￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼4. HEALTH HAZARDS OF ROUNDUP & GLYPHOSATE
Section at a glance
u Roundup, the herbicide that most GM crops are engineered to tolerate, based on the chemical glyphosate, is marketed as a “safe” herbicide, based on outdated and largely unpublished studies by manufacturers.
u But laboratory and epidemiological studies confirm that [COLOR="rgb(139, 0, 0)"]Roundup poses serious health hazards[/COLOR], including endocrine (hormone) disruption, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders.
u Some of these effects are found at low, realistic doses that could be found as residues in food and feed crops and in contaminated water. People who eat foods made from
GM crops could be ingesting potentially dangerous levels of Roundup residues.
u Roundup and glyphosate have been detected in air, rain, groundwater, in people’s urine, and even circulating in women’s blood. Glyphosate can cross the placental barrier and the unborn foetus could thus be exposed.
u The “safe” dose for Roundup exposure set by regulators is not based on up-to-date objective evidence; thus current regulations do not protect the public.
Over 75% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate herbicides. Roundup Ready (RR) soy is the most widely grown GM crop, making up 52% of all GM crops.1 RR soy is engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide, the main ingredient of which is glyphosate. The RR gene enables farmers to spray the field liberally with herbicide. All plant life is killed except the crop.
The widespread adoption of GM RR soy in North and South America has led to massive increases in the use of Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides.2
In South America, a public health crisis has emerged around the spraying of Roundup on GM soy, which is often carried out from the air. The problem made headlines on the [COLOR="rgb(139, 0, 0)"]publication of a 2010 study by Argentine researchers showing that glyphosate and Roundup caused malformations (birth defects) in frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying.[/COLOR] The malformations seen in the experimental embryos were similar to human birth defects reported in GM soy-growing areas of South America.
The researchers said the results were relevant
to humans because humans have the same developmental mechanisms as frogs and chickens. The study identified the pathway through which glyphosate and Roundup affect embryonic development, the retinoic acid signalling pathway.3
A report by physicians in Argentina based on clinical data reported the following health effects in people exposed to spraying of agrochemicals (mostly glyphosate) on GM Roundup Ready soy: increased incidence of birth defects, miscarriages, infertility, cancers, DNA damage (which can
lead to cancer and birth defects), neurological developmental problems in children, kidney failure, respiratory problems, and allergies.4
A report commissioned by the provincial government of Chaco, Argentina, found that the rate of birth defects increased fourfold and rates of childhood cancers tripled in only a decade in areas where rice and GM soy crops are heavily sprayed. The report noted that problems centred on “transgenic crops, which require aerial and ground spraying with agrochemicals”; glyphosate
was named as a chemical of concern.5
These issues are relevant not only to people
living in regions where GM RR crops are grown, but for consumers who eat products made from crops sprayed with glyphosate. GM RR crops do not break down glyphosate, but absorb it. Some
is broken down (metabolised) into a substance called aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA). Both glyphosate and AMPA remain in the plant and are eaten by people and animals. Both are toxic.
Scientific evidence suggests that Roundup and other commercial formulations are more toxic than glyphosate alone – yet it was glyphosate alone that was tested by industry prior to market authorization and approved by regulators. The herbicide formulations as they are sold and used have not been properly tested and assessed for safety.
GMO Myths and Truths page 64
4.1 Myth: Roundup is a safe herbicide with low toxicity
Truth: Roundup poses major health hazards
Roundup is marketed as a “safe” herbicide, based on outdated and largely unpublished studies by manufacturers.6 But independent toxicological and epidemiological studies confirm that Roundup and glyphosate pose serious health hazards, as detailed below.
4.1.2. People who eat Roundup Ready
crops may be eating toxic residues
The effects on animals and humans of eating increased amounts of glyphosate herbicide residues on such crops have not been properly investigated. On the contrary, regulators have ignored risks and changed safety rules to allow higher levels of glyphosate residues into the food and feed chain.
For example, after the 1996 commercialisation of GM RR soy, EU regulators raised the allowed maximum residue limit (MRL) for glyphosate in imported soy 200-fold, from 0.1 mg/kg to 20 mg/ kg.7 The UK government claimed that the move was necessary to accommodate the new farm practice of using glyphosate as a desiccant to “burn down” crops before harvest, making grains or beans easier to gather.8 But it also conveniently coincided with the introduction of RR soy.
Indeed, a 1994 report of the Joint FAO/WHO Meetings on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) indirectly admitted that GM soy was a factor in the need
for the higher limit. This JMPR meeting appears
to have been the source of the recommendation
for the new higher residue limit. In its report, the JMPR recommended the higher limit of 20 mg/
kg for soybeans. The JMPR said the change was needed because of a combination of two factors: glyphosate’s use as a desiccant before harvest; and to accommodate “sequential application of glyphosate in the crop”9 – a practice that is only possible with GM RR soy, as it would kill non-GM soy.
In a 1999 press interview, Malcolm Kane, the then recently-retired head of food safety at UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, confirmed that the European regulators raised the residue limit to “satisfy the GM companies” and smooth the path
for GM soy to enter the food and feed market. Kane added, “One does not need to be an activist or overtly anti-GM to point out that herbicide- resistant crops come at the price of containing significant chemical residues of the active chemical in the commercial weedkiller.”8
This high residue limit is potentially unsafe, based on data from independent studies that EU regulators ignored in setting their claimed safe daily dose.10,11,12 [COLOR="rgb(139, 0, 0)"]Glyphosate, AMPA, and especially the commercial formulation Roundup have been found to be toxic, in some cases at extremely low levels.13,14,15 Roundup damages and kills human cells at levels below those
used in agriculture16 and at residual levels to
be expected in food and feed derived from Roundup-treated crops.13 Roundup is a potent endocrine disruptor (disturbs hormone function)[/COLOR] at concentrations up to 800 times lower than the highest permitted levels in food and feed.17 So people who eat food products from GM RR crops are eating amounts of these substances that may have toxic effects.
4.1.3. Studies show toxic effects of
glyphosate and Roundup
Independent studies on human cells and experimental animals have shown that glyphosate and Roundup have serious toxic effects, in many cases at low levels that could be found in the environment or as residues in food or feed.13,14,15 The added ingredients (adjuvants) in Roundup
are themselves toxic and increase the toxicity of glyphosate by enabling it to penetrate human and animal cells more easily.13,18,19 Findings include:
● Glyphosate and Roundup caused malformations
in frog and chicken embryos.3
● Roundup caused skeletal malformations in rat
● Industry’s own studies conducted for
regulatory purposes as long ago as the 1980s show that glyphosate caused birth defects in rats and rabbits. These effects were seen not only at high, maternally toxic doses, but also
GMO Myths and Truths page 65