Before the Holidays, a claim was being circulated around about glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. The claim is that half of all children will be autistic by 2025 – and the source for this claim is none other than Dr. Stephanie Seneff. Long-time readers of this blog will recognize that she has made many claims about GMOs – in particular the Roundup herbicide that is sprayed on them – which have been addressed many times before. Is there any merit to this claim? Two highly-regarded blogging medial doctors have weighed in on this issue with a resounding no. Dr. Steven Novella, who writes at Science-Based Medicine, and the pseudonymous Orac a.k.a. Dr. David Gorski, who writes at Respectful Insolence, both evaluated Dr. Seneff’s claims and found them to be based on poor logic, bad science, and straight-up falsehoods – and completely wrong.
Steven Novella writes at Science Based Medicine, Glyphosate – The New Bogeyman.
There is an ideological subculture that is motivated to blame all the perceived ills of the world on environmental factors and corporate/government malfeasance. Often this serves a deeper ideological drive, which can be anti-vaccine, extreme environmentalism, or anti-GMO. The latest environmental bogeyman making the rounds is glyphosate, which is being blamed for (you guessed it) autism.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. It has been widely used for about 40 years, and with the introduction of GM crops that are Roundup resistant, its use has increased significantly in the last 20 years. It has therefore become a popular target for anti-GMO fearmongering.
He provides many useful links to meta-analyses and scientific reviews of glyphosate that point toward its relative safety.
The current article spreading fears about glyphosate cites the work of Stephanie Seneff, making a clear argument from authority:
For over three decades, Stephanie Seneff, PhD, has researched biology and technology, over the years publishing over 170 scholarly peer-reviewed articles. In recent years she has concentrated on the relationship between nutrition and health, tackling such topics as Alzheimer’s, autism, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as the impact of nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins on human health.
Seneff, however, has not actually performed any research into glyphosate. She is “a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.” She is also an anti-GMO activist. That does not mean she is wrong – it just means it is misleading to cite her as a researcher and authority. She has published only speculations and gives many presentations, but has not created any new data.
Dr. Novella gives a quick rundown of what is wrong with her claims about glyphosate and autism, but Orac goes into great detail at Respectful Insolence, in his post Oh, no! GMOs are going to make everyone autistic!
I must admit, when I clicked on the link to the “correlation,” I couldn’t stop laughing. It was one of the most hilarious examples of confusing correlation with causation that I’ve ever seen. Take a look:
As I’ve pointed out time and time again, if you look at two different variables that have shown an increase with time, you can almost always make it look as though there’s a correlation. Only occasionally does that correlation equal causation. It was that claim that the “autism epidemic” began (i.e., autism prevalence started increasing dramatically) beginning in the early to mid-1990s and that that correlated with an expansion of the vaccines in the vaccine schedule or, in the US, that it correlated with the addition of mercury-containing vaccines to the vaccine schedule. From these observations, it was claimed, that it had to be the vaccines, or the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal used at the time in some childhood vaccines, that was causing autism. Lots and lots of epidemiology since then has confirmed that there is no detectable link, epidemiology that I’ve written about time and time again, but that hasn’t stopped the antivaccine movement. What the increase in autism prevalence corresponds to is really the expansion of diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders that occurred in the early 1990s as well as increased screening for the condition, which, as I’ve pointed out, will always increase the prevalence of any condition.
In fact, if you look at the slides for Seneff’s talks (e.g., this one, available at her MIT web page), you’ll find a tour de force of confusing correlation with causation, complete with a version of the first graph above, plus similar graphs purporting to correlate glyphosate use with deaths from senile dementia (gee, you don’t think that deaths from senile dementia might be rising because the population is aging and dementia is usually a disease of the elderly, do you?), obesity, celiac disease, deaths due to intestinal infection, and kidney disease death rate. She even cites the horribly done “pig stomach” GMO study that I deconstructed a while ago.
But what about Seneff’s prediction that half of all children will be autistic by 2025, which is only ten years away? Well, take a look at this graph in her talk:
Yes, she just extrapolates from current trends, assuming they’ll continue indefinitely! It’s almost as stupid as Julian Whitaker’s mind-blowingly idiotic extrapolation that predicted that 100% of boys will be autistic by 2031, with 100% of all girls autistic by 2041. Almost. It’s pretty close, though.
Unfortunately, I know something worse. Dr. Stephanie Seneff blames Roundup for school shootings and the Boston Bombings, as she states in this interview with Jeffrey Smith. Apparently, everything wrong with the world is caused by glyphosate.
