A reader wrote to me alarmed about the use of weedkiller Roundup around the kids’ veggie patches at school.
Roundup is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. It’s sprayed on commercial farms, public gardens, roadsides and private lawns. But is Roundup safe to use in vegetable gardens?
Considering so many of the world’s crops are liberally doused with the stuff, you’d hope so. The formula has been around for decades and has long been viewed as a reasonably benign weedkiller (which puts the moron in oxymoron, if you ask me).
But in recent years studies have popped up here and there that say otherwise. And the longer Roundup is in use, the more evidence there is to the contrary.
While it may be fab at whacking weeds, the key ingredient in Roundup has some big question marks over it. Australian consumer watchdog Choice says:
“Glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, has been implicated as a potential endocrine disruptor in concentrations 100 times lower than those used in agriculture. However, it’s highly promoted for use in the garden.”
Crops such as soy, corn and canola have been genetically modified to resist the effects of Roundup, meaning farmers can spray the weedkiller directly onto the crops without losing yield.What this means is that we are seeing higher concentrations of glyphosate in food and consequently in people.
Other concerns over glyphosate and one of the other so-called “inert” ingredients in Roundup include:
- Harmful to gut bacteria, which is so important for human health.
- Long-term exposure to glyphosate via residue on foods can cause chronic inflammation.
- May actually enhance the effect of other toxic chemicals in your system.
- Can interfere with nutritional uptake.
- Implicated in kidney disease and non-hodgkins lymphoma
- Linked to autism and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
The Argentinian government banned the use of Roundup in heavily populated areas after reported increases in cancer and birth defects. Meanwhile, in Holland, Roundup has been banned for non-commercial use, meaning people can no-longer spray it on their lawns.
Keep it away from kids
Kids are so much more vulnerable to the effects of chemicals. Not only are they closer to the ground and more likely to have their hands in their mouths, they have an undeveloped blood-brain barrier and their metabolisms aren’t quite ready to deal with toxic onslaughts.
To reduce your children’s exposure to Roundup, stop using it to weed the backyard or driveway and encourage everyone to leave their shoes at the door so you don’t track it in to your home from the park or pavement. Avoid GM ingredients in food and buy organic produce where you can.
As for the question of whether Roundup is safe to use in vegetable gardens, I would say no. And it certainly should not be used in or around gardens where children will be handling and eating the produce. If your school has a vegetable garden scheme, find out how weeds are managed not only in the patch, but also around it. Ask if there is a better way.
Safe alternatives to Roundup
Depending on the weed being targeted and area of use, there are several alternatives to Roundup. In the case of a veggie garden, the safest way to address weeds is to pull them out by hand. As someone who spends hours hauling out nutgrass, I know this is a pain in the rear. But knowing the effects of weedkillers, I’m happy to keep on digging.
The area around a vegetable patch should be considered a chemical-free zone. At the moment, we have weeds growing all around our raised bed, so my plan is to eventually fill the area with a 30cm border of gravel. This is known as “designing out” the weeds.
For paths and driveways, try pouring boiling water directly onto the weeds, or a spray of vinegar mixed with dishwashing liquid. There are recipes out there that include salt, but this has the potential to be damaging to the soil beneath.
No matter what method you use, remember that even “natural” weedkillers will kill other plants and the creatures that live in the soil.
Finally, if you can’t persuade yourself, your school or your partner to stop using Roundup or another glyphosate weedkiller, ask them to be vigilant about mixing it together correctly, as it is only deemed “safe” when prepared as instructed on the bottle; make sure they never use it on windy days and ask them to consider switching to a “weed wand” that dabs the chemical directly onto the weed rather than spraying it around.
A range of sources for this article is listed below: