America’s Favorite Poison

Are millions suffering needlessly because the EPA hid the dangers of Roundup?

Americans no longer have to wonder why Monsanto asked the Environmental Protection Agency to seal the biotech giant’s studies on glyphosate[1]— the active ingredient in their Roundup herbicide. When scientist Anthony Samsel, with the assistance of his U.S. Senator, was finally able to obtain these secret studies in 2015, he discovered that lab animals fed even small amounts of glyphosate ended up with cancer and tumors in virtually every organ and gland[2]. One can’t help but wonder how many lives would have been saved if we were allowed to see these studies 25 years ago rather than being forced to wait until last year’s declaration by the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen[3].

While the government recommends that doctors be cautious to prescribe antibiotics “only when clinically necessary[4],” they conveniently overlook the fact that glyphosate is patented as an antimicrobial[5] and sprayed directly on GMO soy and corn in high doses[6]. Unfortunately, the residues, which we can’t wash off, can wipe out beneficial gut bacteria[7], paving the way for digestive disorders, immune problems, and numerous diseases[8].

Wreaking havoc on our hormones

Over the past two decades, science has confirmed that tiny doses of endocrine disrupting chemicals can wreak havoc with our hormones[9]. Apparently the EPA has been napping during that time, since they still don’t require any safety testing of ultra-low doses of Roundup[10]. In fact, they approved glyphosate levels in our food that guarantee the average American is ingesting amounts that can multiply human breast cancer cells and create serious liver and kidney damage[11].


Because Monsanto told the EPA that glyphosate is the only active ingredient in Roundup, the EPA ignores all the other chemicals in the herbicide mixture and only reviews data on glyphosate[12]. But other chemicals found in Roundup are themselves endocrine disruptors and can be as much as 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate[13].

EPA serving corporate interests

Why has the EPA ignored serious, life-threatening properties of the world’s most widely used herbicide? A letter by the unions representing EPA workers may give us a clue. They cited “political pressure exerted by Agency officials perceived to be too closely aligned with the pesticide industry and former EPA officials now representing the pesticide and agricultural community[14].”

Those former EPA officials might include William D. Ruckelshaus, the EPA chief administrator who later became a member of Monsanto’s board of directors[15]; or Linda J. Fisher[16], who was Monsanto’s Vice President of Government and Public Affairs before and after holding several high-ranking positions at the EPA, including the second in command.

Ban Roundup

Roundup has been banned or restricted by many countries, counties, cities, and businesses[17] —from the Netherlands to Cameroon, from Irvine, CA to Montgomery County, MD. Tens of thousands of physicians and scientists have called for its removal from the market[18].

With 300 million pounds sprayed annually in the U.S.[19], glyphosate residues are now confirmed in our urine, blood, breast milk, and drinking water[20]. Congress must act quickly. Don’t be fooled by corporate “tobacco science[21].” Roundup must be banned to protect US citizens, not to mention the monarch butterflies[22] and honeybees[23].

References

[1] As detailed on the EPA’s own website, companies are welcome to apply for trade secret status for chemicals they release into the environment through the EPA. All that’s required is that the company justifies its request by explaining how sharing the information would harm the company’s competitive position. Using this mechanism, Monsanto’s data from safety studies on glyphosate were kept out of public view for decades. Similarly, company safety studies on GMOs are also not generally public and do not require peer review.

[2] Researchers Dr. Anthony Samsel and Dr. Stephanie Seneff utilized the data from Monsanto’s own studies that had been sealed by the EPA and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The data demonstrated that glyphosate fed to rats produced tumors and cancers throughout the organ and glands in the animals. Similarly, many types of cancers, including thyroid, liver, bladder, pancreatic, kidney, and myeloid leukemia have risen in the US population in parallel with their increased exposure to glyphosate in the food supply. Glyphosate’s use since the mid-1990s has skyrocketed through the introduction of genetically engineered corn, soy and canola, the fight against superweeds caused by glyphosate use, and the new practice of using glyphosate as ripening agent on wheat, sugarcane, and sunflowers just before harvest.