Dr. Novella sums it up.
Dr. Seneff gives every indication of being an anti-GMO ideologue. She is not a biologist, but rather is a computer scientist, and yet she is being presented as an expert. She has also not conducted any original research, but is spreading fears about glyphosate based on pure speculation, bad science and bad logic.
Meanwhile, numerous published systematic reviews show clear evidence that glyphosate has very low toxicity. More careful study when it comes to any agent being used as heavily as glyphosate is always welcome. Science is complicated, and it is always a good idea to consider factors that may have been previously missed. However, failure to show any adverse effect from glyphosate in epidemiological studies is very reassuring. Given its widespread use, any adverse effect must be tiny or non-existent to be missed by the evidence we have so far.
The evidence, however, will not stop ideologues from cherry picking, misusing evidence, presenting pure speculation as if it were evidence, assuming causation from correlation, and generally fearmongering about a safe chemical in order to grind their ideological axe.
Finally, Orac finishes it with his characteristic wit.
The bottom line is that the crank magnetism is strong in Dr. Seneff. She’s antivaccine and anti-GMO. She is full of Dunning-Kruger, thinking that she can transfer her computer science and artificial intelligence knowledge to knowledge of epidemiology, biochemistry, and medicine. She can’t. Happy New Years.
Last year she blamed vaccines for autism. This year she blames glyphosate for autism. Lets take a poll on next years cause of autism according to Seneff.
I was thinking about this earlier, and the litany of things caused by glyphosate–and wondering how people got Alzheimer’s, autism, Parkinson’s, cancer, et al, before glyphosate. But if it’s true (and there’s not a shred of evidence that it is….) that makes glyphosate the wonder molecule. I’m pretty sure there’s never been a chemical as powerful as this one.
And I still wonder how every control animal in biomedical research manages to avoid any problems. Maybe that’s what we need to study: control mice. How do they resist all these consequences?
Well, yes, ….. however, glyphosate may be the least toxic herbicide currently available for these purposes, but the resistance building up in weeds to glyphosate increases the need for heavier dosages to be applied and subsequently the near future need to move toward using active ingredients that are known to be more toxic than glyphosate. The trend appears to be set up to move in the wrong direction. A very significant number of people around the world, many with a solid scientific education, question the validity of this trending direction as being inherently more dangerous to society than the agricultural practices that basically were much more ‘organic’ prior to the industrial revolution that has given us 85k chemicals largely new to the environment. This mass of chemicals, made into products we desire, also are the source of massive pollutant dispersal and exposure to society as these products degrade. Very few of these chemicals have been adequately tested as single toxicants, let alone been adequately tested as multiple chemical exposure regimes seen in the real world outside the labs.
Hello / good evening,
Happy New Year and especially healthy to everyone,
This piteous correlation glyphosate vs autism is often a argument of authority for anti-phytosanitary products and anti-GMO activists in France.
I am convinced that it will be tough.
Activist science “style Séralini” unfortunately has a future and has no border.
PS:Please forgive me for my bad English.
This chemical assemblage has largely not been tested adequately for health risks to the young, old, or health compromised individuals. We all are therefore becoming ‘the great global lab experiment’. Society as a whole should certainly question the appropriateness of this dangerous trend. Scientific method is the best way we have found to proceed toward the future, yet science also has profound responsibility to proceed with the utmost caution to avoid ‘lab’ mistakes on a global scale. The current scientific paradigm has not yet reached a vital degree of societal responsibility over these risks, and should become more accountable before it is too late. We can do better than this, to adhere to higher standards of scientific method and applied science. A Precautionary Principle approach needs to become far more a part of the process.
People, of all educational backgrounds, certainly should be encouraged to try to express their concerns to whatever degree of expertise they possess. We each have to evaluate the merit through our own lens, but we each are the easiest person to fool and require utmost self evaluation. A lot of practiced science that is peer-reviewed does not incorporate the full scientific method adequately and contributes to errant trends while trying to seek a path to a better world in the future. More care should be taken while throwing bricks around glass houses or we may all become homeless.
I wonder if the people in the Neitherlands are lyeing about finding glyphosate in their water .Because Monsato said that wouldnt happen.
Although one time in a discussion thread, Anthony Samsel (co-author of Seneff) told us to await some kind of work they were doing on water resonance or something. So it could be homeopathic glyphosate, I suppose.
If there is an active ingredient that has been studied / evaluated drastically over the world it is clearly the glyphosate.Cela difficult thing is questionable.
