Genetically Modified Foods and the Threat to Public Health

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

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A history of concern regarding glyphosate herbicide, and false claims of safety by the manufacturer

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup herbicide, was originally patented in the early 1960s as a descaling and chelating agent, but later found to have herbicidal properties due to these and other chemical actions, and so was again patented by Monsanto as such. A number of studies now show that in certain crops, such as alfalfa, the herbicide chelates minerals in the plant, resulting in dramatic reduction of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, iron etc. compared to alfalfa not exposed to glyphosate. It is purported that studies showing insignificant risk of mineral chelation in the crop used a dosage of Roundup that is significantly less than what is commonly needed to be an effective herbicide, and considerably less than the accumulation of glyphosate that occurs with repeated application. Most of the past scientific study of glyphosate was presented by Monsanto, or companies contracted by Monsanto, until the herbicide was known to be quickly and heavily marketed, along with the Roundup-resistant genetically modified crops, and had become the main herbicide worldwide.

At this point, with alarms sounded, over a hundred independent studies presented evidence that glyphosates, and the combination of chemicals in Roundup, and the metabolites of glyphosate and these chemicals, did present evidence of harm to the health, and that prior studies were designed to decrease the evidence of risk and harm. Evidence was also gathered that it did not break down easily as purported, and with such widespread use, toxic accumulation did occur, contrary to the evidence that Monsanto and its affiliates presented. In addition, the evidence presented that the Roundup-resistant genetically modified crops would provide such benefits to the world that the potential risks of monocropping and altered staple food proteins should be overlooked appear to be falsely presented as well. The claims that these crops are more drought tolerant, disease resistant, have dramatically higher yields, are more affordable, and require much less total herbicide and pesticide have all been proven false by the USDA-ARS and the Land Grant University research. A fear that the entire world has been duped, and that we may be stuck with a potentially harmful to devastating problem in the near future, with Monsanto making enormous profit and not being held liable for many damages, is spreading through both the scientific community and the general population. By 2008, it was already too late to stop the world staples of corn, soy and cotton from being GMO. Further approval of more crops, such as alfalfa, were generally denied, a number of countries adopted temporary bans, but the legal process of actually proving harm and reversing the use of Roundup and GMO staple crops may take decades. The question of why there is not more independent study of the array of main concerns, at correct levels of accumulative exposure, has not been answered. Instead we are besieged by false and incorrect data from all sides.

A number of groups have been active in opposition to Roundup glyphosate, AMPA, the surfactant POEA (polyexthoxylated tallow amine), and other chemicals found in these common glyphosate herbicides. The Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific released a report in 2009 that stated that there is ample evidence of adverse health effects, despite the low toxicity ratings by the WHO and EPA, which were finally reversed in 2015, as the WHO released a report that listed glyphosate herbicides as a significant cancer risk, based on numerous studies, and prompted the US. EPA to begin a reevaluation. This report states that "very aggressive public relations and marketing by its developer, Monsanto, has resulted in widespread belief that glyphosate is safe", but that independent studies and reports of poisonings are contradicting these claims. A 2004 toxicology report by the National Poisons Information Service of the UK stated: "Experimental studies suggest the toxicity of the surfactant, polyoxyethylamine (POEA) is greater than the toxicity of glyphosate alone and commercial formulations alone" (PMID: 15862083). The Supreme Court in France has upheld judgments that "Monsanto falsely advertised its herbicide as 'biodegradable' and claimed it 'left the soil clean'" (Anon 2009).

