by Colin Todhunter
June 16, 2013
“Historians may look back and write about how willing we are to
sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations with a
massive experiment that is based on false promises and flawed
science just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial
So said Don Huber in referring to
use of glyphosate and
genetically modified crops.
Huber was speaking at Organic
Connections conference in Regina, Canada, late 2012.
Huber is an emeritus professor in plant pathology at Purdue
University in the US and has worked with the Department of Homeland
Security to reduce the impact of plant disease outbreaks.
His words are well worth bearing in mind
given that a new study commissioned by Friends of the Earth
Europe (FoE) and GM Freeze has found that people in 18
countries across Europe have been found to have traces of glyphosate
in their urine. (1)
Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned laboratory tests on urine
samples from volunteers in 18 countries across Europe and found that
on average 44 percent of samples contained glyphosate.
The proportion of positive samples
varied between countries, with,
...having the most positive tests, and
lower levels detected in Macedonia and Switzerland.
All the volunteers who provided samples
live in cities, and none had handled or used glyphosate products in
the run-up to the tests.
of the Biotech Sector on Safety and Regulation
Although ‘weedkiller in urine’ sounds alarming, Tom Sanders,
head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College
London, says the levels found are unlikely to be of any significance
to health because they are 300 times lower than the level which
might cause concern.
Alison Haughton, head of the
Pollination Ecology Group at Rothamsted Research, said that if
FoE and GM Freeze want their work to have scientific credibility and
provide a genuine contribution to the debate on pesticide residues,
they should submit their work for publication in a peer-reviewed
Valid points, you might think. But FoE believes that there is
sufficient evidence to suggest environmental and health impacts from
glyphosate warrant concern.
It wants to know how the glyphosate
found in human urine samples has entered the body, what the impacts
of persistent exposure to low levels of glyphosate might be and what
happens to the glyphosate that remains in the body.
New research published in the journal
Entropy sheds disturbing light on such concerns (discussed later in
In 2011, Earth Open Source said that official approval of glyphosate
had been rash, problematic and deeply flawed. A comprehensive review
of existing data released in June 2011 by Earth Open Source
suggested that industry regulators in Europe had known for years
that glyphosate causes birth defects in the embryos of laboratory
Questions were raised about the role of
the powerful agro-industry in rigging data pertaining to product
safety and its undue influence on regulatory bodies. (2)
In the same vein, FoE says there is currently very little testing
for glyphosate by public authorities, despite its widespread use,
and authorities in Europe do not test for glyphosate in humans and
tests on food are infrequent.
Glyphosate was approved for EU-wide use
in 2002, but FoE argues that the European regulatory agencies did
not carry out their own safety testing, relying instead on data
provided by the manufacturers.
Of course there are certain scientists (usually with links to the
agro-industry) who always seem to be strident in calling for
peer-reviewed evidence when people are critical of the biotech
sector, but then rubbish it and smear or intimidate the scientists
involved when that occurs, as has been the case
with Dr Arsad Pusztai in the UK or
Professor Seralini in France.
It is therefore quite revealing that
most of the data pertaining to glyphosate safety came from industry
studies, not from peer-reviewed science, and the original data are
not available for independent scrutiny.
With references to a raft of peer-reviewed studies, FoE also brings
attention to the often disturbing health and environmental dangers
and impacts of glyphosate-based herbicides throughout the world.
The FoE study also highlights concerns
around the increasing levels of exposure to glyphosate-based weed
killers, particularly as the use of glyphosate is predicted to rise
further if more genetically modified (GM) crops are grown. It is
after all good for business.
And the biggest producer of glyphosate
is Monsanto, which sells it under the brand name ‘Roundup’.
“The figures don’t lie; GMOs drive
glyphosate sales.” (3)
Despite its widespread use, there is
currently little monitoring of glyphosate in food, water or the
The FoE commissioned study is the first
time monitoring has been carried out across Europe for the presence
of the weed killer in human bodies. FoE Europe’s spokesperson
Adrian Bebb argues that there is a serious lack of action
by public authorities and indicates that this weed killer is
being widely overused.
This certainly needs to be addressed not least because the
prediction concerning increasing exposure to glyphosate is not
without substance. The introduction of Roundup Ready crops has
already resulted in an increase of glyphosate use.
