Glyphosate — the Chemical from Hell
The debate over genetically modified foods persists, and there seems to be no middle ground. In recent years many studies have suggested correlations between the rise in use of GMOs and increases in everything from gluten intolerance to autism. But it’s too easy to equate correlation with causation, and now it turns out we may have been concentrating on the wrong thing. Rather than GMOs being the problem, it looks more as if the herbicide glyphosate may be the culprit.
Glyphosate, or N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine, was developed my Monsanto and introduced to the biosphere in 1974. Roundup. How it works is by interfering with a certain metabolic process called the shikimate pathway. The plant is unable to metabolize amino acids, and it dies. Monsanto assured the USDA that humans aren’t affected. Either they never bothered to see if glyphosate affects bacteria, or didn’t care. But glyphosate does affect the same pathway in bacteria, including our beneficial gut flora, and that’s a big problem, as we’ll see. Its use was greatly expanded in the mid 1990s when Monsanto introduced their GMO corn and soy. They were engineered to be resistant to Roundup.
It was also roughly twenty years ago, give or take, when ailments like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Celiac Disease, and gluten intolerance began to greatly increase, as well as autism. Globaldata.com reports “the global therapeutics market for IBS is set to rise in value from $589.6 million in 2013, to $1.5 billion by 2023.” Time.com ran an article, “The Rise of Celiac Disease Still Stumps Scientists” (10/27/2014), quoting the New England Journal of Medicine, that CD is four times as common as fifty years ago. Naturalnews.com in their article “Why Gluten Intolerance and CD Is on the Rise” points to depleted gut flora. Gluten intolerance is explained by many as due to newer wheat varieties, or the faster rising speed, that affects proper gluten formation. That may be so to some extent, but the growing evidence is pointing at glyphosate’s devastating effects on digestive systems. The CDC, Centers for Disease Control, reported last year that the percentage of Americans with food allergies has doubled in the last decade.
The chief study on glyphosate, and most controversial, was published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Toxicology in early 2014, and later in the journal Entropy. It had the wonky title “Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Disease.” It was done by Dr. Stephanie Seneff, A researcher at M.I.T., and Anthony Samsel, a retired environmental consultant. It explained how the chemical depletes amino acids, and retards the growth of four specific beneficial but bacteria: Bacillus, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Enterococcus. Basically, these bacteria act chiefly to rid the gut of pathogens and toxins. You could think of them as the immune system’s first line of defense. The report concludes by blaming glyphosate for the steep rise of IBS, CD, gluten intolerance, and autism. Dr. Seneff spoke at a forum last year sponsored by the Wellesley League of Women, saying that glyphosate was the chief cause of all these digestive diseases, that it was present in American mothers’ milk in much higher quantities than in Europe, and that by 2025 half of our children could be autistic. She said the situation is critical and needs immediate action.
The report was widely criticized by scientists in the pay of Monsanto, DuPont, or Dow Chemical (I call them biostitutes), but others as well. Dr. Seneff’s position at M.I.T. was in computer science, though she claims thirty years of study in biotechnology. And who was this Samsel guy? The article wasn’t published in a major journal. But Seneff and Samsel had published another article in 2013, which I read on NCBI’s website. The National Center for Biotechnology Information is a part of the NIH, National Institute of Health. This article, “Glyphosate Pathways to Modern Disease II: Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance,” again showed strong correlations. But there are other studies, too, lots of them.
The February 2012 journal Archives of Toxicology showed Roundup toxic to human DNA, even diluted to concentrations 450 fold lower than used in agricultural applications. This was unexpected from previous studies showing known effects of the herbicide alone. The likely explanation is a “surfactant” which dramatically enhances absorption into exposed cells and tissue. The article further cautions that just because Roundup lists ingredients as “inert” it doesn’t mean they are inactive. In fact, in 1998 the New York Attorney General sued Monsanto over the use of “false and misleading advertising” about Roundup. Monsanto agreed to stop calling it “biodegradable,” and to pull ads claiming it was “safer than table salt,” and “practically nontoxic.” Naturalnews.com, 2/15/2015, wrote that glyphosate could combine with aluminum, another common toxin, to increase neurological and gut flora issues.