Citing nearly 250 studies, Samsel and Seneff show how ingesting glyphosate can explain cancers of the thyroid, liver, bladder, pancreatic, kidney, and myeloid leukemia. Glyphosate makes trace minerals like manganese unavailable, thereby cutting off key metabolic pathways that rely on them to function. The authors also demonstrate how the same disruptions are likely contributing to a host of other diseases, including autism, diabetes, kidney disease, and fatty liver disease. See Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases part IV: cancer and related pathologies. Samsel, A, Seneff, S, Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry, Aug 2015. For a summary of Pathways to Modern Disease Part IV, see IRT.

[3] The International Agency Research on Cancer, the official body that determines what substances are carcinogenic, classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Their evaluation, which looked at over 100 studies on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicide, was based on convincing evidence of carcinogenicity in laboratory animals and limited evidence in humans of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans. The studies used by IARC were mostly agricultural studies done in the US, Canada and Sweden.  IARC specifically mentioned the sharp rise in the use of glyphosate since the advent of crops designed to withstand the herbicide.

Furthermore, epidemiologist Aaron Blair, the chairman of IRAC’s 17 reviewers from around the world, stated that the classification was unanimous. He clarified that the conclusion was based on studies of people, laboratory animals, and cells, and all three lines of evidence determined that, “We ought to be concerned about this.”

[4] As stated on the FDA’s website, the FDA has started several initiatives to address antibiotic resistance and has issued drug labeling regulations emphasizing the prudent use of antibiotics, as well as implemented regulations for human use of antibiotics that encourage health care professionals to prescribe the drugs only when clinically necessary.

[5] In 2003 Monsanto applied for a patent for its glyphosate formulation as an antimicrobial, which is essentially a synthetic antibiotic that has been demonstrated to kill a wide variety of bacteria. “Glyphosate, patented as an antimicrobial, has been shown to disrupt gut bacteria in animals, preferentially killing beneficial forms and causing an overgrowth of pathogens.” Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Samsel, A, Seneff, S, Inderdiscip Toxicol, Dec 2013.

[6] In 2010, 80% of the 296 million acres of genetically engineered soy, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and alfalfa planted globally were engineered to be sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.  Additionally, Monsanto once claimed that glyphosate levels of up to 5.6 mg/kg (5.6 parts per million) in GM soy represent “extreme levels far higher than those typically found.”  However, one study identified glyphosate residues in 7 of 10 GM soybean samples as surpassing this “extreme level.” See Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans. Bohn, T, Cuhra, M, Traavik, T. Food Chemistry Jun 2014.

[7] In chickens, cows, as well as in test tubes, scientists found that beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus are highly sensitive to damage by glyphosate-based herbicides. Highly pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella, however, appear to thrive in herbicide. See The effect of glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota in vitro., A, Schrodl, W, Aldin, A, Hafez, H, Kruger, M.  Curr Microbiol, Nov 2012.

Since the early 2000s there has been a surge in diseases associated with the highly pathogenic bacteria clostridium botulinum in German cattle.  Scientists report that the ingestion of glyphosate is reducing the amount of beneficial bacteria in cattle that normally suppresses this pathogen, which leads to infections. See Glyphosate suppresses the antagonistic effect of enterococcus spp. on clostridium botulinum. Kruger, M, Shehata A, Schrodel, W, Rodloff, A. Anaerobe, Apr 2013.

[8] Bacterial imbalance in the gut is linked to inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac, allergy, asthma, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.  See Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota in disease.  Carding, S, Verbeke, K,Vipond, D, Microb Ecol Health Feb 2015.  See also IRT’s compilation of charts provided by Nancy Swanson and Stephanie Seneff that track the incidence of chronic diseases as they correlate to the growing use of GMOs and glyphosate.

