How Is Sugar Similar to Glyphosate?
Have you ever heard the saying that everything has the potential to be toxic in the right dose? It’s the dose that makes the poison? In large part, this is true. For example, even something that is thought of as benign as water can be toxic for us as humans if we ingest too much. This highlights the concept of concentration. Now, let’s think of another type of commonplace ingredient in our kitchens: sugar. A spoonful of sugar seems pretty innocent, right? Maybe on average for humans, but did you ever wonder why sugar doesn’t spoil? It’s because in a solid form like we buy from the grocery store, it’s toxic to microorganisms that would otherwise decompose it.
Most substances have a measure of their toxicity to types of organisms, common chemicals like sugar and agrochemicals included. Usually this number is reported in some sort of dose (or concentration) and its effect on a population, such as “LD50”, which stands for the lethal dose that will affect 50% of a population. For example, if a scientist tells you a certain chemical has a high LD50 value it actually means it is less toxic than something with a low LD50 because with the latter, it took less of the substance to affect the population. So if “compound A” has an LD50 of 10,000 and “compound B” an LD50 of 10, that says that compound B is 1,000 more potent than compound A.
Now, would you believe that some common chemicals we live with everyday vary dramatically in LD50 values? Our friends water and sugar fall into the category with the highest LD50 values, meaning they have very low toxicity. Table salt (Sodium chloride) hangs out with hydrogen peroxide in the slightly toxic category. Then there’s caffeine and lead. They are in the same LD50 category (weird, huh?) and are considered moderately toxic. And finally we have vitamin D3 and nicotine which are both considered highly toxic. Again, all of this should be taken into the context of it’s the dose that makes the poison. Personally, I ingest water, sugar, table salt, caffeine, and vitamin D every day, but I’ve got the dose right. How does this relate to agrochemicals?
Agrochemicals are tested for their LD50 values too in order to determine their toxicity. This value, among many other measurements, helps to determine several important considerations for their impact on human health and thus, how they should be used when protecting crops. Now here comes the interesting part. Glyphosate, a common conventional herbicide, is in the same category as sugar and water. Spinosad, an organic insecticide, is in the same category as table salt. And copper sulfate, an organic fungicide, is in the same category as caffeine. When compared in this way, I know it gave me a different perspective on chemical substances, whether they were in my kitchen or on my lab bench. An important point to remember, however, is that all agrochemicals have labels that legally need to be adhered to by anyone handling them when it comes to their approved use and safety.
How Is Sugar Similar to Glyphosate?
It goes without saying that this is just the beginning of where the conversation should start when determining important agricultural regulations such as residue limits on foods (known as Maximum Residue Limits) or the minimum time someone must wait to re-enter a field after it’s been treated (called a re-entry interval). These values are known for each chemical used in agricultural production, already regulated for, and when compared to items we are around every day, at least based on the toxicity values we’ve been discussing, they don’t differ radically. Everyday objects around us pose threats and it’s the knowledge and awareness that matter in terms of how we interact with those objects.
For some more reading on this subject, I’ve found a couple sources interesting which explain some of these concepts more that I list below.