When Bayer, a European chemical company, acquired a seed giant company, Monsanto, it has been fighting lawsuit after lawsuit. In 2019, a California jury awarded a US couple up to the tune of 2 billion US dollars after claiming that Bayer’s famous weed killer, Roundup, was the cause of their cancer.
Roundup is a weed killer based on a chemical known as glyphosate. A number of scientific researches have been done on glyphosate. In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer stated in their conclusion that glyphosate is a likely human carcinogen based on findings in studies conducted on humans and animals. The report also showed that glyphosate-based formulations are often more toxic than glyphosate alone.
Further studies done on agricultural workers have found glyphosate in the worker’s urine. Glyphosate has also been suggested to end up in water supplies.
The weed killer is normally sprayed by farmers directly to their affected plants. It has become a good remedy to farmers with vast plantations of crop giving them minimum tillage of their land. In Kenya, most farmers who use Roundup are not concerned about the effects of the weed killer. More often you will see farmers spraying pesticides in their farms without wearing protective garments.
Kenya has over 70 products containing glyphosate with the import of glyphosate-based products standing at 250,000 tones per year. The question that comes to our mind then is should we get concerned given the rise in the number of cancer cases in Kenya?
On Wednesday 24th June, Bayer announced that it was going to pay 10 billion US dollars to settle the nearly 100,000 court cases that allege the weed killer causes cancer. The company however continues to sell the product without putting a warning label on it. It however sets aside a further 1.25 Billion dollars to settle any future lawsuits against it.
Glyphosate was introduced in 1974 by Monsanto as a weed killer and became more profound in 1996 when Monsanto came up with genetically modified seeds to withstand Roundups hash attacks on weeds. This means roundup works better when used on GMO seeds.
With the news of Roundup and the GMO seeds, farmers rushed to apply the technology in their farms to increase yields and maximize profits. In the US for example, 94% of soybeans and 90% of cotton and corn come from genetically altered seeds. A number of Western countries require distributors of GMO food products to have a label indicating that the product is GMO.
Kenya and the AU have not yet agreed on lifting the ban on genetically modified food products amidst the fears of food security in the region. Kenya is considering lifting the ban on GMO products. Questions arise whether we shall have the option to know whether the product on the supermarket shelf is GMO or not.
There should be a well-defined label indicating the nature of the product, or GMO products will slip right in the mix of other natural products without our knowledge.