Is glyphosate really harmful?

First of all, I must admit that my only qualification in Chemistry is just a Credit pass in the GCE (OL), which I obtained way back in the early seventies. Therefore, I do not intend contesting the knowledge and the opinions of the learned Doctors and the Scientists who have made the population and the government of Sri Lanka except for a few equally educated academics, believe that the root cause for the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) spread in several agricultural Districts in the country is the use of the chemical ‘Glyphosate’ or the weed killer commonly known as ‘Round-Up’ by our farmers.

When the President announced a total ban on the use of ‘Glyphosate’ sometime back, some agricultural experts got the order waived claiming that the entire Tea industry of the country would perish without ‘Round-Up’ being used for weeding the vast tea lands. Taking this into consideration an amended ban on the chemical was announced in five districts where the CKD has spread for which no cure has been invented yet.

During the month of April this year, I was in the USA and in the garden section of one of the leading department store chains in Los Angeles. ‘Round-Up’, which contains the same chemical ‘Glyphosate’ was freely available for sale in the shelves and it was in varying quantities and strengths. This can be independently verified by visiting the store website

When I inquired from one of the staff members of the store he said that it is being used by the farmers in the region for weeding their farms. In a state of confusion as to how this deadly chemical is not banned in the USA, I tried to get more information about the product from the sales staff but they could not help me much since their knowledge in Chemistry was in all probability was as good as mine.

USA is one country in which the authorities have imposed very strict regulations where their food is concerned. There is absolutely no room for contamination of any sort of food available for human consumption. Any kind of food in the market has its nutrition information printed on the cover and people in USA do not purchase anything without reading all the information in the packing.  My company has previously exported foodstuff to the USA and I am well aware of the precautionary measures specified to prevent anything harmful for the humans entering their country.

In one reported instance, a container load of locally produced rice of a well known brand was returned by the authorities at the Long Beach port in California, when they found a live beetle in one of the packs. When our first shipment reached the same port, the container was detained at the port for several days until their laboratory tests confirmed that the consignment was free of any harmful chemicals or micro organisms.

Therefore, it is difficult to believe that ‘Round-Up’ is dangerous, when it is openly sold in the US department stores. I took photographs of the 1 Qt (32 fl oz) plastic cans of ‘Round-Up’ stacked in the shelves of the store and they could be produced to any person in doubt.

I have used ‘Round-Up’ in my estate in Puttalam and I have experienced its effects. Weeding without ‘Round-Up’ will be very costly and time consuming, which will have a direct bearing on the prices of our agricultural produce. If the government is convinced that it should be banned to save lives, no one should oppose it.

But I would like to have a clarification from someone with authority and a good knowledge about the subject as to why it is freely available in a country like the USA. The easiest answer probably is "Ask the US", but that response will not be in the greater interest of our fellow Sri Lankans. Banning ‘Glyphosate’ may not be the only answer to the problem, which may fatally harm a sizable population in the agricultural region in the next few years. On the other hand as some others argue it may not be the real cause for the deadly disease.

Another question I am looking for an answer is, if ‘Glyphosate’ is so harmful and if it is also being widely used in the tea estates, why is CKD not found in the tea growing areas of the country where hygienic conditions are also comparatively poor.

Col Jayavi Fernando (Retd)

Nawinna, Maharagama.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...