It is evident, too, that you will have great difficulty to find other active substances with toxicological and ecotoxicological profile as good or équivalent.C’est a fact and facts are always stubborn.
It is also clear that the active ingredient is a simplistic scapegoat that powers all anti-pesticide ideological fads and anti-GMO sometimes taking a “political color watermelon” (green on the outside and red on the inside). this especially in France.
Good day to all.
Via Facebook I was notified of this study out of UC-Davis linking increased pesticides (including Roundup) to autism. It is a study being used by anti-GMO friends to advance their arguments. Any thoughts?
oops, the link: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/09/09/are-you-pregnant-new-study-makes-it-very-clear-how-to-reduce-the-risk-of-autism/
Gail, I have seen this used as well. The comments following were so bad they could be refuted without bothering to look up this. You seem to have an honest question. so I clicked on the link. Under the subheading Pesticide increase risk by 2/3. I found the claim that glyphosate is an organophosphate. Organophosphates are a class of insecticides……Alarm bells go off. So I did a quick google. and found this. http://www.scienceforums.com/topic/17868-q-chemistry-is-glyphosate-an-organophosphate/ and this stating that glyphosate is not a cholinesterase inhibitor. You would be wise to wait for one of the smarter folks who comments here to verify my comment before using the info.
Gail, sorry, I was late for a meeting and forgot to paste. http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/dienochlor-glyphosate/glyphosate-ext.html My point is that this contention seems to be the basic premise of the article. And because the premise is incorrect. The rest of the article is likely to be as well.
Thank you for replying Eric. I caught the organophosphate reference also, which for me was the first red flag. I wanted to find the actual study because I wondered if other potential sources of glyphosate or organohosphates in the home or non-commercial applications had been accounted for in the study. I was hoping the smart people on this site would offer their opinions on the study as it appears the author could have some credibility.
The paper can be found here http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307044/#tab1
It is an epidemiological study where they correlated residential addresses with pesticide application data from the PUR database. Now the PUR database contains collated data for each 2.6 square km township. It seems that only insecticides were considered, but that is not clear because the exact details are in the supplementary information and there is no link to the supplementary information either in the article or on the journal website.
The authors than created a binary comparison of exposed or not exposed for three buffer zones around each residence of 1.25, 1.5 and 1.75 km (note that these buffer zones are smaller or approximately the same size as the data squares in the PUR database. So the exposure data is very coarse and has no dose response associated with it.
Looking at the results, I am frankly unimpressed. Table 3 has a total of 63 comparisons for ASDs and Table 4 has 63 comparisons for DDs. With that many comparisons, you would expect a number to be significant purely through chance. There are 13 significant results for ASDs and 2 for DDs. When you look at the significant effects, what is obvious is that most of them are just what you would expect from chance results.
Considering any exposure during pregnancy there were two significant effects for ASDs (organophosphates and chlorpyriphos) and one for DDs (carbamates). I just want you to look at the chlorpyriphos result. There was a significantly increased odds ratio for any exposure within 1.75 km, but not for 1.5 km or 1.25 km. It makes no sense at all that a chemical should be more harmful the further away from it you were and this is clearly statistical noise. The authors should have recognised it as such.
Why does no one mention the dying off of the bees caused by Glyphosate? Is this not considered important by scientists? It seems to me it will have a very large impact on human life…
Glyphosate is an herbicide, which kills plants. Insecticides kill bees. There is no evidence I’m aware of that suggests that glyphosate is related to bee die-offs. By the way, I’m a beekeeper. 🙂
The problem with this logic is that it ignores that through using glyphosate for 10-15 years we’ve avoided using these active ingredients that you’re now concerned we’re switching to.
Glyphosate use kept us off them for 10-15 years. Had glyphosate not been used… we’d have been using the exact active ingredients you’re concerned about, the reason we’re switching to them is because they’re what would be used in the place of glyphosate. Weeds didn’t magically control themselves prior to GM crops and then turn nasty.
Returning to agricultural practices of the pre-industrial revolution would be absolutely disasterous. We wouldn’t have to worry so much about bogey men under the bed (scary agricultural chemicals which we can’t actually prove do anything, but hey, they’re scary) but more about catastrophic famine and the societal upheaval of all of a sudden requiring that 70-80% of the population be directly employed in agriculture rather than the ~2% we see today.
“Why does no one mention the dying off of the bees caused by Glyphosate?” Three main reasons: 1. This is an article about alleged links between glyphosate use and autism. 2. Any connection between glyphosate use and the success and survival of bees is tenuous at best. 3. That topic has been studies and discussed ad nauseum and like the theory discussed in this article, has lots of holes.