[9] Endocrine disrupting chemicals can exhibit a property that is counter intuitive: lower doses can have a bigger hormonal disruption than higher doses.  As the dose is further increased, however, that same chemical can begin to exert higher toxic effects rather than hormonal effects. This is known as a U-curve, where the negative impact on the body is found at tiny doses, and then again at higher doses, but not as much at a middle dose region.

Research on BPA demonstrates low-dose endocrine disruption.  At doses significantly below the amount expected to have no adverse effect, the effects on rats were in fact quite significant, including increased body weight, increased liver weight, and a decrease in glucose tolerance. Conversely, the highest dose of BPA did not produce a significant effect on any of these outcomes. See Metabolic disruption in male mice due to fetal exposure to low but not high doses of bisphenol A (BPA): evidence for effects on body weight, food intake, adipocytes, leptin, adiponectin, insulin and glucose regulation. Angle, B, Do, R, Ponzi, D. Reproductive Toxicology, Dec 2013.

[10] Both glyphosate and its co-formulants were found to act as endocrine disruptors, but the EPA ignored the lose-dose effect as if it never occurred, despite it being demonstrated in published studies.

For example, a team of researches exposed human liver cells to four glyphosate-based formulations as well as glyphosate alone and discovered that all monitored parameters were disrupted at levels of glyphosate below typical agricultural doses within 24 hours of exposure. See Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Gasnier, C, Dumont, C, Benachour, N, Clair, E, Chagnon, MC, Seralini, GE. Toxicology, Aug 2009.

[11] In 2013 the EPA raised the allowable level of glyphosate on crops to allow for Roundup to be used just before harvest as a ripening agent on sugarcane, wheat, and sunflowers.

  • The amount of glyphosate allowed in oilseed crops was doubled from 20 parts per million to 40 parts per million;
  • sweet potatoes were raised by a factor of 15 from 0.2 parts per million to 3 parts per million; and
  • carrots were raised by a factor of 25 from 0.2 parts per million to 5 parts per million.

By contrast, rats that were fed an equivalent of about 50 parts per trillion of glyphosate in their drinking water (which is 14,000 times lower than the amount allowed in US drinking water) exhibited serious liver and kidney damage. This effect was originally observed in a two-year study on rats.  See Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Seralini, GE, Clair, E, Mesnage, R, Gress, S.

A follow-up study evaluating the liver and kidney tissues of the rats used in Seralini’s research confirmed the observed organ damage and revealed that Roundup altered the function of over 4000 genes in the livers and kidneys. See Transcriptome profile analysis reflects rat liver and kidney damage following chronic ultra-low dose Roundup exposure. Mesnage, R, Arno, M., Costanzo, M, Malatesta, M, Seralini, E, Antoniou, M. Enviro Health, Aug 2015.

Furthermore, glyphosate in the parts per trillion range can also cause human breast cancer cells to multiply. See Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors. Thongprakaisang, S, Thiantanawat, A, Rangkadilok, N, Suriyo, T, Satayavivad, J. Food Chem Toxicol, Sep 2013.

[12] Despite their claim to review safety information before approving each “inert” ingredient in a pesticide, the EPA automatically grants “confidential business information” status to all inert ingredients without reviewing data, so the public may never know what any given pesticide actually contains. In fact, the EPA does not require companies to submit toxicological studies on allegedly inert ingredients.

[13] Researchers showed that the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate is unreliable in assessing the risks of the complete commercial formulation of herbicides. Herbicidal co-formulants were shown to have a far more powerful endocrine-disrupting effect at lower doses than the isolated active ingredient, glyphosate. The complete formulations were also found to have much greater endocrine disrupting effects at lower doses than glyphosate alone. Researchers concluded that acceptable daily intake levels should be calculated from toxicity tests on the commercial formulations as sold and used.

Furthermore, the endocrine-disrupting effects were measured in terms of aromatase activity, which is a key enzyme in the balance of sex hormones.  The co-formulants alone decreased aromatase activing in concentrations 800 times below what is used in agriculture.  See Co-formulants in glyphosate-based herbicides disrupt aromatase activity in human cells below toxic levels.  Defarge, N, Takacs, E, Lozano, V, Mesnage, R, Spiroux de Vendomois, J, Seralini, E, Szekacs, A. Int J Environ Res Public Health, Feb 2016.

