Friday, July 8, 2011

Grey Research: Herbicides

We have been discussing the dubious effectiveness of pharmaceutical companies offering within the realm of mental health (link).  I did not highlight (you would have had to follow the links to the original story) the problematic way in which companies go about getting these medicines approved.
Not too surprisingly,  other products that require government approval have their own problematic research mechanism.  Today we are looking at the herbicide (weed killer) Roundup™.  I realize that a number of agriculturally savvy people read this blog, but for the rest, be aware that roundup is one of the key ingredients to modern commercial (versus small plot sustainable) no-till farming.
The process involves planting a crop that has been genetically modified to resist the week killer.  Then you spray said weed killer all over the place.  It reduces soil erosion, and takes relatively small amount of manpower – particularly if you are dealing with very large commercial farming establishments.  Roundup™ also has been advertised as being safe to human contact, and not leaving any unsafe residue in or on the plant.
Well a new report brings these assertions into question.  I am not qualified discuss the merits of the acquisitions.  My purpose is to give a small illustration (from the reports footnotes) of the lack of transparency and dubious nature of so much of our government-corporate regulatory structure.
Michael Antoniou, et al, Earth Open Source, June 2011 (Hat Tip: NC).

Note 24.  “Grey literature” is a term used to describe documents produced and published by government agencies, academic institutions and other groups that are not distributed or indexed by commercial publishers and so are difficult to obtain.  Grey literature stands in stark contrast to peer reviewed open scientific literature, which has been scrutinized and judged worthy of publication by fellow scientists – and can be read by the wider public.  The pesticide [and by analogy the herbicide] approval process is heavily reliant on grey literature.

This little footnote is the basis for much of this:

Lucia Graves, Huffington Post, 7 June 2011.

The report, "Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?" found regulators knew as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate, the chemical on which Roundup is based, can cause birth defects in laboratory animals.
But despite such warnings, and although the European Commission has known that glyphosate causes malformations since at least 2002, the information was not made public.

In the letter, Huber also commented on the herbicide itself, saying: "It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders."

Although glyphosate was originally due to be reviewed in 2012, the Commission decided late last year not to bring the review forward, instead delaying it until 2015. The chemical will not be reviewed under more stringent, up-to-date standards until 2030.

Note that this comes up as a European issue, because Roundup has long been given the O.K. within the United States in commercial farming since at least the 1980s.

Of course the (big) silver lining is that we do know the herbicides kill weeds.

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