In 2009, a French court found Monsanto guilty of lying; falsely advertising itsRoundup herbicide as “biodegradable,” “environmentally friendly” and claiming it “left the soil clean.”
We’re now starting to understand just how false such statements are. For example, last summer, a groundbreaking study revealed a previously unknown mechanism of harm from glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
The research showed that glyphosate residues, found in most processed foods in the Western diet courtesy of GE sugar beets, corn, and soy, “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.”
More recently, a Norwegian study published in Food Technology1 found that genetically engineered (GE) soy contains high levels of glyphosate, along with a poorer nutritional profile, leading the researchers to question its quality and safety.
Evidence also suggests glyphosate may be a key player in Argentina’s growing health problems, where birth defects and cancer rates have skyrocketed among GE corn and soya farming communities.
If You Eat Processed Food, You’re Eating Glyphosate
While nearly one billion pounds of glyphosate is doused on both conventional and GE crops worldwide each year, GE crops receive the heaviest amounts. It’s important to realize that processed foods undoubtedly expose you to this toxic contamination, courtesy of the soy and vegetable oil used.2
Ditto for meats from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), as soy is a staple of conventional livestock feed. As noted in the featured article by Rodale News:3
“That herbicide-laced soy winds up in thousands of nonorganic packaged foods and in animal feed for livestock like pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys.
Why is this happening? Genetically engineered crops are manipulated in a way that could never occur in nature so plants like corn, soy, canola, cotton, and sugar beets can withstand high doses of glyphosate-containing herbicides that would normally kill them. The result? Roundupin food that people and farm animals eat.”
Beware: Glyphosate Is a Systemic Contaminant
It’s quite crucial to understand that glyphosate contamination is systemic, meaning it is present in every cell of the plant, from root to tip. It’s not just an issue of topical contamination, as with many other agricultural chemicals sprayed on crops.
Normally, you need to thoroughly wash your produce to remove topical residues, but you simply cannot remove glyphosate from your produce. And neither can food and animal feed manufacturers who use GE ingredients in their products.
This is a major reason for avoiding processed foods, over and beyond the fact that processed foods are less healthy for you from a nutritional standpoint.
Making matters worse, while evidence is piling up showing the hazards of glyphosate on human health, farmers are ramping up their usage of the chemical due to the proliferation of resistant weeds, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently raised the allowable levels of glyphosate in food by significant amounts.4,5
Allowable levels in oilseed crops such as soy were doubled, from 20 ppm to 40 ppm just lasts summer. It also raised the levels of permissible glyphosate contamination in other foods—many of which were raised to 15-25 times previous levels.
GE Soy Is NOT ‘Substantially Equivalent’ to Non-GE Soy, Researchers Say
The Norwegian study in question investigated contamination levels and nutritional contents of three varieties of Iowa-grown soybeans:6 Roundup Ready soybeans; non-GE, conventional soybeans grown using Roundup herbicide; and organic soybeans, grown without agricultural chemicals.
On average GE soy contained 11.9 parts per million (ppm) of glyphosate. The highest residue level found was 20.1 ppm. Meanwhile, no residues of either kind were found in the conventional non-GE and organic varieties. (Similar results were found in a 2012 nutritional analysis of GE corn, which was found to contain 13 ppm of glyphosate, compared to none in non-GMO corn.)
Such revelations have serious implications for Americans who eat an average of 193 pounds of genetically engineered foods each year.7 In an article for The Ecologist,8 two of the researchers point out that these levels are actually double, or more, of what Monsanto itself has referred to as “extreme levels:”
“All of the individual samples of GM-soy contained residues of both glyphosate and AMPA, on average 9.0 mg/kg. This amount is greater than is typical for many vitamins.
Monsanto (manufacturer of glyphosate) has claimed that residues of glyphosate in GM soy are lower than in conventional soybeans, where glyphosate residues have been measured up to 16-17 mg/kg (Monsanto 1999).
