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Roundup/Glyphosate "Facts" and Facts

The "Facts" a la Monsanto

    What is Roundup?

    Monsanto introduced Roundup herbicide in several world markets in 1974. Glyphosate, its active ingredient, is a white, odorless solid that dissolves in water. Glyphosate is the common name for N-(phosphonomethyl)-glycine, and it kills the entire plant from the leaves to the roots. Care must be taken to protect the leaves of desirable plants from the herbicide.

    How does it work?

    When Roundup or another of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides is sprayed on plant foliage, it is absorbed and then moved — or translocated — throughout the plant’s tissues. Once inside the plant, glyphosate inhibits the production of a enzyme, called EPSP synthase, which in turn prevents the plant from manufacturing certain aromatic amino acids essential for plant growth and life. Glyphosate interrupts the metabolic process in plants, so its effect may not be visible for about four days in annual plants and up to seven days in perennial plants. After application, the plant wilts and turns yellow, and then turns brown as the plant tissue deteriorates. At the same time, glyphosate decomposes the plant’s underground roots and rhizomes. Ultimately, the entire plant dies, is incapable of regenerating, and enriches the soil as it decomposes.

    What are some of its names?

    A few of the glyphosate-based formulations include:

    Name            Application                     Country
    Vision 		Forestry 			Canada
    Azural 		Vineyards 			France
    Kusatoban 	Residential 			Japan
    Spark 		Oil Palm 			Malaysia
    Fusta 		Orchards, Citrus 		Spain
    Rival 		Annual crops 			Guatemala
    Sting 		Pre-plant, annual weeds 	UK
    Armada 		Plantations 			Cameroon
    Rebel 		Residential 			Sweden
    Roundup Ultra	Agriculture 			U.S.
    Roundup Pro 	Industrial, Turf, Ornamental	U.S.

    What happens to it in the environment?

    Glyphosate is degraded by soil microorganisms into naturally-occurring elements such as carbon dioxide. Roundup is a mixture of glyphosate, water and a surfactant. The average half-life of glyphosate in soil is 45 days or less, and after six months, typically about 90 percent of the compound has been degraded into its natural components. The soil microorganisms which decompose glyphosate are not harmed in the process ad, in fact, are actually nourished by the elements that glyphosate is degraded into.

    Because glyphosate-based herbicides have an extremely low vapor pressure, they do not vaporize — which means that, when used according to label directions, there is virtually no likelihood of inhalation by animals or redistribution by air.

    Studies in animals show that there is minimal retention of glyphosate in tissues, and that if exposure were to occur, the glyphosate would be rapidly eliminated. Similar studies in agricultural crops show that glyphosate residues are negligible, so exposure of humans, livestock and wildlife to residues in foods is extremely unlikely.


    The surfactant used in Roundup is similar to household products like shampoos, used to increases their cleaning effectiveness. The government-reviewed surfactants in Roundup aid in the absorption of the compound into the plant’s foliage. In soil, these surfactants are degraded by microorganisms and have an average half-life of less than a week.


    Tests have shown that glyphosate, when used according to label directions, has no weed killing activity once in contact with the soil. Glyphosate will not move in or on the soil to affect non-target vegetation, and it does not move through the soil to enter other non-target plants by the root system. Glyphosate is only effective when it comes into contact with the green, growing parts of plants. Other tests have shown that glyphosate binds tightly to most soil particles until it is degraded. This means that the likelihood of glyphosate harming nearby plants is negligible, and there is an extremely low potential for glyphosate to move into groundwater.

    How does it benefit the environment?:

    The use of Roundup benefits the environment in a number of ways:

    1. Conservation tillage is an important part of the solution to soil erosion, and Roundup herbicide contributes to the success of this environmentally beneficial agricultural technique. In conservation tillage, enough crop residue is left on the soil surface to protect it from water or wind erosion. Without traditional tilling, however, weeds emerge that interfere with planting or compete with growing seedlings for sun and nutrients. When Roundup herbicide is sprayed on the field before planting, the competing weeds are killed while the residual vegetation continues to protect the soil surface from erosion and moisture loss. And crops can be planted immediately after Roundup is applied.
    2. Conservation tillage programs also conserve energy. Fewer trips over the field are required, so farmers can significantly reduce their fossil fuel use. In fact, they can save 50 to 80 percent of the fuel they would have used for conventional farming practices.
    3. Ecological studies have shown that most of the herbicide residue found in rivers results from water run-off and from soil particles that erode into water. Since the practice of conservation tillage reduces both, its use will also reduce herbicide run-off. In addition, run-off presents a negligible problem when glyphosate-based herbicides are used. Several glyphosate formulations are actually approved for controlling weeds in waterways in the U.S. and Europe.
    4. Wildlife habitat restoration efforts also make use of Roundup to eradicate unwanted foreign species, so hat the area can be planted with native grasses and flowering plants. Roundup has been used in habitat restoration efforts in Canada, to eliminate quackgrass in upland prairies; in California, to eliminate the ice plant on sand dunes and restore the natural beach area; in Kenya, to destroy grasses interrupting the electrical current in fences to protect the endangered black rhino from poachers; and in many other areas.