Many symptoms have been reported from this pesticide use, and Monsanto continues to refuse to provide the list of chemicals added to the Roundup versions, citing trade secret protections. This has hampered independent study. Increased independent study has shown that low levels of the main ingredients, glyphosate, AMPA and POEA have negative effects on sperm, embryonic cells, placental cells, and may be linked to birth defects, stunted growth, hormonal problems and various cancers. The U.S. EPA did not require neurotoxicity studies to be carried out to approve Roundup, and only by 2009 did we see the first serious studies of neurotoxic effects over the long-term. Glyphosate was found to bind micronutrients in the soil, leading to nutrient deficiencies in plants, stimulates fungal growth, and reduces beneficial lignins and phenolic compounds, important for plant immune defenses. Lignins in plants, as well as phyenylalanine, an aromatic amino acid inhibited by Roundup-glyphosate, are also important to the creation of lignans, important phytohormonal chemicals produced by the symbiotic biota of the human gut. Some of the most beneficial medicinal lignans are derived from the Norwegian Spruce, and other pine and conifer trees, and Roundup is now well known to kill these trees. A variant of the glyphosate Roundup, Imprelis, manufactured by Dupont, was touted as a safer herbicide than Roundup, but had to be removed from the market after killing hundreds of thousands of trees in the United States, specifically the Norway Spruce, as well as other pine and conifers rich in lignans. The complex implications for indirect adverse effects on human health over time is apparent in these findings. The list of adverse health effects of these glyphosate herbicides is growing, and with it the interest in the scientific community to investigate the adverse health effects of this most widely used herbicide.

The question concerning GMO crops is not one of immediate toxicity, or whether genetic modification in its entirety is wrong or dangerous. The dangers presented by these specific GMO crops that have quickly taken over the production of the entire world's staple food crops involves the long-term and systemic health effects with a specific type of herbicide, matched with a specific type of genetic modification created to force a monopoly worldwide on use of this herbicide, as well as the long-term dangers of a specific genetic modification that expresses the pesticidal proteins of the bacteria Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), just one of the evolved toxins in the natural Biome.

When technology is created that may create a host of future problems that destroys the naturally evolved balances that sustain human health, the environment, and agriculture, the companies that produce these technologies must do more than prove that the immediate toxicity at a low concentrated dose is not a significant health hazard. The standards of risk versus benefit need to thoroughly analyzed. If the questions of future risk are not answered until the products are used, these products should not be allowed to be introduced into the majority of our staple crops, but should be limited in scope for a period of time, until scientific study confirms future safety. These are logical and sensible proposals that have been completely ignored by Monsanto, Dow, and the governments that were created to protect our civilization.

The introduction of a genetically modified major crop that has a genetic mechanism built in which makes it resistant to the most common weed and grass killer poses a number of questions of threat to public health besides the immediate toxicity. In addition to the potential harm to humans and other animals with hormonal effects, cancers, neurological effects, and liver and kidney disease, and the encouraging of more glyphosate herbicide use and environmental toxicity, genetically modified crops pose potential dangers by altering other proteins and protein enzymes in crops. Since proteins make up most of the food allergens that humans are increasing reactive to, genetically altered proteins have the potential to exacerbate this problem as well, as our bodies create antibodies to food molecules and less natural proteins have a greater potential to stimulate higher antibody levels. Many scientists have hypothesized that this is the reason for the large rise in food allergies, irritable bowel syndromes, celiac disease, and intolerance to common protein foods, such as glutens and dairy. The complexity of our immune responses to allergens is great, and has evolved over millions of years, and the potential to introduce too great a stress with modern technology on this evolved system is of great concern. Basically, our immune systems react to every non-human component of the cell and non-human organism, including food molecules, but an elaborate system of identifying threat keeps us from reacting severely to our common foods. Altering these food molecules genetically introduces a whole new level of threat.

