Roundup will soon make its annual appearance as a mountainous stack of jugs by Home Depot cash registers across the nation, maybe not quite as much in California this spring since without rain there should not be as many weeds. However, spraying with Roundup is a way of life in American cities and farms. It is hard to maintain a sense of alarm about something so familiar.
We are jarred back to awareness about the effects of Roundup on human health and wildlife when we listen to interviews and talks of Don Huber, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University. We were speakers at the ACRES USA 2013 Conference in Springfield, Illinois, last December, where Dr. Huber also spoke. A CD of his main talk Failed Promises, Flawed Science — the Interaction of GMOs & Glyphosate on Soil, Plant, Animal, Human Health is available. At no charge you can read a 2011 interview of Don Huber by ACRES USA posted by Organic Consumers Association. Other helpful information about health risks of Roundup are found in the reviews by Antoniou, Robinson and Fagan, 2012, and Ho, 2013.
Consumption of Roundup is on the rise because it is a major component of many genetically engineered foods and also in drinking water
The GMO seed/pesticide industry claims that GE crops use less pesticide. This is pretty far-fetched when over 85% of GE crops are engineered to tolerate herbicide (a type of pesticide) in increasing amounts every year to total around 150 million pounds on 100 million acres annually in the US. We are talking pretty much all of the corn and soy, the sugarbeets and canola, and a lot of the alfalfa hay that is not certified organically grown plus most of your neighbors’ yards, local parks, roadsides and other landscapes. Hence, Roundup in our food and water. Bohn et al (2014) found that the Roundup and AMPA (the toxic breakdown product of Roundup) composition of GMO soybeans in Iowa was mean 3.3 and 5.7 mg/kg, respectively compared to none in the conventional and organic soybeans. California allows 1,000 ppb of glyphosate in drinking water which 1,000 times higher than the amount shown to cause a 500% to 1300% increase in cancer cell growth. The only way to know how much is in your water is to contact your supplier. Apparently it is usually well under the allowed levels, but it does not breakdown like the manufacturers say it does. It remains toxic as it moves into groundwater. The Health Ranger has reported on water and is now doing independent testing of toxic substances in foods that are not being reported by government agencies.
Farmers spray crops with herbicides that the seed is genetically engineered to tolerate so they can save on labor costs of weeding by other means. The weeds develop resistance, so the farmers spray more often at higher rates. US EPA then increases the amount allowed in food. Last, but not least, the industry is engineering corn and soy to be resistant to not just Roundup, but more dangerous herbicides like 2,4-D. There is one such product under consideration right now. The comment period about what opponents are calling “agent orange corn” has been extended to April 27. Learn more here and weigh in.
Safe as Table Salt
At pest management conferences since the 1980’s there have been Monsanto presenters, including well-polished young professional women, saying how safe the active ingredient glyphosate is to humans and all living things. Daniel, et al, 2009, then showed that the surfactants in the Roundup formulation increase cellular uptake of glyphosate at normal body pH, so biologically based pest management experts like us began challenging Monsanto speakers about true toxicity of the commercial product. It took many years for experts to find out that that the Roundup is 10 to 100 times more toxic than the glyphosate.
Glyphosate binds up trace minerals
One of Don Huber’s research interests was to look at changes in soil microflora caused by glyphosate, especially the micronutrients, such as manganese, iron and zinc. These levels can be 80-90 percent reduced in genetically engineered Roundup Ready plants. The scientific literature builds on Huber’s research that includes tools he helped developed for this type of research leading to evidence of glyphosate’s residual effects on wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans, potatoes, citrus and more. Huber explains, “Glyphosate is the reason we are seeing a reemergence of diseases we thought we had controlled.” Learn more about new diseases in crops sprayed with Roundup on from Don Huber speaking about Managing Nutrition to Control Plant Disease on another CD available from ACRES USA.
Huber explains the activity of glyphosate which is the active ingredient in Roundup and related herbicides. It is a systemic, broad-spectrum herbicide. His description of how it functions is outlined in Sirinathsinghji and Ho, 2013, as follows:
- Accumulates in plant tissues (shoot and root tips, reproductive structures, and legume nodules)
- Some glyphosate moves into roots and is released into soil (fast sorption; slow degradation)
- Released by phosphorus
- Makes the plant susceptible to diseases
Glyphosate is toxic to microorganisms, plants, animals and humans
Studies show effects on beneficial organisms, such as N-fixing organisms needed for organic soil building and valuable mycorrhizae fungi, biocontrol organisms, earthworms, and other plant growth promoting organisms. This increases the damage done by disease organisms in the soil and explains the appearance of diseases that never appeared until broadscale application of Roundup. It is also a potent antibiotic against human gut bacteria that are now understood to be vital for human health. It is thought to operate in animals and humans as it does in plants, as a mineral chelator, making mineral nutrients unavailable. There is an increase in over 30 diseases alongside the increased consumption of Roundup and GE proteins in food.