These residues, found in non-GM plants, likely must have been due to the practice of spraying before harvest (for desiccation).
Another claim of Monsanto’s has been that residue levels of up to 5.6 mg/kg in GM-soy represent ‘…extreme levels, and far higher than those typically found.’ (Monsanto 1999).” [Emphasis mine]
The researchers also found nutritional differences between the three types of soy. Compared to conventionally grown non-GE and GE soy, organic soybeans contained higher levels of protein and zinc, and lower levels of omega-6. According to the authors:9“This study rejects that GM soy is ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM soybeans.”
Toxicity of Roundup Has Been Vastly Underestimated
The Norwegian researchers also point out that the potential toxicity of Roundup has likely been vastly underestimated, as toxicity cannot be attributed solely to the active ingredient, glyphosate.
“When regulatory agencies assess pesticides for safety they invariably test only the claimed active ingredient. Nevertheless, these do not necessarily represent realistic conditions since in practice it is the full, formulated herbicide (there are many Roundup formulations) that is used in the field. Thus, it is relevant to consider, not only the active ingredient, in this case glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA, but also the other compounds present in the herbicide formulation since these enhance toxicity,” they write.10
So, when you see “inert” or “inactive ingredients” listed on the label of a pesticide or herbicide, please understand that all this means is that those ingredients will not harm pests or weeds. This is how federal law classifies “inert” pesticide ingredients.11 It does NOT mean that those ingredients are not harmful to YOU, your children, or your pets.
Indeed, one 2012 study12 revealed that inert ingredients such as solvents, preservatives, surfactants and other added substances are anything but “inactive.” They can, and oftentimes do, contribute to a product’s toxicity in a synergistic manner—even if non-toxic in isolation. Certain adjuvants in glyphosate-based herbicides were also found to be “active principles of human cell toxicity,” adding to the hazards inherent with glyphosate. It’s well worth noting that, according to the researchers, this cell damage and/or cell death can occur at the residual levels found on Roundup-treated crops, as well as lawns and gardens where Roundup is applied for weed control.
They also suspect that Roundup might cause miscarriages and abnormal fetal development by interfering with hormone production13 — problems that have skyrocketed in Argentina, following the introduction of GE soy. A toxic combination of Roundup and fertilizers has also been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths among farmers in Sri Lanka, India, and Central America’s Pacific coastline (El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica).
Birth Malformation Skyrocketing in Agricultural Centers of Argentina
As noted in the featured BBC radio report14 above, Argentina has become one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of GE soy and corn, and along with it, the country has experienced an explosion of miscarriages, fertility problems, and abnormal fetal development. In the province of Chaco, birth defects have quadrupled in the decade following the introduction of GE crops.15
“[T]here is unease across the nation’s vast GM belt, especially about health. In the northern province of Chaco, the minister of Public Health wants an independent commission to investigate cases of cancer and the incidence of children born with disabilities,”BBC reports.16“Pressly interviews the University of Buenos Aires Dr. Andres Carrasco, who published a study in 2010 showing that glyphosate can cause birth defects in animal embryos.
Pressly asks Carrasco — what should have happened after you published your paper? ‘Very easy,’ Carrasco says. ‘The governments in Argentina — they should call for a moratorium.’ ‘But you then call the whole of the model into question — what does that mean for Argentina’s economy?’ Pressly asks. ‘What about if we are poisoning our people?’ Carrasco asks.”
More than 18 million hectares in Argentina are covered by GE soy, on which more than 300 million liters of pesticides are sprayed. In the village of Malvinas Argentinas, which is surrounded by soy plantations, the rate of miscarriage is 100 times the national average, courtesy of glyphosate. According to Dr. Medardo Vasquez, a neonatal specialist at the Children’s Hospital in Cordoba, featured in the documentary film People and Power — Argentina: The Bad Seeds:
“I see new-born infants, many of whom are malformed. I have to tell parents that their children are dying because of these agricultural methods. In some areas in Argentina the primary cause of death for children less than one year old is malformations.”