Using official US government data, Dr
Charles Benbrook, research professor at the Center for
Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State
University, states that since 1996 the glysophate rate of
application per crop year has tripled on cotton farms, doubled in
the case of soybeans and risen 39 percent on corn. (4)
The average annual increase in the
pounds of glyphosate applied to cotton, soybeans, and corn has been
18.2 percent, 9.8 percent, and 4.3 percent, respectively, since
herbicide tolerant crops were introduced.
Glyphosate is used on many genetically modified crops. 14 new GM
crops designed to be cultivated with glyphosate are currently
waiting for approval to be grown in Europe.
Approval of these crops would inevitably
lead to a further increase of glysphosate spraying. In the US,
biotech crops, including corn, soybeans, canola and sugarbeets, are
planted on millions of acres annually.
Evidence suggests that Roundup could be linked to a range of health
problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and
cancers, according to a new peer-reviewed report, published recently
in the scientific journal Entropy. (5)
The study also concluded that residues
of glyphosate have been found in food.
These residues enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne
chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal
body functions and induce disease, according to the report, authored
by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Anthony Samsel, a
The study says that negative impact on
the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation
damages cellular systems throughout the body.
In 2010, the provincial government of Chaco province in Argentina
issued a report on health statistics from the town La Leonesa. The
report showed that from 2000 to 2009, following the expansion of
genetically-modified soy and rice crops in the region
(and the use of glyphosate), the childhood cancer rate tripled in La
Leonesa and the rate of birth defects increased nearly fourfold over
the entire province. (6)
Professor Huber also notes the health risks associated with the
(increasing) use of glyphosate. He says a number of plant pathogens
are emerging, which when consumed could impact human health.
Based on research that he alludes to (he
refuses to make his research public or identify his fellow
researchers, who he claims could suffer substantial professional
backlash from academic employers who received research funding from
the biotechnology industry), Huber notes that the use of glyphosate
changes the soil ecology, killing many bacteria, while giving other
bacteria a competitive advantage.
This makes plants highly susceptible to
soil borne diseases. At the same time, glyphosate has a negative
effect on a number of beneficial soil organisms. (7)
Huber’s concerns about the impact of long term use of glyphosate on
soil sterility are similar to concerns expressed by Elaine Ingham,
a soil ecologist with the Rodale Institute, and also research
carried out in by Navdanya in India. (8)
As for GM crops, Huber says they have lower water use efficiency,
tend to be nutrient deficient, have increased bud and fruit abortion
and are predisposed to infectious diseases and insect damage.
He suggests that Roundup Ready crops,
treated with glyphosate, have higher levels of mycotoxins and lower
nutrient levels than conventional crops.
“…you could say that what you’re
doing with glyphosate is you’re giving the plant a bad case of
AIDS. You’ve shut down the immune system or the defense system.”
Professor Ron Huber (7)
He concludes that, when consumed, the GM
crops were more likely to cause disease, infertility, birth defects,
cancer and allergic reactions than conventional crops.
Huber claims that consumption of food or feed that was genetically
modified could bring the altered genes in contact with the microbes
in the guts of the livestock or people who eat them.
He feels this increases diseases, such
While none of these findings
conclusively prove that plant (or animal) diseases are caused by the
glyphosate, Huber feels safety evaluations have been inadequate,
suggesting that previous (GM sector) research was substandard and
extremely misleading in its interpretation of results - or worse.
With some hugely powerful players involved here, many of whom have
successfully infiltrated important government and official bodies
(9), much of the science and the ensuing debate
surrounding glyphosate is being manipulated and hijacked by vested
interests for commercial gain.
“…publishing in this area can also
be difficult. I know from the International Symposium on
Glyphosate that they had to find a journal publisher outside
this country (the US) to publish the research data and symposium
It’s pretty hard to get it published
in the States. There are also some hazards to publishing if
you’re a young researcher doing research that runs counter to
the current popular concepts.
A lot of research on safety of
genetic engineering is done outside of this country because it’s
difficult to gain access to the materials, or the statements you
have to sign to have access to those materials stating that you
won’t publish without permission of the supplier.
I think the 26 entomologists who
sent their letter to EPA in 2009 stated it aptly when they said
that objective data wasn’t available to the EPA because the
materials haven’t been available to them or that they’re denied
the opportunity to publish their data.” Professor Ron Huber