Glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine) was first created in 1950 by a Swiss chemist while researching potential new pharmaceuticals. When no pharmaceutical application was found, the chemical was eventually patented in 1964 for use as a boiler and pipe cleaner, due to its ability to effectively bind to and remove minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper and zinc.
In 1970, Monsanto chemists Dr. Phil Hamm and Dr. John Franz identified the herbicidal activity of glyphosate, and patented it for use as an herbicide in 1971. The formulated glyphosate product, called “Roundup”, was first sold commercially by Monsanto in 1974. It was used for both residential and agricultural purposes. In agriculture, its use was first limited to pre-plant field clearing and halting weed growth between rows of crops.
Introduction of Roundup Ready GMOs
In 1996, Monsanto (no longer considered a chemical company, but rather a biotech company) introduced “Roundup Ready” glyphosate-tolerant genetically modified seeds. Soy, corn, and cotton had been modified to grow even when sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. This trait of herbicide resistance led to an explosion in the use of glyphosate, because now farmers could spray vast amounts of glyphosate directly on their growing crops and kill all weeds competing for the soil nutrients.
For the two decades following the introduction of Roundup Ready GMOs, glyphosate use rose almost 15-fold globally. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the US from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last ten years.
Today, on average, 84% of glyphosate applied in agricultural settings is applied to soybeans, corn or cotton. According to the EPA, about 280 million pounds of glyphosate are applied to an average of 298 million acres of cropland annually.
Other Uses of Glyphosate
Glyphosate is currently used in numerous non-agricultural capacities. It is used for invasive weed control in aquatic systems, pastures/ranglands, parks, schools, public lands, and forestry. Residential products commonly contain glyphosate, including the bottled Roundup product that you see on the shelves of Home Depot. In fire-prone geographies, glyphosate is used to kill off overgrowth that could provide kindling for wildfires.
A Word About Surfactants
Glyphosate is never sprayed alone. It is always delivered in a “formulated product” to maximize effectiveness. The glyphosate-based formula Roundup, for example, contains glyphosate, isopropylamine, polyethoxylated tallow amine surfactant (POEA), and water.
A surfactant is a soapy, detergent-like substance that covers a surface and facilitates the delivery of glyphosate on the targeted weed.
The surfactant POEA in the US Roundup formulation is highly toxic, and in fact is banned in the European Union. The Roundup product therefore has different ingredients in the EU than the POEA-containing American product. In a recent study, scientists also found undisclosed heavy metals in glyphosate formulations as well, including arsenic, cobalt, chromium, nickel, and lead.
The combination of POEA, glyphosate, and heavy metals is a toxic stew set to destroy our soil and our bodies.