In an editorial by Dr. Anthony Samsel regarding the glyphosate approval process, Dr. Samsel states that all of the long-term studies considered by the EPA were on glyphosate as a “parent acid,” or the original acid that was used in a reaction that forms the chemical mixture.  In other words, the EPA did not study glyphosate in its full formulation. They studied “technical glyphosate,” which is pure glyphosate, rather than the glyphosate salts used in the final formulation, which are far more toxic. Therefore, the studies submitted to the EPA were on a component that is not found in the final glyphosate formulation at all.

[14] Although this press release from PEER (Protecting Employees who Protect our Environment) was drafted 10 years ago, there is no indication that circumstances have changed. In it, the agency employees state, “Our colleagues in the Pesticide Program feel besieged by political pressure exerted by Agency officials perceived to be too closely aligned with the pesticide industry and former EPA officials now representing the pesticide and agricultural community.”

In fact, this habit of being a captured entity has been documented in various ways. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a 2007 survey of EPA scientists where:

  • 507 scientists (42%) admitted they knew of many or some cases in which commercial interests have inappropriately caused the EPA’s scientific conclusions to be reversed or withdrawn;
  • 329 scientists (28%) knew of such interference by nongovernmental or advocacy groups;
  • 516 scientists (43%) knew of many or some cases in which EPA political appointees were inappropriately involved in scientific decisions. Hundreds of scientists reported being unable to openly express concerns about the EPA’s mission-driven work without fear of retaliation; and
  • 492 (31%) felt they could not speak candidly within the agency and 382 (24%) felt they could not speak candidly outside of the agency.

One EPA scientist at a regional office was quoted as saying, “I had believed EPA was more scientific in its approach. Now I realize that EPA has politically driven agendas that sometimes, not always, affects decisions of scientific nature.”

In an Interference at the EPA Survey, 337 scientists in the program (68%) and 379 scientists at headquarters (69%) reported at least once incident of interference in the past five years.

[15] William Ruckelshaus, a current member of Monsanto’s Board of Directors, became the first Administrator of the EPA in 1970 before being appointed U.S. Deputy Attorney General in 1973. He returned to the EPA in 1983, during which time the glyphosate registration application, which is necessary to license to distribute the herbicide, was processed. The glyphosate registration was finalized in 1986, the same year Ruckelshaus was invited to join Monsanto’s Board of Directors. In November 2015 he received a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Also, see this graphic demonstrating the revolving door for employees between Monsanto and the Federal Government.

[16] According to her resume, Linda J. Fisher worked for the EPA from 1983 to 1993 until she became Monsanto’s Vice President of government and public affairs from 1995 to 2000. She returned to the EPA from 2001 to 2003 before joining DuPont as their Vice President of Safety, Health and Environment in 2004, where she remains today.  The EPA describes Ms. Fisher as having “held more high-ranking positions than any other person in the Agency’s history.”

[17] See IRT’s list of Jurisdictions, Countries and Retail Chains that have taken steps to ban or limit the sale and use of glyphosate.

[18] For example: FESPROSA, an Argentinian organization made of 27,000 health professionals, over half of which are doctors, issued a statement endorsing IRAC and the WHO’s declaration of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. The statement read, “The organisation [IARC] has just released the results of a study that overturns the agribusiness model. Thus the complaints that affected residents and scientists outside the orbit of corporations have been making for years have gained renewed momentum.”

In addition, the Presidents of the 3rd National Congress of Peoples Medical Fumigated—the congress of doctors in crop-sprayed towns of Argentina—issued a statement where they confirmed that health is worsening in their agricultural areas. They note that “Reproductive health is affected by increases in spontaneous abortions and birth defects, also increased endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, neurological disorders or cognitive development problems and soaring of cancer rates to a tripling of incidence, prevalence and mortality which are directly related to pesticide exposure.”

