Dangers of Glyphosate | Health Newsletter

Glyphosate? Again?

Dangers of Glyphosate

Yes, why are we talking about glyphosate again? Been there; done that. Several years ago, lots of alternative health writers were talking about it–saying it was bad. Then people spoke up and commented on blog after blog that they didn’t want it. Obviously, that was enough. We won, right? I mean, we rarely hear about it anymore. Didn’t we win that battle? In fact, when’s the last time anyone heard about Monsanto. No, we definitely won that battle. Glyphosate has certainly been pulled from the market. So, why am I talking about glyphosate again?

Because none of that is true. We lost the battle. In fact, while you’ve been looking elsewhere, the use of glyphosate has grown and grown and grown, and is continuing to grow, at astonishing rates.

Oh yes, and a brand-new study has been released reminding us yet again as to why we should be paying attention. But first, a little background.

Glyphosate: What’s Been Happening

Glyphosate is a highly controversial herbicide that is typically applied in mixtures known as glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) and commonly sold under the trade names Roundup® and Ranger Pro®. Use of GBHs has increased dramatically worldwide in recent decades. In the United States alone, usage increased nearly sixteen-fold between 1992 and 2009.[fn] Thelin, G.P., and Stone, W.W., “Estimation of annual agricultural pesticide use for counties of the conterminous United States, 1992–2009.” U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5009, 54 p. http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2013/5009/ [/fn] Most of this increase occurred after the introduction of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant “Roundup-ready” crops in 1996.[fn] Thelin [/fn]

In addition, there have been significant changes in usage. In particular, the practice of applying GBHs to crops shortly before harvest, so-called “green burndown,” began in the early 2000s to speed up weed desiccation; as a consequence, crops are likely to have higher GBH residues.[fn] C.M. Benbrook. “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally.” Environmental sciences Europe, 28 (2016), p. 3. http://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0 [/fn] By the mid-2000s, green burndown had become widespread, and regulatory agencies responded by increasing the permissible residue levels for GBHs.[fn] “Glyphosate Reregistration Eligibility Document (RED). Glyphosate.” EPA-738-R-93-014. http://www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/reregistration/red_PC-417300_1-Sep-93.pdf [/fn], [fn] EPA “Glyphosate; pesticide tolerances.” Federal Register (2013), pp. 25396-25401. http://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/05/01/2013-10316/glyphosate-pesticide-tolerances [/fn] I mean, really, did you expect them to do otherwise?

Between 1974 and 2016 in the U.S., over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate was applied in the US, 8.6 billion kilograms worldwide.[fn]  Benbrook [/fn] For our American readers, that’s 18.9 billion pounds of glyphosate that has been used globally–representing a 15-fold rise since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years. The corresponding share globally is 72 %. In 2014 alone, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply 0.8 pounds per acre on every hectare of U.S.-cultivated cropland and nearly 0.47 pounds/acre on all cropland worldwide.

Genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops now account for about 56 % of global glyphosate use. In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use. Glyphosate will likely remain the most widely applied pesticide worldwide for years to come. In fact, the global glyphosate herbicide market is projected to reach $11.74 billion by 2023. We’re talking about a compound annual growth rate of 6.8% over the forecast period, 2018-2023.[fn] “Global Glyphosate Herbicide Market.” Kenneth Research. Jan 2019. (Accessed 23 Feb 2019.) http://www.kennethresearch.com/report-details/global-glyphosate-herbicide-market/10064003 [/fn]