How widespread is the use of glyphosate? Well, when you think of how much of our arable land is taken up with GMO corn and soy, you might do a double take. Its use in the U.S. doubled from 85-90 million lbs in 2001 to 180-185 million lbs in 2007. Oddly, I’ve been unable to find figures since then. But PRWeb.com has projected that global glyphosate use globally will reach 1.35 metric tons by 2017. That’s not all. When crops like wheat or barley are harvested, they can gum up the machinery sometimes. So they began using glyphosate as a dessicant, spraying the crops with a few days before harvest, then harvesting the dead plants. It’s also used on beans, peas, peanuts, and sugarcane. That sounds nutritious, doesn’t it? Last year the USGS found glyphosate present in 70% of rivers and streams in the Midwest, as reported by examiner.com. And healthimpactnews.com reported on 2/25/2015 that as much as 80% of the U.S. food supply may be contaminated by glyphosate. Stories of agriculture workers in soy and corn fields developing kidney disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are growing, around the world. This last March 20, the WHO, World Health Organization, said glyphosate is “probably” carcinogenic in humans, which sounds pretty weak-kneed to me.
What about links to autism? A 2010 Harvard study, “Gastrointestinal & Intestinal Disorders and Associated Symptoms Commonly Reported in Autism,” reports that a large majority of autistic children also report gastrointestinal problems, and another 2006 study showed gastrointestinal problems in 70% of those with ASD, autistic spectrum disorder, compared to 28% of other children. Dr. Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director, the Institute for Responsible Technology, is author of Genetic Roulette and Seeds of Deception, both on the hazards of GMOs. He’s published a pamphlet titled “Are Genetically Engineered Foods Promoting Autism?” But again I would suggest glyphosate as the cause.
How is it affecting other creatures? Nature, 7/9/2014, wrote that glyphosate herbicide affects behavioral interactions between earthworms and symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi, and the NCBI (of the NIH) published a September 2010 study of disturbing physiological effects on earthworms from glyphosate; significant weight loss, reduction in mean weight by up to 50% versus a control group. No cocoons or juveniles were found at all in soil treated with either glyphosate, or the herbicide 2,4-D (which was just approved by the USDA in combination with glyphosate. 2,4-D was one of the two primary ingredients of Agent Orange). And as if the bees didn’t have enough trouble with the neonicotinoids pesticides, the Guardian, 5/18/2014, wrote an article, “Bees Dying at an Alarming Rate: Is Glyphosate the Cause?” In 2013 a plant pathologist, Dr. Don Huber, wrote a paper for the Center on Honeybee Research, strongly tying glyphosate to CCD, colony collapse disorder. The effects sound strikingly familiar; loss of pro biota (gut flora), stimulating overgrowth of fungi or other pathogens.
How do you know how much glyphosate you’ve been exposed to? Corn and soy is fed to animals, so if you eat meat, eggs, or dairy, you’re getting it. One of the reasons for increased glyphosate usage is the increase of acreage for soy and corn. Anything made with wheat, barley, or containing sugar will probably have it. Corn and soy are used for most of the fillers in processed foods, too. I’ve talked about causation and correlation, but it looks like the weight of circumstantial evidence at least, is pretty heavy. If you’d like to read some of these studies for yourself, www.gmo-awareness.com has a long list of links. I guess if there’s a message here, it’s to go organic.
Dr. Pamela Coleman, PhD, Farm and Food Policy Analyst for the Cornucopia Institute, gives he analysis: “Contrary to the current widely held misconception that glyphosate is relatively harmless to humans, the available evidence shows that glyphosate may rather be the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies.” It looks to me like glyphosate could be the Agent Orange of this generation, and probably the next. As for what we can do about it, that’s going to be a long slog. Monsanto isn’t the only biotech company marketing glyphosate; there’s DuPont, Dow, and many others. These mega-corporations have lots of lobbyists and legions of attorneys. To begin with, we would need a government that regulates industry, not the other way around.