Glyphosate and Monsanto's Roundup

Is one of them safe?

Today, the French Ministry of Environment announced that they will vote against the renewal of the market authorization of the Glyphosate in the EU. The Glyphosate is a very controversial molecule because, sold under the Roundup it embeds everything the ecological mouvement despises:

  • the RoundUp is used in combination with GMOs.
  • the RoundUp is sold and controled by a very powerful company.
  • the RoundUp combined with the GMOs leads to an increased used of pesticides.

So, basically, Glyphosate is now in the mind of people totally associated with RoundUp and as RoundUp is extremely negatively charged in the public opinion, it starts to be hard to have a rational thinking about this particular molecule.

And you know what? It could be that Glyphosate is a really safe molecule while RoundUp is the most toxic mixture you can buy.

And this is the problem we have right now. That is, Monsanto is maybe totally right when telling that Glyphosate is by itself safe. The real problem is that you never use Glyphosate alone on your field to take out the weeds. If you want to hard kill everything with the RoundUp, you end up with a solution containing about:

  • 0.70%: Glyphosate
  • 0.70%: Other chemicals
  • 98.60%: Water

This is what I read from the usage instructions of the Roundup® Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate. That you have so much water in the solution you spray is normal, nowadays, a good active ingredient (pesticide, fungicide) is spread at a rate of 12 to 25g per hectare (10,000 square meters). But to achieve a good mixing you package these minimal amounts in a formulation, this formulation will be then mixed with water in a big tank and this will be spread.

With a bit of simplification you follow the sequence:

  1. 10g of active ingredient,
  2. put into 1L of formulation,
  3. mixed into a 1000L of Water solution ready to use.

The critical step is in fact the second one, you can have perfectly good active ingredient and makes a totally toxic formulation. A big part of the work done by the agrochemical companies developing new pesticides/fungicides/herbicides is to ensure that they do not get a toxic formulation.

Because the active ingredient is just a part of what is effectively used on the fields, the validation should not focus on the official active ingredient but on the formulation. If one just focus on the main active ingredient, it opens the door to creation of formulations which are maybe way more effective to kill the weeds, but terrible for our environment.

Update: Some people asked me why mixing a safe compound into a given formulation could make the whole stuff toxic. This is simply because the other compounds in the formulation can act as a carrier and help transport the relatively safe chemical in parts of the organism where it can be toxic. This also why you should never mix prescription drugs with other over-the-counter drugs you can freely buy. Your doctor is providing you a given prescription considering you do not take other things together, if you add some extra stuff, it could have bad side effects. This resulted in medicine in the empirical rule not to give more than 3 drugs to a patient.

Created: Wed 30 August 2017
Updated: Tue 26 September 2017
By Loïc d'Anterroches.

Tags: Environment HSE
Archives: 2017 / August
Fluid Phase Equilibria, Chemical Properties & Databases
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