Glyphosate, Pesticides and Consequences

Background

Recently, RoundUp® has been in the news regarding its contamination of oats and Cheerios™, and a lawsuit by a California man who developed cancer after using RoundUp® in his job.  RoundUp® is an organophosphate pesticide, and glyphosate is one of its active ingredients.  Its use has greatly expanded since 1974, from weed control, to its current direct application on food crops.  According to the EPA, glyphosate is the top ranking pesticide in U.S. agriculture. EPA data from 2012 shows a total 1,180 million pounds of pesticide was used on U.S. crops, including 270-290 million pounds of glyphosate.  A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that urinary glyphosate levels in adults are 13 times higher than they were 20 years ago. In 2015, glyphosate was declared a class 2A carcinogen by the World Health Organization.  

RoundUp® goes far beyond ‘weed killer’.  Though RoundUp® is marketed as a weed killer, it is sprayed directly on many U.S. and Canadian food crops.  Crops with the heaviest application are the RoundUp Ready® GMO group and American’s favorite grains: wheat and oats.  Grains as well as legumes are frequently treated with RoundUp® as a pre-harvest desiccant. The genetically modified crops are designed to withstand the treatment throughout their growing cycle.  

RoundUp® Effects on Farming Operations

Mike McNeil, a crop scientist, discussed the impact of glyphosate-based herbicides in a recent interview.  McNeil is called upon by farmers raising hogs, dairy cows and corn, when their operations encounter problems such as low yield or sick animals. Here, we highlight the observations from his work.

RoundUp® is an antibacterial; it’s destructive to commensal bacteria while allowing certain pathogens to thrive.  Commensal  bacteria are found in healthy soil and in the human microbiome.  Bacteria and other microorganisms are essential to a balanced ecosystem, both in soil and the human body.  McNeil’s analysis reveals that soil bacteria are missing, and there is an increase in pathogenic organisms in fields treated with RoundUp®.  He measured elevated Fusarium fungus, which produces a mycotoxin ubiquitous in corn. The Food and Agriculture Organization says that mycotoxins exert toxicity even in “extremely small quantities”. Beyond the soil impact, McNeil’s work with dairy farmers observed that cows eating standard feed (GMO, treated with RoundUp®) have an overgrowth of clostridia bacteria.  This bacteria caused a higher incidence of botulism and death, compared to organic dairy herds.

Glyphosate is a mineral chelator. Glyphosate binds and removes minerals, and one of its original patents was as a descaler for industry.  It affects the soil, animal feed and food crops. McNeil observed this effect in his analysis of feed corn.  It was significantly lower in every mineral he tested, compared to corn that was not RoundUp Ready™. His analysis included phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and manganese.  

Health Risks Linked with Pesticide Exposure

The following are highlights of research on the health effects of chronic pesticide exposure.  There are many studies, both in humans and animals, which cannot be covered here. See sources at the conclusion of this article for study references.

Pesticide exposure contributes to premature death, diabetes and obesity.  

From the National Health and Nutrition Survey, researchers compared different levels of pesticide exposure and rates of death in U.S. adults aged 60 and older, from 1999-2006.  Their analysis revealed higher death rates among those with higher levels of organochlorine pesticides.

Another study using the national survey examined the prevalence of diabetes in 2,000 adults, finding a very strong correlation between the body’s level of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and the presence of diabetes and obesity.  POPs include pesticides and many other chemicals used in the manufacture of furniture, cookware and household products.

The following are brief summaries of other research studies….

Oxidative stress and neuron cell death in the hippocampus (memory center) occurs in rats consuming 1% glyphosate based herbicide in drinking water.

Glyphosate has an estrogenic effect causing growth of human breast cancer cells.

Chronic low exposure to RoundUp® leads to liver toxicity, kidney damage, fatty liver disease in rats consuming only 0.1ppb glyphosate per day.

Rats consuming RoundUp® treated feed developed nephropathy, liver necrosis, kidney deficiency and tumors at much greater rate than the control group.  This was a 2 year study.

Glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors.

The toxicity of glyphosate-based herbicides comes from the full formulation, including surfactants and heavy metals.

Glyphosate is a suspected factor in epidemics of chronic kidney disease in rice and sugarcane agricultural areas: Sri Lanka, Central America, India.

Avoiding Pesticides is an Active Choice

Unfortunately, the U.S. food industry is totally reliant on Roundup Ready crops and the ingredients most contaminated with pesticides.  Nearly all packaged foods contain some combination of corn, canola, soy, sugar, wheat or oats. The good news is that you don’t have to waste your time (or money) in the majority of the grocery store.  If you choose to protect yourself from agricultural chemicals, your strategy is to shop the perimeter of the store choosing organic whenever possible. While certified organic items are not completely free of pesticides, the amount they contain is much lower than conventional foods.  By USDA regulation, certified organic foods must also be free of genetically engineered ingredients.

Foods with Higher Glyphosate, Pesticide Levels

 To give a point of comparison with the health studies noted above, here are the glyphosate analysis results from HRI Laboratories in 2017, presented in a recent interview with Larry Bolen:  Oats 1250ppb, Cheerios™ 624ppb, Soybeans 470ppb, Whole wheat bread 370ppb. 