An additional concern in the widespread adoption of genetically altered staple food crops is the fear that monocropping will created a number of scenarios that could be devastating to public health. Number one, monocropping creates the threat that diseases targeting these monocrops may occur and collapse the food supply, which happened in the past a number of times, such as the potato famine in Ireland. Today, the potential is much greater, as these monocrop seeds are marketed globally, not just in one country. Number two, the human organism has evolved an elaborate system that utilizes a variety of chemicals in a diverse number of staple grains to function optimally. We have slowly adapted to choices in staple seed crops that improved and preserved our health over many centuries. In fact, the migration of early humans was due to the importance of following the growth patterns with climate change of these staple seed grains. We spread out of Africa across the world to improve survival, following the pattern of growth of seed grains, and later adapted farming practices that improved the selection of important seed crops for health effects. Humans acted as part of the natural environment to evolve an effective system of food biodiversity in staple seed crops to improve health and survival. In just one century we have reversed this important pattern, and many respected scientists across the planet have voiced alarm. Articles in such publications as the National Geographic and Scientific American have elucidated this problem, and it is not a fringe science. It may be time to wake up and take control of the future of humanity, before it is too late. While we all benefit from the generation of corporate wealth, economic growth, and cheap food prices, our future, and the health of our children, is too high a price to pay, and monocropping is not a good idea. While it is argued that more efficient monocropping will relieve starvation and malnutrition around the world, it is now more widely accepted that destruction of local sustainable agriculture is a much more important issue in this regard. By encouraging the restoration of sustainable agriculture and sustainable economies we can decrease poverty, malnutrition and starvation much more effectively than creating enormous corporate food surpluses with monocrops that we "donate" to the poor across the world. Such organizations as the Clinton Global Initiative are working hard to reverse the harm caused by our system of non-governmental organizations working with wealthy governments to distribute their increasing agribusiness surpluses as food aid, which destroys poor economies locally, and creating plans to instead improve local food economies to preserve jobs and economic health. Helping poor people by making them poorer has not been a good idea, and has primarily aided Big Agribusiness.

With widespread adoption of Roundup glyphosate-based herbicides and Round-up Ready genetically modified crops, even the farmers that fully supported this practice due to higher yields and income are voicing practical concern regarding effects on the soil and environment, a growing problem with 'superweeds' that have acquired genetic resistance to Roundup, and the effects on their crops that are not genetically modified

A September 20, 2013 article in the New York Times, entitled Misgivings About How Weed Killer Affects Soil, outlines the growing concerns from both farmers and scientists that the widespread adoption of Roundup glyphosate herbicide has actually harmed the soil and will negatively affect future crops and farming. An interview with a typical Iowa farmer, Dennis Von Arb, revealed that when his neighbor sprays Roundup on his genetically modified Roundup-Ready crops, that the herbicide blows onto his fields and kills the corn in the outer rows, and that the accumulation of glyphosates in the soil is now evident, as runoff after heavy rains shows evidence of even more obvious effects on his crops and soil.

His neighbors call their genetically modified crops "traited" and "biotech" to alleviate concern, but even neighboring farmers that are happy with the higher yields of GMO crops are hearing from local agronomists (experts in soil management and field-crop production) that farmers will soon have to get away from Roundup due to mounting problems with superweeds, soil damage, and toxic accumulation. These guys are not hippie protesters, but very conservative Iowa farmers. Of course, this scenario has been predicted by Monsanto and Dow, and the genetically modified soy, corn and wheat crops resistant to 2,4-D plus glyphosate, called Enlist, or Enlist Ready, produced by Dow Chemical, are already being fast-tracked to replace the Roundup Ready "traited" crops. Fortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in May of 2013 that it will extend its scrutiny of these now controversial proposed "biotech" crops developed by Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical, and new genetically modified, er, "biotech" crops introduced by Monsanto Company (completely different from the other company called Monsanto Company that developed Agent Orange herbicide chemical warfare with Dow Chemical, according to Monsanto Company). This news has frustrated Dow officials, as they had hoped that the fast-tracked approval of these new genetically modified crops and matched herbicide Enlist would be ready to start replacing Roundup Ready and Roundup glyphosate herbicide by 2013, or 2014 at the latest. The expected timeline of realization that Roundup Ready GMO crops and Roundup was too toxic for the soil and environment, and widespread replacement of these now ubiquitous crops with Enlist and Enlist Ready genetically modified crops is broken, and Dow is very upset, stating publicly that the USDA has set a bad precedent for future consideration of these safe and beneficial genetically engineered crops.