Why do you even ask such an off point question? Perhaps its because this article presents very compelling and persuasive critiques and links to others that expose very serious shortcomings in the theory advanced by Seneff to attempt to explain increased rates of autism with glyphosate use? By changing the subject, is that a tentative admission on your part that that avenue of attack against glyphosate is a dead end? Why are you avoiding discussing the merits of this article?
“Why does no one mention the dying off of the bees caused by Glyphosate?” One more reason: 4. This was an article responding to Seneff’s paper. Apparently, Seneff herself omitted a discussion of bees and glyphosate. Why didn’t she mention bees? I don’t know, you’ll have to ask her.
No one is mentioning “the dying off of the bees caused by Glyphosate”, because glyphosate use is not affecting bee populations.
Honey bee losses through colony collapse disorder is believed to be the result of a combination of stresses including pathogens and diseases: specifically the varroa mite and the viruses associated with it, hive management, and starvation. Insecticide use in certain crops may be contributing.
More broadly bee losses can be attributed to habitat loss and the spread of pathogens around the world.
You went into more detail than I did, but generally, the theory that if we just stopped using glyphosate, bee numbers would rebound and be secure is at best simplistic. I agree, the best conclusion at this point is that colony collapse phenomenon is likely due to a combination of stresses, and as you pointed out, if you want to point at one culprit, the varroa mite and the spread of the range of varroa and pathogens probably in part due to climate change, along with habitat loss, is probably the single biggest factors if we are talking about CCD. Not to say that pesticides exposures can’t be detrimental to a hive, and are indeed an environmental stress for bees, but CCD is a distinct phenomenon whose occurrence is probably not explained by pesticide exposures of foraging bees and could occur absent pesticide exposure.
Ewan, I was not suggesting we go back, but go forward in a better way, using science more fully to find best management practices that don’t need to rely on the types of chemical herbicides and pesticides that we use today… they are too primative and we should be able to find better solutions. It seems to me that research funding prioritization, based largely in profit gain by chemical companies, is perpetuating the status quo beyond the time that scientific process could have figured out better solutions. The status quo is far too much profit to give up… so funding for more innovative science research into finding alternatives is suppressed too much. We need to get creative by funding research that looks for the alternatives, and not stay so stuck on the status quo of toxic chemical product sales to the detriment of better progress.GMO research could be a very important part of that, but it could be done in far better ways that don’t run as many risks of toxicologic excess to unintended organisms. We can do better than this… but the funding priorities much shift to enable creativity.
Ray, ” in a better way” How so/ where would the funding come from? Taxes? No thanks. Nothing wrong with the profit motive. Usually way more efficient than gov’t. Besides that the products now are way less toxic than when I was a kid. That is profit motivated progress. Could corporate law be modified to increase risk to those who prematurely market risky products? Thus increasing safety factor for all. Yes. Will that ever happen? not likely. Will risk be taken away? No life has risks. Will some turn the precautionary principle in to the paranoid principle to attempt to slow progress because they are scared or have an anti business agenda? Should we ignore them? Usually, because they are like the boy who cried wolf. Will there ever be a time when they discover a real issue? Maybe, but by then everyone will be sick of the wolf cry and they will have no credibility.
Eric, “Nothing wrong with the profit motive.”… ??? Wow,,, Of course, the PM does good for a lot of trends, but it also is used very poorly .. to do adverse effects to progress as well. It is the existential responsibility of each of us to see the difference, and to act to try to move the trends in more benefical direction for society.. not mostly for the more affluent but for society. We are all pretty ignorant if viewed from the future, but if you don’t see problems with “Nothing wrong with the profit motive” quote…. hmmm.
Hmmmm. “taxes” now there is a thought about a possible trend that might be put to better use in the future, for creative science exploration toward advanced applied science and a better possible future for our great grandchildren. What a novel idea! Any tool can be used poorly, the trick is to cause it to be used more for actual progress for society… we CAN do that… we just need to look up from our money-grubbing long enough to see the need and provide better thought toward it.
One ‘wolf’ to another:
Doubt about our status quo, or anything else for that matter, is not to be feared, but welcomed and discussed. Doubt, is what drives science to question the current understanding as being accurate. Doubt, fuels our drive toward new and eventually better future… one question at a time. Questioning is our job, our right, and our duty.
Effective scientists must be aware that it is perfectly consistent with the scientific method to be unsure… that is the essential driver of advance of science. We can do better… and we certainly can do better than glyphosate… but at the moment we are threatening to do worse than glyphosate… seems like the wrong direction.
