WARWICK — After being the first town in the state to ban the use of glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in herbicides like Roundup, Warwick continues to lead a push for statewide efforts.
Selectboard Chair Lawrence “Doc” Pruyne was at the State House on Tuesday to testify at the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture about the ban.
“Glyphosate is in the news as its toxic effects continue to generate lawsuit settlements in the millions of dollars,” Pruyne said ahead of Tuesday’s events.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, the sodium salt form of glyphosate is used to regulate plant growth and ripen specific crops. However, Pruyne said this is also devastating to the food supply as glyphosate kills bacteria that are beneficial to the human gut biome and digestion.
The use and ingestion of glyphosate impacts the body’s serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer. Glyphosate affects plants by disrupting their shikimate pathways, and when ingested, impacts the human body’s ability to derive essential amino acids. The shikimate pathway is a series of chemical reactions between the gut biome and human biology, Pruyne said.
The shikimate pathway is involved with the synthesis of the essential amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. Tryptophan deficiency can lead to lower serotonin levels, resulting in mood disorders like depression. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating and digestion. When consuming glyphosate-treated plants, the body does not get the amino acids necessary for the synthesis of serotonin.
“Some communities have high populations of people or environments that are highly sensitive,” Pruyne said.
Additionally, the effects of Roundup or glyphosate on invasive plants or weeds only last up to six months, he noted. Most of the time, people use it for temporary solutions, which Pruyne said is “shortsighted and dangerous.”
While Warwick residents and farms have generally used organic practices, the town still banned the use of glyphosate in December 2017, becoming the first in the state to do so. Pruyne said contact with glyphosate can be deadly for amphibians and can be especially toxic to children. Studies from ScienceDirect.com show glyphosate can raise the cancer risk of those exposed to it by 41 percent.
Pruyne said Monsanto — the company that makes Roundup — has been deceptive in its dealings with legislators, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials and consumers.
“They have worked to skew the science away from negative conclusions,” he said.
The Monsanto agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation was founded in 1901. In 2018, it was acquired by Bayer as part of its crop science division. Bayer’s website states glyphosate-based herbicides are among the most widely used crop protection products in modern agriculture. The company says all crop protection products, including glyphosate, are subject to rigorous testing and oversight by regulatory agencies.
According to Bayer, there is research on glyphosate and Bayer’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 studies submitted to the EPA, as well as to European and other regulators, in connection with the registration process, which confirms the products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.
Now, Massachusetts may grant townships the right to officially regulate herbicides as an expansion of home rule. Home rule is a general concept in the law, regarding the right of people to govern their own communities. Tuesday’s public hearings were on multiple pesticide-related bills.
When Warwick banned the use of glyphosate, officials and supporters of the ban helped point out alternative, organic products as part of educating townspeople. Pruyne, who originally proposed the ban, said this was a key element in encouraging voters. Another factor that influenced the town’s decision was that Warwick is located at the top of the northern Franklin County watershed.
According to Pruyne, glyphosate can travel through soil and water. Residents feared glyphosate could impact other towns by getting into the watershed.
“Hopefully these legislators will come to understand,” Pruyne said, “in reality glyphosate is a dangerous chemical that has very limited value in managing invasive or unwanted plants.”