Roundup Ready™ GM Crops: corn, canola, cottonseed, soy, sugar beet (sugar beets are not the beets in the produce section)

RoundUp® as Desiccant/Ripener:  Oats, wheat, barley, sugarcane, beans, chickpeas, lentils, bean sprouts

Conventional-farmed Animals: meat, eggs, dairy.  Animals concentrate chemicals in their flesh and milk as they feed on GMO corn, soy and alfalfa.  Dairy cows are injected with genetically-engineered hormone (rbGH, rbST).

Produce: fruits and vegetables.  The Environmental Working Group maintains a list of the items with the highest levels of pesticides.

Take Action

Yes, there are problems with the food supply.  With the revolving door between leadership of the FDA, USDA and corporate giants like Monsanto, we should not expect government to act in our best interest.  Instead, we can take the opportunity to seek out farms and companies whose ideals align with our own: clean food that is grown with sustainable practices and with respect to the well-being of animals in our food supply.

  • Connect with local farms or a Farmer’s Market. Ask questions and give your business to those who are farming with integrity.
  • Join a CSA to get produce delivered to a local drop point.
  • Start a small garden.  Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening is a great resource for beginners.
  • Check out subscription services like Butcher’s Box if local access to good meat is a challenge.

So don’t despair, but be aware!  Start with one manageable change.  Each step that we take toward clean food is a step in the direction of health and vitality.

Sources

Temkin, A.  “Breakfast with a dose of Roundup?” Environmental Working Group, August 15, 2018. https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/#.W5wYINJKhPY

Smith, J.  “Monsanto found guilty on all counts in Roundup cancer lawsuit.” published by Institute for Responsible Technology, August 2018,  https://responsibletechnology.org

Pesticide Industry Sales & Usage Report.  Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Control, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC, January 2017.

Excretion of the Herbicide Glyphosate in Older Adults Between 1993 and 2016.  Mills P et al.  JAMA. 2017 Oct 24; 318(16)

IARC Monographs No. 112. World Health Organization, IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk to Humans. Lyon (FR): International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2017. 

Expert Interview Series: Healing from GMOs and Roundup, July 2018, ©Healing from GMOs, www.healingfromgmos.com.

  • Mike McNeil, PhD, President Ag Advisory Ltd
  • Larry Bohlen,  Researcher and founder HRI Laboratories
  • G E Seralini, PhD  Committee of Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering
  • Zack Bush, MD  Board-certified Internal Medicine, Endocrinology & Metabolism
  • Michelle Perro, MD Board-certified pediatrician

“Mycotoxins in Grain” by Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Netherlands,1997.  Accessed at FAO Corporate Document Repository.

Fry K and Power MC. Persistent organic pollutants and mortality in the United States, NHANES 1999-2011. Environ Health. 2017 Oct 10;16(1):105. doi: 10.1186/s12940-017-0313-6.

Lee DH et al.  A strong dose-response relation between serum concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and diabetes: results from the National Health and Examination Survey 1999-2002. Diabetes Care. 2006 Jul;29(7):1638-44.

Cattani, D., et al. Mechanisms underlying the neurotoxicity induced by glyphosate-based herbicide in immature rat hippocampus:  Involvement of glutamate excitotoxicity.  Toxicology 320 (2014) 34-45.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636977

Cattani D et al. Developmental exposure to glyphosate-based herbicide and depressive-like behavior in adult offspring: Implication of glutamate excitotoxicity and oxidative stress. Toxicology. 2017 Jul 15;387:67-80. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2017.06.001.

Thongprakaisang, S et al. Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors.  Food and Chemical Toxicology 59 (2013) 129-136.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23756170

Mesnage R et al.  Multiomics reveal non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats following chronic exposure to an ultra-low dose of Roundup herbicide. Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 9;7:39328. doi: 10.1038/srep39328.

Mesnage, R et al.  Transcriptome profile analysis reflects rat liver and kidney damage following chronic ultra-low dose Roundup exposure. Environ Health. 2015 Aug 25;14:70. doi: 10.1186/s12940-015-0056-1.

Séralini et al. Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environ Sci Eur. 2014;26(1):14

Romano, M., et al. Glyphosate impairs male offspring reproductive development by disrupting gonadotropin expression. Reproductive Toxicology, 2011.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22120950

Gasnier, C. et al. Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Toxicology. 2009 Aug 21;262(3):184-91. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2009.06.006

Defarge N et al.  Toxicity of formulants and heavy metals in glyphosate-based herbicides and other pesticides. Toxicol Rep. 2017 Dec 30;5:156-163. doi: 10.1016/j.toxrep.2017.12.025.

Sampsel A and Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2013 Dec;6(4):159-84. doi: 10.2478/intox-2013-0026.

Jayasumana C et al. Simultaneous exposure to multiple heavy metals and glyphosate may contribute to Sri Lankan agricultural nephropathy. BMC Nephrol. 2015 Jul 11;16:103. doi: 10.1186/s12882-015-0109-2.

Jayasumana C et al. Glyphosate, hard water and nephrotoxic metals: are they the culprits behind the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in Sri Lanka? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Feb 20;11(2):2125-47. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110202125.

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