Don Huber also warned about the risks of genetically engineered food crops after discovering a new organism in GE animal feed that has since been linked to infertility and miscarriage in cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and poultry. The new microbe is linked to “Sudden Death Syndrome” (SDS) in animals.
Many diseases including birth defects that are parallel in amphibians and human cells
The review of health risks from glyphosate by Antoniou, et al (2011) focuses on the evidence of birth defects. A report by Sirinathsinghji and Ho, 2012, explains the unnatural expression of developmental genes from glyphosate. Between 2000 and 2009 when Roundup Ready GMO soybeans were introduced in Argentina, there was a four-fold increase in cancer and birth defects. The head and face of human fetuses become deformed in the same way as in tadpoles. Chick embryos with glyphosate-based herbicides showed similar defects–loss of head features including the future eyes.
Glyphosate could play some role in bee colony collapse disorder
In an article about GMO foods, there is a hypothesis posed by Dr. Huber about a role of glyphosate in the crisis of dying pollinators. He observes that there are three established characteristics of colony collapse disorder that suggests glyphosate could be (at least in part) responsible:
- The bees are mineral-deficient, especially in micronutrients
- There’s plenty of food present but they’re not able to utilize it or to digest it
- Dead bees are devoid of the Lactobacillus and the Bifidobacterium, which are components of their digestive system
The bees also become disoriented, suggesting endocrine hormone disruption, which is an effect of neonicotinoid insecticides that have been implicated in honeybee die-off. Dr. Huber cites a study on glyphosate in drinking water at levels that are commonly found in US water systems, showing a 30 percent mortality in bees exposed to it. And that’s just from common levels of glyphosate in drinking water, not the amount of Roundup in the water available to bees on farms.
Watch your consumption of Roundup
In 2013 under pressure from farmers who cannot control weeds due to overuse of Roundup and the resistance of the weeds (becoming “superweeds”), the FDA raised the limits. Fruits can have concentrations from 200 ppb to 500 ppb glyphosate. Animal feed, such as hay, is allowed up to 100,000 ppb glyphosate; oilseed crops can contain up to 40,000 ppb; potatoes can contain 6,000 ppb glyphosate. It is not known how much Roundup is in the animal products that eat so much Roundup in their feed, but the animals have abnormal mineral composition and are often sick with disgestive and reproductive problems. Some scientists conclude that the levels of intake of glyphosate now common in the typical American diet are carcinogenic.
There is also Roundup in water. EPA standards for maximum amount of glyphosate in water is 0.7ppm (700 ppb) even though there has been evidence of organ damage in animals and lung congestion in humans at 0.1ppb. FDA admits that long-term exposure at such high levels (700 times greater than the maximum limit) can cause kidney and fertility damage. The glyphosate in the food given to animals is extremely high because 85% of those crops are genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup sprays. As described at the start, the poison is taken up by the plant with the help of added surfactant ingredients in the commercial product.
EPA will review Roundup risk in 2015—meanwhile GE food needs to be labeled and young adults need more education about how to avoid eating GMOs
These findings of DNA damage and links to cancers, miscarriages, liver, endocrine disruption, and mortality to amphibians have been reported to the US EPA and the European Food Safety Authority. Roundup is coming up for its next 15 year review by the EPA in 2015 when lower-level scientists say they expect it to be banned. It should have been banned when the first questions were raised, and certainly now since it is present in greater and greater amounts in food.
Most of the GMO food is Roundup Ready and the biotechnology industry is lobbying for approval of food that will tolerate both Roundup and 2,4-D, a relative of Agent Orange defoliant. It is more urgent than ever that GMO food be labeled so people have a better chance of reducing the amount of Roundup in their diets. Long-term toxic exposure to Roundup is a major health risk and people in their twenties have been exposed their whole lives and it will keep getting worse, especially for people who eat large amounts of processed corn and tortillas where the amount of Roundup is certainly toxic through long-term exposure.
Don Huber observes that if you count up the number of fertility clinics in a community now compared to 15 years ago, you know that something is affecting fertility. TIME Magazine reported that general fertility rate in the U.S. in 2011 was the lowest ever recorded; the birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 19 declined; birth rates for women ages 20 to 24 hit a record low; and rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic black women dipped. Only women ages 35 to 39 and 40 to 44 are more likely to have babies now than in the past. Those women have not been exposed to genetically engineered food for such a large part of their lives and during their formative years. Infertility and birth defects in lab animals and livestock fed GMOs and Roundup are likely to manifest similarly in humans. Mothers and their pediatricians who take their children off of GMOs are sharing their testimonials to the health benefits.
The evidence is clear that genetically engineering of food adds health risks regardless of the trait inserted into the genome, but with the prevalence of the Roundup Ready gene and Roundup in the food supply, it makes sense to call your elected officials to ask for mandatory, reliable labeling of genetically engineered food just in order to be better able to avoid consuming so much Roundup in the GMO soy and corn.
By Jan Dietrick, MPH – Feb 2014