What exactly does the new research about Roundup tell us?


Fullscreen capture 9192010 31140 PM Headlines across the gardening world and elsewhere are telling us that Roundup is "linked to human birth defects".  Well, that's alarming, but I've signed on to Jon Stewart's sanity campaign, not the "Keep Fear Alive" movement led by Stephen Colbert's character, so I thought I'd at least read the article.

And even in that shortened version, it turns out that birth defects have been found when  whole communities are sprayed with Roundup from airplanes, fer crissakes. 

So if what you're doing with Roundup is occasionally squirting it on the leaves of poison ivy (that's me – I confess!) or even if you're using it to kill invasive plants or to install a meadow, Roundup may still be the best solution to the problem.  Integrated Pest Management means – yes – sometimes using synthetics.

By the way, I heard John Greenlee speak to the Landscape Architects the other day and he seems to agree that fear of Roundup is overblown.  To him, it's the genetically modified Roundup-Ready crops that are alarming, not the Roundup itself.

Oh, about the rally.  It's a short subway ride away, so how could I resist?


  1. Well, I hope you and John Greenlee are correct.

    I try my best to be organic and have been until this summer.

    I had poison ivy bushes that were three feet tall surrounding a tree, and it was taking over the yard. When I tried the organic way of removing it, I ended up with poison ivy for an entire 8 weeks–even after going to the doctor and getting medication.–Not two or four weeks, but EIGHT full weeks. I was miserable. (After the sixth week, my co-worker glued pink confetti on his forearms in sympathy.)

    If it weren’t for Roundup (and I am NOT a fan of Monsanto), I’d still have it.

  2. Plain old water, in excess quantities, can be dangerous to human health. That’s probably true of everything, in fact.

    I use spot-use Round Up on the Bermuda grass growing in my prairie lawn. Nothing else gets rid of it and I’d rather have the prairie lawn.

    I also have used it on wide swathes of spotted spurge and purslane growing in a neighbor’s front flagstone patio while he was out of town for the summer (with his permission), since all the weeds made his house look unoccupied (as it was), we were having a rash of burglaries in the ‘hood on houses that looked empty, and I was too busy to spend a week of days pulling up the weeds. In all cases, I’ve been careful about how I use it, never spraying when it is windy and being careful of runoff.

    Is it better not to ever have to use it? Well, sure. That’s not always a good option, though.

  3. Interesting news. I am a professional organic gardener, and have not in five years of business had a need for Roundup or any other herbicide. That’s not to say I think it should never ever be used, but I do think it is grossly overused. And if it was not grossly overused, I doubt it would still be manufactured, since it wouldn’t be so profitable to make. I do believe it’s dangerous, and 99% unjustified.

  4. The Susans – I so agree with you. Am I suppose to let the poison ivy invade every square inch of my meadow? I also brush glyphosate on newly cut bush honeysuckle and autumn olive. I’ve tried digging the roots up and they come back. I never use it around my natural pond and creek and I always make sure it won’t rain until after the chemical is absorbed. It is the last resort, but sometimes it is the only thing that works. I’m not sure the suburban gardener needs it, but we sure do in the country.

  5. Glysophate is the main ingredient in Roundup. Ortho has a better product to kill weeds in concrete, pavement, gutter cracks. That is the context I use it and feel no guilt, remorse or else, I know what I am doing. Plus I understand the directions to use.

    Any herbicide spray indiscriminately on crops, flora and fauna has to be a killer.

    However putting things in some perspective is helpful.

    Transgenetic seeds, for example, soy, and any other crop tolerant to GLYSOPHATE is the PROBLEM, and not the other way around.

  6. I would like the research on Roundup to differentiate between the active chemical glyphosate and the secret formula surfactants in Roundup TM. That would give a better indication of what there is to fear or not to fear. The reports of birth defects in communities sprayed with Roundup by planes is very troubling. They are however agricultural communities in Argentina. What else is being used there?

    I have used glyphosate sparingly in ornamental landscapes for decades, much preferring a thick layer of mulch and minimal weeding once a landscape is established. So I have not been one to react with great alarm over some of these reports because of glyphosates short half life and preponderance to stay put unless the soil is physically moved.

    Recently though, of much more concern is the growing number of Roundup resistant weeds. This will have major impacts on industrial agriculture. That affects all of us. It is real and it is here now.

    Just google roundup resistant weeds. This is from 2007 in Farm Industry News.


    Now it is worse.

  7. Roundup may or may not cause birth defects in humans, but it definitely does cause death in amphibians. And earthworms. And nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil. And it has been shown to be an endocrine disrupter, which means it messes with our hormones.

    Just because one article’s claims are overblown does not mean that the rest of a growing body of evidence against roundup is all false as well.

  8. On the rare occasion that someone tries to give me grief about my use of glyphosate, I just ask them if they drove their organic horse and buggy today, or did they drive their fossilfuel burnin’ automobile that’s ruining my work environment.

