Pesticides and Food: It’s not a black or white issue — Part 3: How dangerous is
Foremost among those is glyphosate.
Glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) has drawn attention in the media in recent years, alleged by advocacy groups as being toxic and dangerous. But study after study has shown that it is one of the least toxic herbicides on the market and does not accumulate in the soil. How does glyphosate fit into the context of all current pesticides? How does glyphosate toxicity compare to other pesticides? And how does glyphosate toxicity compare to other common substances?
3: How dangerous is glyphosate?
Before understanding the toxicity of glyphosate in the context of other pesticides and substances, it is important to clarify what toxicity means. Toxicity, the degree to which a substance can damage an organism, can be measured and compared in various ways. Acute toxicity refers to the immediate effects of exposure to a certain dose of a substance. Chronic toxicity refers to the effects of being exposed to a certain dose of a substance multiple times over the course of a certain period, for example, once a day for months or years. Acute toxicity is what we think of when someone gets poisoned by a substance. Chronic toxicity is usually what most consumers are worried about concerning pesticides: what are the effects of being exposed to small doses of pesticides, on our produce, for example, over a long period of time?
For every substance, what matters is at what dose the substance becomes toxic for a specific organism, like an insect or a human. For both acute and chronic toxicity, substances are not “toxic” or “not toxic.” Even water is toxic if you ingest too much of it at one time. In addition, a substance can have high acute toxicity, and low chronic toxicity, or vice versa. Acute and chronic toxicity are not necessarily correlated. The point is, claims that glyphosate “is toxic” are not meaningful – only by comparing a pesticide’s acute or chronic toxicity with other well-known substances do we get a true understanding of the safety or danger of that pesticide.
Now, back to glyphosate. Glyphosate makes up 25% of all pesticides used in corn in the U.S.
Pesticides used on corn:
75% All other pesticides
However, it only accounts for 0.01% of the chronic toxicity hazard of all pesticides used in corn.
Chronic toxicity hazard from pesticides used on corn:
99.99% All other pesticides
This suggests that glyphosate is much less toxic than other common pesticides.
It is helpful when analyzing toxicity to compare pesticide toxicity with other common substances. For example, caffeine is over ten times more acutely toxic than glyphosate. To die from poisoning, a 140-pound human…