Round and Round Over Roundup

When I hear people debate the herbicide glyphosate, or Roundup as it is more commonly known, I generally want to hide under a table. This is because I have friends who are passionate on both sides of the issue.


Recently I saw an article in Slate entitled  “Roundup Hysteria that will be sure to inspire further rounds of debate. (Thanks to Tony Spencer’s Facebook page Dutch Dreams for providing a link.) The article argues that Roundup is in fact not harmful to people, but that it is essential in the fight to preserve native species.

The author, Ted Williams, is not a flack for the chemical industry. He writes widely on conservation issues and is a part-time Executive Director for something called the Native Fish Coalition.

Williams raises serious doubts, I think, about the claim that Roundup causes cancer in people. Nevertheless, there is international momentum for a ban, which is supported by most environmental groups in the USA.

Some argue that Roundup is essential to the fight against invasive plants. 

On the other hand, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) defends the limited use of Roundup. TNC works to manage and restore thousands of acres of wildlife habitat around the world. According to Williams, who writes for TNC’s online newsletter, Roundup is essential to that work.

Williams argues that Roundup attracts so much opposition in part because its manufacturer, Monsanto, is a bad actor on many environmental fronts. Also, the practice of drenching genetically-modified Roundup-tolerant crops with the herbicide raises a special set of grave concerns.

2014-04-06 13.17.59 crocus tommasinianus with bees
But some research indicates Roundup is harmful to honeybees. 

While Williams  contests the link between human cancer and Roundup, he ignores the impact that Roundup may have on pollinators. Researchers at the University of Texas have found that Roundup harms the intestinal bacteria of honeybees, which seems to make them more vulnerable to fatal infection.

This research raises the possibility that Roundup has the same effect on other insects and perhaps mammals as well. However, that link has not yet been tested.

On the other hand, perhaps the benefit that Roundup brings to habitat restoration outweighs the harm of limited use. I honestly don’t know.

Years ago I used Roundup to paint the stumps of the Buckthorn I was trying to eliminate from our property. Eventually, I decided to just remove new growth that emerged from the stumps, which would kill the plants after a year or so. This was a practical solution for our small suburban property, but probably not for larger areas.

Go ahead and read the 2 linked articles, and let me know what you think. But please don’t yell at me.

37 Comments on “Round and Round Over Roundup”

  1. I don’t think we know enough about the effects of this product on mammals, ocean life and insects. We’re reacting via studies rather than acting as investigators/researchers by collecting data from physicians and veterinarians; data on patients with digestive issues. Many digestive system issues are diagnosed based on their manifestations and not their cause. There has been a tremendous increase in the incidents of food intolerance, incomplete food digestion and food allergies. This coincides with the use of this product in residential application. Perhaps there is a cause and effect going on with this product…perhaps not. I’ve gone from endorsing it to removing it from my food sources and not using it in my gardens.

  2. Great post! I read the article… I used Round-Up in the past and it always made me feel weird even though I wore long-sleeved shorts, rubber gloves, and a face mask. I have used similar products from other companies, such as 2-4-D, and never had any such complaints. While I do not like Monsanto or GMO’s, if you follow the recommended guidelines and “spot spray” where neeeded, I see no problems. I sprayed thistles this past summer in a very large pasture that were not flowering. THOUSANDS of thistles… I sprayed mainly plants that weren’t flowering and dug the ones that were so I wouldn’t risk harming pollinators. In previous years I completely stopped spraying because of my concern for the environment. Come here and I will show you what happens… I do not agree with GMO’s or round-up ready crops but not necessarily because of Round-Up in general. The grain the plants produce are not good for the human body or even livestock. The rise in cancer has a lot to do with many preservatives in our food and other environmental factors. The cure for cancer(s) ia a whole different ballgame… Thanks for sharing!

  3. I am afraid that anyone looking for an answer always wants one that suits his or her own purposes… and bends statistics available to achieve it. I say, if in doubt, avoid it! Whether conservationists need it or not, I cannot judge. But I don’t NEED it so I will find other ways of removing weeds or invasives. It may be harder work, but my conscience is clear.

  4. Interesting post. I see commercials on TV about a link with Round-Up and cancer in long term use by people, but don’t know on what data that is based. I personally have never used herbicides heavily and have not used Round-Up at all for the past five years. It makes me feel virtuous, but using RU made life much easier!

  5. RoundUp is one of the tools used here in prairie restoration, particularly when it comes to the elimination of the dreaded Chinese tallow tree, which seems intent on taking over the world. It isn’t sprayed indiscriminately, though. Instead, it’s often used the year after initial removal by burning or brushing, when the inevitable sprouts return. Spot application to individual plants seems to be the preferred method.

    The discussions remind me of those surrounding the practice here of aerial spraying for mosquitoes. Balancing the benefit to the human population with the costs to other insects, small mammals, and aquatic creatures is an on-going issue. We’re getting better at it, especially with techniques that avoid overspray and much more occasional use. The development of biological control mechanisms is helping.

  6. I think we should add ‘Roundup” to that ever growing list we can’t ‘talk’ about anymore. We used to be able to discuss and learn, but now we shout. That being said, I think we ingest way too many chemicals on a daily basis, but there are some invasive plants that need to be removed and digging is not always the best option. I’ve read several places where people cut down an invasive plant and use a paint brush to brush on Roundup to the remaining stump to kill it. I like that idea. I have a huge expanse of invasive plants that I plan to mow down in the spring and then go along and paint. I’m sincerely hoping that works. 🙂

  7. I still use Roundup. Years ago there was a product that worked wonders on buckthorn (vinex) and it was taken off the market. The case regarding the man who sued because of cancer was often not fully reported. Many articles never mentioned that he was using a truck sprayer in the wind with no protection. As with everything, common sense in usage is very important.

  8. To call Monsanto a bad actor is an understatement. We saw a move where Monsanto sued a farmer because pollen from their crops had blown over to his, and they claimed he was now growing Monsanto plants. Unbelievable! According to the Guardian, they have sued hundreds of small farmers for this reason.

  9. Roundup has been pretty much banned around here for about 10 years or so, although they do still allow it’s sale in certain cases, such as if you have poison ivy, etc. As with most things, I think that it’s misuse that causes the vast majority of problems, especially when there are superior alternatives (I have an older book that recommends spraying an entire area as step 1 of “creating a garden bed” – yikes!). And developing food crops that are resistant to being sprayed with roundup? I bet the guy that came up with that idea only feeds his family organic produce.

  10. Thanks for introducing the topic Jason.. It was really interesting reading the comments. We don’t use it in our garden but did years ago for weeds growing through our pavers. I think “moderation in all things” seems like a good philosophy to follow.

  11. I do use herbicides in my ongoing and eternal war against poison ivy, bittersweet, solanum, and bramble …. but I don’t use Roundup. My go-to for non-woody problem plants (such as invasive grasses and the Horrendous Houttonyia) is a diquat blend sold as Spectracide here in the USA. For the aforementioned woody stuff I use triclopyr, which I have found actually works better and faster than glyphosate if one mixes a bit of the diquat with it.

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