At the heart of this matter is an organization called the Center for Food Safety, a Washington DC based national nonprofit public interest group with more than 350,000 members across the country, currently headed by Andrew Kimbrell, a public interest attorney, with Colin O'Neil, a magna cum laude graduate of Benoit College in Wisconsin, and Elizabeth Kucinic, the wife of former Wisconsin Congressman Dennis Kucinic, who has worked for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, as a congressional liaison to the United Nations, and board director for Sean Penn's Haitian Relief Organization and the Rodale Institute. Andrew Kimbrell stated that this USDA delay of the new Dow genetically modified crops was forced on them by the court decisions against the USDA concerning fast-track approval for genetically modified alfalfa and new sugarbeet crops. Concerned citizens and scientific experts state that the USDA regulatory agency is outrageously pro-AgriBusiness, fast-tracking almost anything since the Bush Administration, while corporations and corporate AgriBusiness contend that the USDA regulatory system continues to be unnecessarily burdensome and unpredictable, hurting big business. Since these two statements are completely at odds, obviously there is some falsehood to these statements. The general public has not paid much attention to the issue, but a little research shows that intrinsically, the USDA is set up to be promoting agricultural business, not stymying it, and there is not even the possibility that the USDA could over-regulate big AgriBusiness for the public good. This is why other regulatory agencies, such as the FDA and EPA were set up. For the public to believe that when any of these agencies were set up, that big business lobbyists allowed them to be formulated with anything but pro-business directives is ridiculous. Too often, these agencies, such as the USDA, have their hands tied by their legal directives. Only the attention and voiced concern by the public will protect us.

Concern from agronomists about soil quality is just one more big concern over the now very widespread adoption of glyphosate herbicides like Roundup and now Enlist, accompanying the problems with growing resistant superweeds, imbalance of the natural flora and fauna, adverse health effects in the long-term to this massive use of glyphosates and their metabolites, adverse health effects from genetically altered proteins in crops promoted by the use of the glyphosate herbicides, the spread of these genetic alterations to other crops of the same species, the slow toxic accumulation in anaerobic sediments in our waterways, and the problems of increased costs surrounding patented genetic alterations, as well as the dangers of mono-cropping and harm to natural ecological balance. These problems can no longer be separated one from another, as 90 percent of the corn crop in the United States, and the vast majority of soy and wheat, is now glyphosate-resistant genetically engineered, and has to use glyphosate herbicide. The studies of safety that used models of low use and bioaccumulation are now thrown out the window. One farmer interviewed in Iowa, Mike Verhoef, noted that since he switched to Roundup and Roundup Ready crops that over 3 years the soil got so much harder and compact that he had to get a bigger tractor to pull the same equipment across the field, and that when he rotated crops, planting an oat crop to enrich the soil like he has always done with his soy and corn crops, that the oat yield has dropped by about half over this 3 year period. Like many small farmers, he is beginning to doubt Monsanto, even though he has no respect for the anti-GMO protesters. Mr. Verhoef is considering going back to non-GMO crops, but his neighbors are telling him that he will go broke if he goes back. Despite this pressure to conform, he did switch back to conventional crops and herbicides, and does not regret the decision. He is making a living farming just as before, despite the enormous propaganda put out by the Monsanto Company for years.

As the above mentioned New York Times article illustrated, agronomists have noted that soil in fields where the glyphosate herbicides were used for years is now very hard and compact compared to other soils. Roots of the corn crops in these fields are now deficient in the nodules that absorb nutrients, and grow more superficially in the soil, not deep. Robert Kremer, a scientist at the USAD, has warned for years that his study of the soil changes in GMO soy crops and repeated use of glyphosate herbicides has shown that the complex biome of bacteria, fungi and minerals in the soil that sustains the plants root systems and exchange of nutrients into the plant has been damaged. The Monsanto Company states that this damage doesn't really affect the microbial systems, though. How does this damage occur? The glyphosates are mineral chelators, binding tightly to essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, boron and manganese, competing with other plants, as well as symbiotic bacteria and fungi, for these essential minerals. Eventually, this has a negative effect on the natural balance of life in the soil. Monsanto has presented numerous studies showing that there is no short-term significant adverse effect on the microbial processes in the soil, but there are almost no long-term studies of this problem. Monsanto has also stated that any mineral deficiencies, which they anticipated, could be mitigated with soil additives. There is concern that the glyphosates increase some mineral accumulation, though, binding the minerals in the soil, and creating mineral imbalances, not simple mineral deficiencies. Increases in plant diseases, which are also evident with long-term use of glyphosate herbicides, could also be linked to other causes, states Monsanto, and these could be mitigated by increased use of chemicals as well, hopefully purchased from the Monsanto Company. This fairy tale scenario of the wonders of modern science has been well thought out by these AgriBusiness corporations.

