According to Reuters News, a report released out of Massachusettes Institute of Technology suggests that heavy use of the world’s most popular herbicide, RoundUp, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.

The peer-reviewed report, published last week, said evidence indicates that residues of “glyphosate,” the chief ingredient in Roundup weed killer, which is sprayed over millions of acres of crops, has been found in food.

Many Americans are more familiar with RoundUp than we realize. It is a weed killer, used on lawns and gardens, with precautionary measures taken by parents to keep it locked in cabinets and out of the reach of children. What most Americans don’t realize is that this chemical is routinely used on the foods we eat, most notably corn and soy.

It is now so widely used in modern agriculture that a recent article about glyphosate, the chief ingredient found in RoundUp, from the global news organization, Reuters, highlighted that these chemicals are part of an enormous market, with world annual sales totaling $14 billion—more than $5 billion of that spent in the U.S. alone.

But what are they doing to us? Especially given their pervasive use on the foods we eat? Well, MIT aimed to find out.

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The report’s results

According to the report, authored by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the research suggests that the RoundUp residue now found on our food enhances the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study says.

We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Seneff said.

MIT is not alone in its concern.

In the mid 1990s, using a new technology, our soy was genetically engineered with new organisms to make it able to withstand increasing doses of weed killer, chemicals and glyphosate. The business model makes perfect sense: It enhances profitability of the chemical companies by enabling the increased sale of their chemical treatments and weed killers.

But according to the work of Professor Miguel A. Altieri of the University of California, Berkeley who looked into unforeseen risks that might be associated with genetically engineered crops and these chemicals being sprayed on them:

Exactly how much glyphosate is present in the seeds of corn or soybeans (genetically engineered to withstand this chemical) is not known, as grain products are not included in conventional market surveys for pesticide residues. The fact that this and other herbicides are known to accumulate in fruits… raises questions about food safety, especially now that million pounds of this herbicide, ($5 billion worth) are used annually in the United States alone. Even in the absence of immediate (acute) effects, it might take 40 years for a potential carcinogen to act in enough people for it to be detected as a cause. Moreover, research has shown that glyphosate seems to act in a similar fashion to antibiotics by altering soil biology rendering bean plants more vulnerable to disease. 

In other words, it might take a generation for these effects to show up. In light of the escalating rates of infertility, pediatric cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases, it begs the question: since the introduction of this new technology in the 1990s, is that happening now?

So why are we using a chemical that is too dangerous to store under our kitchen sinks in the reach of children on the foods we feed our families?