When the herbicide Roundup hit the market in the mid-'90s along with crop seeds designed to resist its effects, it quickly became the dominant weed-killer for farmers. But what once seemed like an unbeatable system is now on shaky ground, according to the cover story of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society
Britt E. Erickson and Melody M. Bomgardner, senior editors at C&EN, report that the uncertainty over Roundup's future stems from two major factors. One is the growing concerns over the chemical's potential human health effects. In March, the World Health Organization issued a report classifying the weed-killer's active ingredient, glyphosate, as a "probable carcinogen." The categorization prompted at least one ban and is having other effects that could dampen Roundup's sales. But one review, conducted by a German institute, concluded that glyphosate is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk in humans." The U.S. and the European Union are taking a closer look.
The other factor casting doubt on Roundup's prospects is its diminishing effectiveness. In recent years, many weeds have developed resistance to Roundup, and farmers have been turning to old herbicides and other techniques to control weeds. This has opened the door for companies other than Monsanto, Roundup's maker, to fill the need for new products.
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