It also needs to be remembered that glyphosate and its metabolites persist in food,[fn] Wang, Y.S., Jaw, C.G. & Chen, Y.L. “Accumulation of 2,4-D and glyphosate in fish and water hyacinth.” Water Air Soil Pollut (1994) 74: 397. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00479802 [/fn], [fn] D. Roy, S. Konar, S. Banerjee, et al. “Uptake and persistence of the herbicide glyphosate (Vision®) in fruit of wild blueberry and red raspberry.” Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 19 (1989), pp. 842-847 [/fn], [fn] N.R. Rodrigues, A.P.F. de Souza. “Occurrence of glyphosate and AMPA residues in soy-based infant formula sold in Brazil.” Food additives & contaminants: Part A, Volume 35, 2018 – Issue 4. Pages 723-730. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19440049.2017.1419286 [/fn] water, [fn] P. Alferness, Y. Iwata. “Determination of Glyphosate and (Aminomethyl)phosphonic Acid in Soil, Plant and Animal Matrices, and Water by Capillary Gas Chromatography with Mass-Selective Detection.” J. Agric. Food Chem. 1994,  42, 12, 2751-2759. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf00048a020 [/fn] and dust, [fn] C.P.M. Bento, D. Goossens, M. Rezaei, et al. “Glyphosate and AMPA distribution in wind-eroded sediment derived from loess soil.” Environmental pollution, 220 (2017), pp. 1079-1089. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749116313860 [/fn] indicating that everyone may be exposed ubiquitously. Non-occupational exposures occur primarily through consumption of contaminated food, but may also occur through contact with contaminated soil, [fn] Bento [/fn] dust[fn] Bento [/fn] and by drinking or bathing in contaminated water.[fn] Alferness [/fn] In plants, glyphosate may be absorbed and transported to parts used for food; thus, it has been detected in fish, [fn] Wang [/fn] berries, [fn] Roy [/fn] vegetables, baby formula, [fn] Rodrigues [/fn] and grains, [fn] K. Granby, S. Johannesen, M. Vahl. “Analysis of glyphosate residues in cereals using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).” Food Additives & Contaminants, 20:8, 692-698. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0265203031000109477 [/fn] and its use as a crop desiccant significantly increases residues. Note: GBH residues in food persist long after initial treatment and are not lost during baking.

And now let’s look at that brand-new study I mentioned earlier.

Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence

As we’ve already discussed, glyphosate is the most widely used broad-spectrum systemic herbicide in the world. Its potential carcinogenic properties, thanks to the efforts of Monsanto and Koch brothers money, are the subject of widespread “scientific” debate.  For example, in 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency stated that glyphosate “is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,”[fn] “EPA Releases Draft Risk Assessments for Glyphosate.” EPA December 18, 2017. (Accessed 24 Feb 2018.) http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/epa-releases-draft-risk-assessments-glyphosate [/fn] a position echoed by the European Food Safety Authority. But those assessments stand in direct contrast to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer which sees the herbicide differently and classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015.[fn] “IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides.” WHO 20 March 2015. (Accessed 24 Feb 2019.) http://www-prod.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/MonographVolume112-1.pdf [/fn]

In addition, all the meta-analyses conducted to date consistently report that exposure to GBHs is associated with an increased risk of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL). And finally, as I reported in August of 2018, some 5,000 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto–with the first crack in the wall appearing when a unanimous jury decision awarded $289 million (subsequently reduced on appeal to $78 million after Monsanto’s appeal) to a former school groundskeeper who said Monsanto’s Roundup left him dying of cancer.[fn] Tina Bellon, Reuters. “Chemical Giant Monsanto Ordered To Pay $289 Million In Roundup Cancer Trial.” Huffpost. 8/10/1028. (Accessed 24 Feb 2019.) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/monsanto-to-pay-roundup-cancer-trial_us_5b6e14f1e4b0bdd062095477 [/fn] Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos announced in court that Monsanto “acted with malice, oppression, or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.”

Anyway, looking at this data and background history, the researchers in the current study set out to test a very specific hypothesis concerning glyphosate: that higher levels of exposure to GBHs, for longer periods of time, and allowing for enough time to give any cancer a chance to appear in the body, would lead to increased levels of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL).[fn] W.N. Rom, S. Markowitz. “Environmental and Occupational Medicine: Fourth Edition.” Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia (2007). http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=H4Sv9XY296oC&oi=fnd&pg=PR31&ots=xC5Kp_N7HK&sig=8-ywIROIJ3CgMCxLc-9WEIKBd-I#v=onepage&q&f=false [/fn] Focusing on data relating to people with the “highest exposure” to the herbicide (including more than 54,000 people from a 2018 study who work as licensed pesticide applicators), the researchers concluded that a “compelling link” exists between glyphosate exposure and a greater risk of developing NHL. Senior author Lianne Sheppard said she was “convinced” of the carcinogenic properties of the chemical. Specifically, the study’s results, as published in Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research, show that, based on the conditions established in their hypothesis, extended exposure to glyphosate raises the cancer risk of those exposed to it by as much as 41%.[fn] LLuoping Zhang, Iemaan Rana, Rachel M.Shaffer, Emanuela Taioli, and Lianne Sheppard. “Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence.” Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research. 10 February 2019. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1383574218300887#bib0030 [/fn]

Needless to Say

Not surprisingly, the manufacturer of Roundup, Bayer AG, called the new analysis a “statistical manipulation” with “serious methodological flaws,” adding that it “provides no scientifically valid evidence that contradicts the conclusions of the extensive body of science demonstrating that glyphosate-based herbicides are not carcinogenic.”[fn] Sarah D. Young. “Glyphosate raises cancer risk by 41 percent, study finds.” Consumer Affairs. 02/15/2019. (Accessed 24 Feb 2019.) http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/glyphosate-raises-cancer-risk-by-41-percent-study-finds-021519.html [/fn] Wait a second: Bayer?? Aren’t those the aspirin people? What happened to Monsanto, the usual villain in our glyphosate stories?

