One of the undisputed effects of increased use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in agriculture is the increase in super weeds that have accompanied them. Many GMOs, like Roundup Ready soybeans, are genetically engineered to be tolerant of herbicides (like glyphosate or Roundup). That means farmers can spray more herbicide to kill unwanted plants without worrying about killing the intended crop. Weeds learn to resist increased application of herbicides and become super weeds.
To stay ahead of nature, industrial agriculture applies ever more technological fixes. One that is emerging is the use of nano-materials. Adjuvants are materials added to herbicide formulations intended to enhance the herbicide. Adjuvants made of nano-materials, particles so small they are measured in nanometers and which behave differently than their conventionally sized counterparts, are now readily available to farmers worried about super weeds.
One such product is NanoRevoluation 2.0. This product is marketed as helping glyphosate (Roundup) work better by increasing absorption. And it is advertised as doing so naturally: “We understand that producers prefer all-natural products for the soils on their family operation. NanoRevolution 2.0 is a Nano Driven Adjuvant that is 100% all natural.”
These claims may lead one to believe this is a sustainable product ready to save family farming. The reality, as reported by Tom Philpott, food and ag correspondent for Mother Jones, this product is neither safe nor effective. Carbon nanotubes, the nanomaterial in NanoRevolution 2.0, are of particular concern and have been compared to asbestos in terms of health effects, as they can lodge in the lungs of those exposed. Nanotech is more generally of concern because such small particles can go in the human body where larger particles cannot and have been associated with a variety of negative health impacts.
Those directly exposed to carbon nanotubes during the application of the herbicide, that is farmers and farmworkers, are at risk. People living in surrounding communities are also at risk as the pesticides regularly drift through the air or enter the surrounding waterways. The particles that do not drift away, but stay with their intended target may make their way into the food system to be ingested by consumers. Those likely most at risk are workers who manufacture the product as they are exposed to these particles consistently, directly, and often in more confined spaces.
Because adjuvants are used to enhance a pesticide, but are not a pesticide themselves, they are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Which leads us to having an unregulated product on the market claiming to be “natural” and help family farmers, but is actually a novel, largely untested, manufactured product that puts farmers, farmworkers, manufacturing workers, public health, and the environment at risk and doesn’t even work.