To make matter worse, since 2011, a bacterial illness known as Goss's Wilt, caused by Clavibacter michiganensis subspecies nebraskensis, has been spreading across the fields of Monsanto genetically modified corn, wilting the crops and taking away about half of the corn yield. This disease was previously confined to a small part of Nebraska and Colorado, and well-managed, but now is spreading across Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. An October 1, 2013 article in the New York Times Science section quotes Alison Robertson, a plant pathologist at Iowa State University, whose research has even been funded by Monsanto, working with the U.S. Agricultural Department (USDA), as noting that in 2013 the rampant spread of Goss's wilt will affect about 10 percent of the U.S. corn crop, and that the predominant theory of cause is that Monsanto chose just a few hybrid species to genetically modify based on the highest yields, not on agricultural safety and longevity. A Monsanto lead project manager for the genetic engineering of corn, Dan Anderson, stated to the Times that high-yield varieties from Monsanto and other companies might be susceptible to the disease, yes. He also added that farming practices, such as the choice to skip crop rotation to obtain the high yields from the Monsanto Roundup-Ready genetically modified corn, due to the fact that the crops normally rotated in the field did very poorly after using Roundup-Ready corn and glyphosate herbicides that stripped the soil of minerals and moisture, making skipping crop rotation more desirable to make money and pay for the high cost of the genetically modified crops and matching herbicides, will lead to higher risk for Goss's Wilt as well. This sounds eerily similar to the blame game in Washington politics. The crop circles of wilted corn are increasing yearly, and for those farmers that trusted the hybrids sold them that were susceptible to Goss's Wilt, it has been an economic disaster. Of course, the big picture is still being ignored, which is that allowing a couple of giant companies to take over the entire crop genetics for their own profit is going to naturally create a host of problems that are normally overcome by the diversity of agricultural techniques and seed types.

Why glyphosate herbicide was declared completely safe in the past

A look back in time to published studies of glyphosate pesticides, or Roundup, shows that broad backing by the U.S. government resulted in a widespread acceptance that glyphosate pesticides posed almost no health risk, contradicted by independent studies at respected research centers in major Universities around the world today. The early adopted position that glyphosates and the glyphosate genetically modified crops are probably safe has set up an apriori belief that is difficult to get around. For instance, a program entitled EXTOXNET, or Extension Toxicology Network, utilized Cooperative Extension Offices at 4 major U.S. Universities funded by the USDA in 1994. The information for this report was received mainly from the manufacturer studies of 1985, though, the Monsanto Company's Department of Medicine and Environmental Health, which appeared to be a governmental organization, but was not. These extensive early studies of Roundup were presented to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency and accepted as proof that glyphosates easily broke down in the soil, did not run off with rainfall into the streams and lakes, and presented almost no harmful physiological effects.