Dr. Jeff Ritterman writes that there is strong evidence that glyphosate-based herbicides cause birth defects, probably cause cancer, and most likely cause or exacerbate numerous chronic illnesses.

In a 2015 Consensus Statement, Drs. John Myers, Michael Antoniou, Bruce Blumberg, Lynn Carroll, Theo Colborn, Lorne Everett, Michael Hansen, Philip Landrigan, Bruce Lanphear, Robin Mesnage, Laura Vandenberg, Frederick vom Saal, Wade Welshons and Charles Benbrook expressed concern over the failure of classical toxicity studies to address endocrine disruption, kidney disease, cancer and birth defects.  See Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement. Environmental Health, Feb 2016.

[19] For American farm use of glyphosate totaling over 280 million pounds in 2012, see the charts from the National Water Quality Assessment Program. In addition, according to the EPA’s Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage Report for 2011, non-farm use of glyphosate was between 18 to 23 million pounds per year for the years 2006-2007. This information was reported by the Center for Food Safety in their 2015 Fact Sheet.

[20] Moms Across America teamed up with Sustainable Pulse in overseeing the testing of American women’s breastmilk, urine and drinking water for glyphosate. They discovered that:

  • 3 out of 10 samples resulted in levels of the herbicide in breastmilk that were 760 to 1600 times higher than the amount of glyphosate allowed by the European Drinking Water Directive;
  • urine levels of glyphosate in Americans were over 10 times higher than Europe; and
  • 70% of water levels of glyphosate were above detectable levels.

[21] The tobacco industry was infamous for rigging research to give the false impression that their products were safe. GMO producers employ similar corporate scientific tactics to hide dangers. See The Great GMO Cover-up #2 for how industry scientists design research to avoid finding problems.

It is noteworthy that some of the promoters of GMOs were also promoters of tobacco. For example, researcher and writer Dr. Henry Miller was involved in the global campaign to fight tobacco regulations, and as recently as 2012 wrote that, “Although highly addictive, nicotine is not particularly bad for you in the amounts delivered by cigarettes or smokeless products.”  Dr. Miller is the creator of the FDA’s Office Biotechnology.  He is known for defending the safety of neonicotinoid pesticides, denying the decline of honeybee populations, and arguing for the return of DDT.

[22] Glyphosate sprayed on Roundup Ready corn and soy has resulted in a 58% loss in milkweeds, which is the sole food source of the monarch butterfly.  This loss of milkweed has caused an 85% loss in monarch production in the Midwest from 1999 to 2010. See Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Pleasants, J, Oberhauser, K. insect Conservation and Diversity.  2012.

[23]Environmentally relevant doses of glyphosate cause bee deaths as well as the inability to navigate back to the hive. Scientists who conducted this study used field-realistic levels of glyphosate, similar to what honeybees may encounter on a farm that grows GMOs. They found that learning behavior and short-term memory retention decreased significantly compared with the control groups. See Effects of field-realistic doses of glyphosate on honeybee appetitive behavior. Herbert, L, Vazquez E, Farina, W. J Exp Biol, Oct 2014.

While many believe colony collapse is caused by neonicotinoids, which are nicotine-based insecticide used as a seed-treatment, and are known to create disorientation, neonicotinoids alone do not explain all the characteristics of the disorder.

In this interview between IRT’s Jeffrey Smith and Dr. Don Huber, Dr. Huber states that the dying bees are malnourished and micronutrient deficient despite plenty of bee bread being present to eat. He also notes that the bees become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.  Dr. Huber hypothesizes that this is due to continuous exposure to glyphosate. Because glyphosate is a strong mineral chelator, it makes critical minerals unavailable for the bees to use. Beneficial bacteria within the bees are very sensitive to destruction by glyphosate, and in the absence of the beneficial bacteria the bees cannot digest their food, which causes starvation.

In 2011 Monsanto purchased Beeologics, a bee firm researching bee protection. Was it an attempt to hide information that their glyphosate was implicated in widespread bee deaths?