The Chemical Anthropocene: Glyphosate as a Case Study of Pesticide Exposures

King's Law Journal, Forthcoming

18 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2019

See all articles by Alessandra Arcuri

Alessandra Arcuri

Erasmus School of Law; Erasmus Initiative Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity

Yogi Hale Hendlin

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)

Date Written: May 30, 2019


Part of the Pandora’s Box of unique changes humans have wreaked upon our environment with industrialization which has brought about the Anthropocene, is the unleashing of chemicals in the environment that harm humans and other organisms. As an example, since World War II, US chemical production has increased by 15 times, currently producing 30,000 pounds of chemicals per resident each year. Severe regulatory gaps exist, however, between rigorously testing these chemicals, and their legal production and toxicity in our environment.

This article examines the most used agricultural chemical globally and the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp®,1 glyphosate, as a case study to analyze the overly-narrow approach of current legal frameworks for chemical evaluation and permissibility. We identify two principle problems in existing legal frameworks on pesticides: anthropocentrism and compartmentalization. Anthropocentric biases fail to take into account organisms outside of the Vitruvian Man version of the imaginary standard biologically and sociologically homogenous human subject, paying limited attention to susceptible nonhuman organisms such as amphibians, or vulnerable human populations such as pregnant mothers, infants, at the tails of the sensitivity curves for these chemicals. Such biases take as their model of analysis healthy and wealthy adults, and leave little buffer room for the diverse health sensitivities of humans or other organisms more susceptible to toxicity. By compartmentalizing testing of these chemicals to single populations, regulatory frameworks often tend to look at effects of chemicals in isolation, without considering synergistic effects. Synergistic effects from multiple chemical exposures often occur in populations (female, low-socioeconomic status, immigrant, children, etc.) least provisioned to defend against these chemicals — and with the least political and legal power to voice their injuries.

We inquire: how are current laws and policies surrounding glyphosate creating a politics of exclusion? In answering this question, we mainly focus on regulatory frameworks for pesticides in Europe. Given that the EU legal framework is considered one of the most stringent systems for the authorization of pesticides in the world, we study this framework as a paradigmatic case. In this context, we explain how the re-evaluation of glyphosate has unleashed changing forces for the reform of the existing regulatory frameworks. We find that existing legal frameworks determine what constitutes a risk via standard models of sameness rather than acknowledgement of biological difference, as well as fail to take into account ecological analyses of chemical interactions with other extenuating environmental factors. A critical legal framework of prevention and subaltern participation is required to anticipate the problems of chemicals, replacing the current structure with a toxic-until-proven-safe model.

Keywords: Pesticides, Risk Assessment, Glyphosate, Precautionary Principle, EU risk regulation

Suggested Citation

Arcuri, Alessandra and Hendlin, Yogi Hale, The Chemical Anthropocene: Glyphosate as a Case Study of Pesticide Exposures (May 30, 2019). King's Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Alessandra Arcuri (Contact Author)

Erasmus School of Law; Erasmus Initiative Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity ( email )

Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3000 DR Rotterdam


Yogi Hale Hendlin

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) ( email )

Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3000 DR Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland 3062PA

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