    How is it registered?:

    Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides have one of the most extensive worldwide human health, occupational safety and environmental data bases ever completed on a pesticide product. The study of glyphosate continues today as new requirements come into existence or as Monsanto evaluates possible questions on its own.

    U.S. Registration
    All pesticides must be registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before they can be sold. Before the agency approves registration, a variety of stringent toxicity, crop residue and environmental fate studies must be conducted by the company and reviewed by the EPA. Only when the EPA finds the studies to be scientifically sound and accepts them can the pesticide be registered and sold in the United States. In addition, many state agencies carefully review these studies, examine product use for specific geographies, and apply their own strict registration standards to pesticides.

    International Registration
    Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides are registered in more than 130 countries throughout the world. Most countries have a governmental equivalent of the U.S. EPA which reviews data from environmental and toxicological tests before registration is granted. In addition to these studies, many countries require that food crop residue studies be conducted in that country. Many require and maintain extensive data bases on the performance of products to ensure that manufacturers’ claims and application rates are fully justified. Monsanto maintains regulatory experts in each of its world areas who oversee the registration process and make sure that the data submissions are high quality, thorough and complete.

    How is it tested?

    Safety Margin

    Generally, a 100-fold margin of safety is considered adequate for exposure to a herbicide. This means that the highest potential amount of herbicide residue in food or the highest potential amount of herbicide exposure to workers using it must be at least 100 times less than the amount of the compound that causes no effect in animal studies. Glyphosate’s safety margin is much greater than required. It has over a 1,000-fold safety margin in food, and over a 700-fold safety margin for workers who manufacture it or use it.

    Animal Testing

    Regulatory agencies use toxicology testing with laboratory animals as a model for evaluating the potential of a substance to cause adverse effects in humans. Such studies measure the effects of direct exposure to the herbicide. In addition to a wide range of standard tests, Monsanto also has tested such non-target species as birds, deer, mice, voles, chipmunks and aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates. In birds, for example, the required tests have shown that glyphosate does not affect their ability to lay eggs, the ability of the eggs to survive, or the thickness of the eggshells. Additional studies have determined that Roundup does not adversely affect bacteria in the soil.

    Toxicology Studies

    A representative list of laboratory animal tests conducted to gain pesticide registration:

1. Mammalian acute toxicity and irritation studies
Oral LD50 rat
Derml LD50 rabbit
Eye irritation rabbit
Skin irritation rabbit
2. Mammalian acute inhalation LC50 rat

3. Dermal sensitization

guinea pig
4. Subchronic feeding (90 day) rat and dog
5. Subchronic 21-day dermal rabbit
6. Chronic feeding (2 year) rat
7. 10-month oncogenicity study rat
8. Teratology in two species rat, and rabbit or mouse
9. Multigeneration reproduction rat
10. One-year feeding study dog
Aquatic and Wildlife
1. Avian Oral LD50 bobwhite, quail or mallard duck
2. Avian feeding LC50 bobwhite, quail and mallard duck
3. Acute 96-hour LC50 bluegill, sunfish and rainbow trout
4.Acute 48-hour in an aquatic Invertebrate Daphnia magna
5. Chronic and reproductive, Daphnia magna, duck and 
studies with fish quail (as necessary)
1. 96-hour LC50 honeybees

    Health Effects

    An LD50/LC50 value is assigned according to the effects of a herbicide in feeding and skin exposure tests on animals. The LD50/LC50 number is the amount of the substance that causes death in 50 percent of the test animals. The smaller the LD50/LC50 number, the more acutely toxic the substance is. The EPA classifies herbicides for acute toxicity in four categories where "I" is the most toxic and "IV" is the least toxic. Glyphosate is rated as an EPA Category IV for acute oral toxicity based on tests conducted on rats.

    The results from other extensive, chronic toxicology tests recently resulted in an EPA classification of glyphosate as a "Category E" herbicide, or "evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans," the most favorable rating granted.

    EPA Categories

      Group A Human Carcinogen
      Group B Probable Human Carcinogen
      Group C Possible Human Carcinogen
      Group D Not Classifiable as to Human Carcinogenicity
      Group E* Evidence of Non-Carcinogenicity for Humans

      *Glyphosate is rated as Category E

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