As it turns out, Bayer is not just an aspirin company. It’s a pharmaceutical giant, and last summer they bought Monsanto for $63 billion and immediately retired the Monsanto name. At the time of purchase, Monsanto was the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seed, but they had also become a rallying point for the anti-GMP movement. The Monsanto name had been rendered toxic by controversies ranging from lawsuits over organic farmers turning up traces of GMO genes in their products, to their promotion of the product of the moment, glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. And that’s why you haven’t heard the name Monsanto mentioned in the last six months. The bogeyman is dead…long live the bogeyman. As it turns out, Bayer is likely just as bad–and maybe worse–than Monsanto.

Bayer, based in German, is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Their businesses include veterinary drugs, diagnostic imaging, general and specialty pharmaceutical drugs, women’s health products, over-the-counter drugs, diabetes care; and now thanks to their purchase of Monsanto, they are major players in pesticides, seeds, and plant biotechnology. In 2017, they grossed around $40 billion USD.[fn] “Bayer AG Annual Report 2017: Five-year summary”. Bayer AG. (Accessed 24 Feb 2019.). http://www.annualreport2017.bayer.com/at-a-glance/five-year-summary.html [/fn] Suffice to say, “They’re big.”

Their history is a bit dicey, though. They were founded in 1863. In 1898, they trademarked the name “heroin” (yes, that heroin) and marketed it as a cough suppressant and “non-addictive” substitute for morphine. Sound familiar? Let’s chalk up another link in the deliberate pharmaceutical addiction chain. (Can you say Oxycontin and Purdue Pharma?)  Anyway, moving on to the good stuff. In 1925 they merged with five other German companies (BASF, Hoechst, Agfa, Griesheim-Elektron, and Weiler Ter Meer) to form IG Farben. IG Farben is now best remembered for:

  • Using slave labor from concentration camps during World War II
  • Performing often fatal experiments on prisoners in those camps
  • And supplying the poison gas, Zyklon B, that was used to kill upwards of three million people in gas chambers during the holocaust

Needless to say, after the war, the name IG Farben was forever anathema, and in 1951, the company broke up into Agfa, BASF, Bayer, and Hoechst/Sanofi.

Now, to be fair, it’s been 75 years since any involvement with World War II, and none of the cast of characters involved with that shame are involved with any of the new companies. So, let’s give them/Bayer a clean slate and judge them only on what they’re doing now. And in that regard both their purchase of Monsanto and their defense of glyphosate speaks for itself, and it says, “Shame on them…again!”

So, where do we stand today?

By Focusing on Cancer, We’re Missing the Big Picture

Whereas Monsanto (and now Bayer) have managed to create a sea of misinformation and confusion vis-à-vis glyphosate and cancer, they have not been able to do so when it comes to the details underlying those claims. So, let’s get off the battlefield that the naysayers control (cancer) and move to the battlefield that science owns. Quite simply, numerous studies have shown that Roundup damages DNA.[fn] Wozniak E, Sicinska P, Michalowicz J, et al. “The mechanism of DNA damage induced by Roundup 360 PLUS, glyphosate and AMPA in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells – genotoxic risk assessement.” Food Chem Toxicol. 2018 Oct;120:510-522. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30055318 [/fn], [fn] Cary Funk and Lee Rainie. “Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society.” Pew Research Center. Jan 29, 2015. (Accessed 24 Feb 2019.) http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/ [/fn], [fn] IARC [/fn], [fn] “McDonald’s 2014 Annual Report.” McDonald’s. (Accessed 24 Feb 2019.) http://www.aboutmcdonalds.com/content/dam/AboutMcDonalds/Investors/McDonald’s%202014%20Annual%20Report.PDF [/fn] Damage to DNA, of course, is the underlying factor in the glyphosate/cancer connection, but again, focusing on cancer allows Bayer to control the narrative. Focusing on the underlying science, in this case glyphosate and DNA, allows us to take it back. Oh, and lest I forget, glyphosate is also an enzyme and endocrine disruptor.[fn] Defarge N, Takács E, Lozano VL, et al. “Co-Formulants in Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Disrupt Aromatase Activity in Human Cells below Toxic Levels.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Feb 26;13(3). pii: E264. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808927/ [/fn], [fn] Pandey A, Rudraiah M. “Analysis of endocrine disruption effect of Roundup® in adrenal gland of male rats.” Toxicol Rep. 2015 Aug 3;2:1075-1085. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598379/ [/fn]

