Are Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Harmful To Humans? - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Lee Evslin

Lee A. Evslin, M.D., is the author of “Breakfast at Monsanto’s: Is Roundup In Our Food Making Us Fatter, Sicker, And Sadder?” He is a Kauai-based pediatrician and the former CEO of Kauai Medical Clinic and Wilcox Hospital. He served on the state-sponsored task force involved with the analysis of pesticide usage on Kauai and received special recognition from the American Academy of Pediatrics for his work on pesticide legislation. You can contact him at levslin@makaiola.com.


I was invited to give a keynote speech at the recent 2022 UN General Assembly Science Summit on the potential danger of Roundup-like herbicides in our food and in the environment. Interest in the subject reflects a growing concern around the world that these herbicides may be much more toxic than we have been led to believe.

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The material below is a brief summary of the talk.

In 2012, Kauai was rocked by demonstrations over the proposed regulation of pesticide spraying on the island. I served on a task force sponsored by the state and county to evaluate the situation.

One of the toxic pesticides we examined closely was chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that affects the central nervous system of insects and animals. The scientific literature is clear that this chemical is toxic even if used as the label mandates.

I was struck by a disparity: Even though the science was clear, the companies that made and sprayed this chemical were dismissive of the concerns voiced by very reputable scientific bodies. It felt like I had entered a twilight zone of truth.

Fortunately, convincing testimony from the American Academy of Pediatrics contributed to Hawaii becoming the first state in the U.S. to ban the use of this insecticide for food production. Now, chlorpyrifos is banned for food production in the entire U.S. and in the European Union.

This same twilight zone of truth may also exist for Roundup-like herbicides. Monsanto patented Roundup in 1974. Since then, glyphosate has become the active ingredient in other Roundup-like herbicides, also known as glyphosate-based herbicides.

Heavy spraying of these chemicals began in the 1990s. They are currently the most heavily sprayed herbicides in the world.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige, with state lawmakers standing behind him, signs legislation in Honolulu on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 that bans a pesticide scientists have found could hinder the development of children's brains. Ige and state lawmakers say Hawaii is the first state to ban chlorpyrifos. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)
Hawaii Gov. David Ige, with state lawmakers standing behind him, signing legislation in Honolulu in 2018 that banned a pesticide scientists have found could hinder the development of children’s brains. Ige and state lawmakers say Hawaii is the first state to ban chlorpyrifos. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy) AP

Glyphosate-based herbicides are sprayed on genetically modified organism food crops such as corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola and also on non-GMO crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and rice. Recent studies have shown that a disturbingly high percentage of Americans now have glyphosate in their bodies.

The addition of glyphosate to American food has made our diet different from any other time in human history. This difference in diet coincides with the increased recognition that the health of Americans has worsened substantially since the 1990s, with an explosion of obesity, autism, fatty liver disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and numerous other adverse health conditions.

One in every two American adults now has a chronic disease. A very recent Harvard study stated that there has also been a “dramatic” increase of 14 different cancers in people under 50 during this same time period.

This raises an important question: Is it possible that GBHs are contributing to our epidemic of chronic diseases?

Companies that make and sell GBHs claim the following:

  1. GBHs have been shown to be safe by hundreds of studies.
  2. GBHs are particularly safe because they impact a metabolic pathway found in plants, but not in animals.

There are, unfortunately, significant problems with these arguments, which may have critical implications for our health.

The first problem is that many of the studies referenced as evidence of safety were done more than 30 years ago using much less sophisticated testing methods, many of the studies were paid for by Monsanto, many of them were not published, not peer-reviewed and remain held as private information and therefore are not available for review.

In contrast to Monsanto’s claims of safety, a significant number of the more recent independent studies demonstrate toxicity.

The second problem is that while it is true that glyphosate affects one particular metabolic pathway in plants that is not found in animals, newer studies demonstrate that glyphosate adversely affects other pathways that are in animals.

Equally worrisome is that this one particular pathway, which they have assured us is not found in animal cells, is found in the bacteria that live in and on our bodies, and there is steadily accumulating evidence that GBHs may alter the vital ratios and functions of these bacteria. Its effect on bacteria is so powerful that glyphosate is actually patented as an antibiotic.

One in every two American adults now has a chronic disease.

The billions of bacteria that live in and on our bodies (known as our microbiome) are essential for good health. The scientific knowledge about microbiomes has exploded in the last few years.

We know that a healthy microbiome is vital for digesting foods, producing essential chemicals such as vitamins, and aiding our immune system. There is a growing belief that adverse changes to the microbiome may influence the development of cancer, cause obesity, increase autoimmune diseases, and possibly worsen other significant health conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Lee Evsli, at right, at the UN summit in September 2022.
Lee Evslin, right, at the UN summit in September. Submitted/2022

The Harvard researchers who described the dramatic increase in cancer also stated that there is a strong possibility that this increase in cancer is due to adverse changes in our microbiome.

As mentioned, an additional reason for concern is that more recent and often more sophisticated studies show GBHs to be toxic to multiple life forms. They are toxic to marine life, birds, bees, insects and mammals.

The evidence is becoming increasingly clear that they do affect metabolic pathways other than the one that is just in plants. When they are tested against cell lines (including human cells), they are repeatedly shown to cause injury to numerous cellular mechanisms and even to the genetic material of the cells.

The science clearly does not show these Roundup-like herbicides to be as safe as the chemical companies and crop industry would have us believe. Given the rapid degradation of human health over the last several decades, and the new evidence demonstrating the possible toxicity of a substance that is not only injurious to us but to almost all other life forms, further research, and further regulatory review is urgently needed.

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About the Author

Lee Evslin

Lee A. Evslin, M.D., is the author of “Breakfast at Monsanto’s: Is Roundup In Our Food Making Us Fatter, Sicker, And Sadder?” He is a Kauai-based pediatrician and the former CEO of Kauai Medical Clinic and Wilcox Hospital. He served on the state-sponsored task force involved with the analysis of pesticide usage on Kauai and received special recognition from the American Academy of Pediatrics for his work on pesticide legislation. You can contact him at levslin@makaiola.com.


Latest Comments (0)

It appears to me that Hawai'i DOT has stopped spaying herbicide along the sides of Likelike Hwy, and instead is using mowers & string trimmers. I am sure this is man-power intensive compared to spraying and so, more expensive - one use of my tax dollars I am happy to contribute to.

Robo · 2 months ago

Regulatory agencies did approve glyphosate in the past, but this appears to be changing.In November 2021, the EPA announced that glyphosate is likely to adversely affect almost 1700 endangered species.In June 2022, a U.S. court ordered the EPA to do a reassessment of the toxicity of glyphosate. This has not yet been completed.The European Union has been unable (as of 11/15/22) to gather enough votes to approve the extension of authorization for glyphosate use past 12/15/22. The issue has become very controversial in the EU.A growing number of scientists are voicing their concern that the regulatory agencies are placing much more weight on industry-sponsored studies rather than the studies done in independent labs. They are also concerned that many of the studies only tested pure glyphosate. The commercial products all contain glyphosate and multiple other chemicals that make glyphosate kill vegetation more effectively. The scientists state that studies on safety should give more weight to the studies using the actual products being sprayed.

Lee · 2 months ago

I personally need to educate myself more on this issue. Thanks for helping me start:)

chadktaniguchi · 2 months ago

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