These studies, all designed and generated in essence by Monsanto and a group that they created that sounded like it was a governmental research group, indicated that glyphosates were almost completely absorbed into organic content of soil and plants, therefore both insuring that less the 2 percent of the chemical would run off into public waters, and that the chemical would be almost completely broken down into inert chemicals by microbes in days. These studies showed that while the glyphosates were highly absorbed into food plants, that the human digestive system would easily eliminate the chemical almost entirely through excretion, absorbing little or no glyphosate. Animal studies showed that animals fed an appropriate amount of glyphosate for 3 weeks showed only minute amounts accumulated in tissues. Toxicology studies noted that when animals were fed an appropriate amount of glyphosate for up to 90 days, that no organ toxicity, cancer, and no reproductive changes were noted, and few chronic toxicities were noted in studies that lasted from 21 days to 2 years. No immediate nerve related effects were noted when chickens were fed higher dosages for 3 days. Only a few exceptions were note in these studies of chronic adverse effects (21 days to 2 years) when looking for gross cellular changes that were "treatment-related". These studies were backed by a couple of small studies that were later also linked to Monsanto. This information was quickly considered proof that there were no long-term adverse risks, and continues to be the basis for most assessment. While on the surface it appears that these studies were coming from 4 major universities and a government agency and were unbiased, this is patently untrue. An elaborate ruse appears to have been concocted.

So hold on. Ten years later, a number of large independent studies showed that these studies were designed to overlook the actual risks of toxic metabolites, long-term accumulations from the massive amounts of the herbicide used when it became practically the only herbicide because the company promoted seeds resistant to the herbicide, and the toxic effects of the other chemicals in the herbicide, as well as the toxic metabolites. The truth from actual independent studies showed that with heavy use of glyphosate herbicides that eventually a toxic accumulation would permeate nearly all of our waters and food crops, and would eventually absorb into the human organism, especially if there were problems with the intestinal function and healthy elimination in some individuals, as well as detoxification capacity in the body. There is no question that when these chemicals penetrate into the human organism there is health risk. The assurance from the manufacturer that this is nearly impossible is suspect. Independent research, such as that from the University of Caen, has been heavily attacked, but close inspection shows that this research is sound, and points out the problems of studies designed to show safety, that were created or funded by the manufacturer. While the level of risk from immediate use is not great, the risk itself may be great if these herbicides become so heavily used, and if the actual full life of the chemicals in the environment is longer that purported, resulting in an eventual accumulation and dose-dependent toxicity over time. With the creation of dependence upon genetically engineered crops that demand the use of Roundup glyphosate herbicides, this oversaturation pattern is obviously going to happen. It has already happened.

It appears that an elaborate house of cards may have been set up that fooled even the government and world health authorities for a decade, but now the base cards are proving to be potentially fabricated from mistruths, tumbling the entire house. This is the fear of many renowned scientists around the world with expertise in this area, that the basic science that they use to build their research was funded by the industry to create a set of "facts" that all other research is founded on, and that this has not been questioned.

A September 6, 2015 article in the New York Times, entitled Emails Reveal Financial Ties Between Food Industry and Academics, outlines the many revelations that have resulted from the U.S. Right to Know investigation of past emails concerning the ties between Monsanto and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, controlled by Monstanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont Chemical, BASF and Bayer, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. A number of investigations have uncovered a trove of emails that detail the enormous number of funding grants and payments for "expenses" to prominent University researchers, who receive substantial expense accounts to testify before government hearings as "unbiased" academic experts. This article shows that such researchers as Dr. Kevin M. Folta, chairman of the University of Florida Horticultural Sciences Department, hired to head a group called GMO Answers.com, admitted to being given written answers to questions concerning GMO crops, became part of an inner circle of industry lobbyists who devised strategy to block mandated labeling of GMO crops, and frequently traveled to hearings and meetings, with grants for as much as $25,000 each to cover these expenses. Dr. Folta states that he hasn't been "directly paid" for his testimony, but this is the common explanation for almost all expert testimony on any subject, with large "indirect" payments routinely provided. There is evidence that these "indirect" payments to such experts by Monsanto, Dow and their puppet organizations has grown very large. This article also outlined how such prominent University researchers as David R. Shaw, at Mississippi State University, who has received at least $880,000 in research grants for projects to refute arguments against the potential and real documented harm of GMO crops and matching herbicides, has been directly asked in emails to intervene with the government on their behalf, with emails stating that his voice was important from "a numbers standpoint", suggesting such tactics with a large number of such researchers, and reminding him of the large financial support that his department depends on. The degree of payment and control of research once thought to be independent has become alarming even to the most conservative of researchers in the field.