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that cancer isn’t important. I’m just saying that Monsanto spent a fortune backing studies that muddied the waters as whether or not glyphosate is a carcinogen, so you’re going to find numerous studies coming to contradictory conclusions. It means that basing your argument against glyphosate on cancer can be easily countered/ignored by the mainstream. On the other hand, Monsanto mostly ignored the DNA damage and endocrine and enzyme disruptor issues. And that means that the studies pointing to those issues essentially stand unopposed. In other words, if you’re going to argue the health dangers of glyphosate, they present a much easier way to go. Just saying.

The bottom line is that not only is glyphosate so omnipresent that it has snuck into our entire food chain and is now almost unavoidable–and at high levels. For example, a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group reveals that tests of five wines and 15 beers, including organic ones, found traces of the controversial weed killer glyphosate in 19 out of the 20.[fn] Kara Cook. “Glyphosate pesticide in beer and wine.” U.S. PIRG. February 2019. (Accessed 26 Feb 2019.) http://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/WEB_USP_Glyphosate-pesticide-beer-and-wine_REPORT_022619.pdf [/fn] We’re talking about brands such as Coors Light, Miller Lite, Budweiser, Corona, Heineken, Guinness, Stella Artois and Samuel Adams. Is nothing sacred? Alas, no. As Geena Davis warned in the movie The Fly, “Be afraid! Be very afraid.” That said, as it turns out, eating organic does indeed make a difference when it comes to glyphosate. Whereas 43 out of 45 products made with conventionally grown oats tested positive for glyphosate (with 31 of them testing above benchmark levels), only five of the tested organic products did so, and none of those were above benchmark.[fn] Don Reisinger. “Roundup Weed Killer Chemical Found in Cheerios and Quaker Oats, Researchers Say.” Fortune August 15, 2018. (Accessed 24 Feb 2018.) http://fortune.com/2018/08/15/roundup-in-cheerios-weed-killer/ [/fn]  Either way, though, we’re losing the battle. Glyphosate is present in both conventional and organic foods, although at different levels.

So, what can we do about it?

A study published in 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) provides a clue.[fn] Paul J. Mills, Izabela Kania-Korwel, John Fagan, et al. “Excretion of the Herbicide Glyphosate in Older Adults Between 1993 and 2016.” JAMA. 2017;318(16):1610-1611. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2658306 [/fn] The study tracked people over the age of 50 in southern California from 1993-1996 and then from 2014-2016, with researchers periodically collecting urine samples during those years. The researchers found that the percentage of people who tested positive for glyphosate jumped by 500% in those time periods. And more disturbingly, the levels of glyphosate found in the people they tested spiked by an astonishing 1,208% during that time.

Now, it also should be noted that this study referenced a 2017 trial published in Scientific Reports in which rats were fed low levels of glyphosate throughout their lives.[fn] Mesnage  R, Renney  G, Séralini  GE, Ward  M, Antoniou  MN.  “Multiomics reveal nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in rats following chronic exposure to an ultra-low dose of Roundup herbicide.”  Sci Rep. 2017;7:39328. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5220358/ [/fn] That study found that the glyphosate contributed to a higher risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which fat accumulates in the liver and contributes to inflammation and scarring of the tissue. As Dr. Paul Mills, the lead researcher in the JAMA study points out:  the levels of glyphosate documented in the people in his study were 100-fold greater than those in the rats from the Scientific Reports study.

At first glance, this may sound depressing, but it actually shows that there’s something we can do. Yes, it’s true that these studies put the lie to previous assessments that since glyphosate is not fat-soluble but water-soluble, it doesn’t accumulate in the body’s fat cells but, rather passes out in the stools and urine. Instead, we can now see that at least some glyphosate that is absorbed into the body is stored in the liver. And it is from there, that damage happens.

And that means that liver detoxing, which should already be part of your regular health routine, is likely to clear any accumulation of glyphosate from your body and allay any potential damage. In other words, since glyphosate is looking more and more unavoidable (although eating organic does help), you would be well advised to do two liver detoxes a year as part of normal maintenance just to be sure.