    To counter weeds in the garden, I use dense planting, corn gluten, root barriers, mulching, tarping and hand-pulling. But because I’m in the southeast, where the growing season is long, hot and wet, I (as a “servantless” gardener, to paraphrase Julia Child) resort to Ortho’s brand of glyphosate (I figure Ortho is only about 80% as bad as Monsanto).

    When I hear gardeners don’t have to resort to glyphosate, I just figure they are not contending with some combination of bermuda grass, nutsedge, english ivy, poison ivy, bamboo, kudzu, japanese honeysuckle, japanese wisteria, chinese wisteria, microstegia, eleagnus, chinese privet and japanese privet. All of which I have killed with one or multiple sprayings of glyphosate. All of which I have to contend with because the seeds either blow in on the wind or are pooped into the garden by birds (and then germinate on top of the mulch) or they creep in across the property lines.

    True, we should not spray glyphosate near water, nor drink it, nor spray it on each other, but careful use of glyphosate in the garden as a compliment to organic weed management methods deserves less anxiety than about 6000 other things I can think of.

  9. I sent the link to Linda Chalker-Scott and here’s her response:
    While I would like to see more research on this, I would not take it out of context (which I’m sure it will be). It is simplistic and dangerous to take research on embryonic animal species and apply it to gardeners. It certainly will not change my occasional use of Roundup, but I’m as careful with it as I am with any toxic substance. What would be useful would be to see some parallel research with other commonly used herbicides so that we have a more complete picture of relative hazards.

    Regardless of these results (with which I have no quibbles), Roundup continues to be one of the most effective and environmentally safe general herbicides we have.

  10. Thistle, it’s not that I’m some hippie woo-woo person thinking we’re all one soul, it’s just that earthworms and amphibians and our soil microbes DO have an important place in the ecosystem.

    Even from a purely selfish perspective, a garden without earthworms and healthy soil flora isn’t doing as well or looking as good as a garden where those things are encouraged to flourish.

  11. And here’s Jeff Gillman’s response. After which, I believe Jeff and Linda will be talking about this new research over on their blog – the garden professors.

    “I agree with Linda. This type of study is interesting, but without further data it’s just….interesting. The fact that you can but an embryo in an unnatural situation, give it a chemical and cause defects isn’t really surprising. Embryos are delicate. I wonder how the embryos would respond to caffeine, or vitamin C for that matter? In short, I feel the conclusions are a stretch.


  12. Hey Frank, you forgot wax myrtles, yaupon holly, sabal palmettos, the various trumpet vines and virginia creeper, etc. Heck, I’ve seen Burmuda grass come up through asphalt.

    I wish GR would post locations along with names. Different growing conditions make a tremendous difference in how one applies basic garden principles.

  13. While I always like to think that I am not dogmatic, I did stop using Round-Up in my design practice – and it is HARD to stop! It IS tougher to kill weeds using strictly organic practices – especially when you have to kill large amounts of annual AND perennial weeds on a lot that hasn’t been irrigated for years! But still, more of us are eating what we grow, and I’d rather not take the chance. When a pregnant client of mine asked if she should spray Round Up to get rid of the weeds around the ornamental beds (that were very close to her vegetable beds) I just COULDN’t say yes, and feel confident that it wouldn’t somehow impact the child growing in her. So if I can’t recommend it for my pregnant clients, how can I recommend it to ANYONE, or use it myself? Why take that chance just because it is a more convenient weed killer? There were ways to kill weeds before glyphosates became the assassin of choice. Why not work a little harder? And I don’t think that just because we choose to be organic that it automatically means we need to stop driving our cars or we are hypocrites, Every little bit helps. I don’t want to put any control-type concoction in my garden that I wouldn’t spray in my mouth. I mean, I eat this stuff! Until the reports are definitive, I’ll play it safe, hippie or not.

  14. If it’s not drinkable, don’t put it in the earth because it will eventually one way or another find it’s way into your drinking water – ’til the soil to uproot weeds that interfere with your plants.

  15. I know this rant is NOT about poison ivy. I too have other nasty weeds that are mentioned above and I have organic ways to kill them, but aside from pulling/digging up poison ivy, how else can you get rid of it?

    For those opposed to Round Up, what else works? I’m not for using Round Up–birth defects or not. Anyone?

    I don’t think there is an alternate solution when you have a lot of poison ivy to deal with. Location: Austin, Texas Growing season: Almost year round. Soil: Caliche with little organic matter.

  16. Susan, can you ask Jeff Gilman and Linda Chalker-Scott about the effects of Round-up on runoff to open water (in my area, I’m talking about the SF Bay)? It seems to me that collective use of Round-up could have a serious negative effect, but if I’m wrong about that, I might actually start using the nasty stuff in very limited amounts on the damned weeds in my driveway that I’m having a hard time controlling any other way.

  17. hmmmm, I don’t consider manure to be drinkable…. should we not apply that to the soil? It definitely ends up in drinking water where it is used in significant amounts.

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