008 alone. That’s almost double the amount used in 2005.
Glyphosate has a reputation as the “safest” of all the agricultural herbicides and has become the primary means of weed control in industrial agriculture. While being the best of an extremely nasty bunch may be the faintest of praise, the USDA relies on this perception, which has been fueled by industry and government research indicating that the chemical dissipates quickly and shows low toxicity (as poisons go, that is) to humans.