What would happen if all of the “serious” research going into these studies was directed at non-bias scientific research aimed at finding the root cause? The fact that autism exists could be one of the many genetic anomalies that are experienced leading to a phlethora of human ailments. The simple root of causation is that we exist. In the fact that we exist we exist in a world of imperfection. Imperfect DNA replication causes deletions, mutations, or just plain cell death. If we try to link high level effects to uncorrelated root cases we miss the very real fact of these imperfections. An increase in screening in certainly going to cause an increase in recorded causes of autism but what on the chemical and molecular level is driving those changes? Pointing at the modern such as vaccines and glyphosate misses the historical data that may not blatantly state autism but otherwise supports its existence before this point in time. It may be that such individuals were misdiagnosed and placed in institutions in the last century or that those who were high functioning were labeled as eccentric and pawned off as an oddity of society. I’m sure person like Einstein could fit into such a category. Historical data for autism is there long before autism and new research needs to connect that causation with the current science rather than witch hunting.
Meta-analyses are not analyses. There is far more money involved in disproving facts that show how glyphosate is harmful to humans than there is in disproving that glyphosate is harmless and generally safe. I am terribly sorry that you have let the propaganda cloud your judgement. Cocaine was hailed by many doctors for years, as have many other compounds that were then proven unsafe. History is against you. I hope you live long enough to be embarrassed.
Lazzeia, “disproving facts” Please rephrase. The amount of money is not relevant. A real fact cannot be disproved. I suggest you rephrase your comment so that it can be understood. I also suggest dropping the cocaine bit.
If you are interested for information.Sorry as it is in French.
Here are two examples of the vectors on misinformation disseminated in France on glyphosate and PGM.
The first concerns the speech to the European Parliament a known French politician (at least I think) .It is an anthology of nonsense and mensonges (lies ?).Malheureusement, it is not the only one!
The second is the interview with our sad and famous Séralini (the shame of the French science!) In a local newspaper in Caen Normandie.there is the top nonsense as usual with him or how to make the people for fools or remained.
All this is distressing and pitiful.
Good day to everyone
I agree. Surely there are better things to spend precious research dollars on besides chasing ends that have been dead for a very long time.
Perhaps it would be better to spend some precious research dollars on definitively determining the effects of increased glyphosate usage across AG land on milkweed persistence, or lack of it, that seems likely to be limiting the Monarch butterfly populations. And possibly doing some real investigative quality research on the possible toxic effects on butterfly gut bacterial assemblage with or without eating sprayed milkweed, perhaps such research could clarify the gut effects, either positive or not. Then repeat with glyphosate plus dicamba, or glyphosate with 24d? This could help to indicate whether or not mammal studies should be done for similar pathogy potential… which could help indicate whether some of the precious dollars should be used to clarify if these combinations might pose significant risk to a fieldworker pregnancy from eating some greens from a garden that got drifted on…. or, it might show that we really can’t find evidence that there is much risk at all for her fetus.
I know that you have the same analysis / findings rational in the USA on the réalité facts concerning PGM RR and Bt.Reality facts systematically denied with a lot of “bad scientific faith” whatever the country.
But despite all.
You have this (already in 09/2012) which seems especially relevant and rational reading to mitigate (it’s harder to disappear) phobias and anxiety unjustified attitudes towards PGM RR and Bt.
Sorry but it’s in French.
Good day to all.
I have been writing the following response to Dr. Novella’s post at Science-based Medicine. It’s more about the references he uses to support what is largely a defense of the safety of glyphosate, and less about the Seneff paper. But I feel it’s pertinent to this Biofortified blog post because:
The very same references are used by Biofortified to defend the safety of glyphosate in a post by Dr. Bodnar here:
which is again linked to in the above post about Dr. Novella’s post at SBM.
The first meta-study referenced in Dr. Novella’s blog post seems to rely extensively on data from, and discussions with, Monsanto. It appears to be generated by regulatory consultancy services in cooperation with a pathologist at New York Medical College. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But there’s at least one error in the 2000 study: it says there are no synergistic effects when glyphosate is combined with POEA or other surfactants.* It’s now evident that POEA is more toxic than glyphosate. And even though glyphosate is a relatively safe herbicide, it’s always combined with other, less safe compounds. That synergy makes the mixture more toxic than either ingredient on its own. The study is 15 years old and draws on research that’s even older. So a second error may be that when basing risk on expected exposure, the study is outdated in calculating expected exposure. But toxicology is supposed to be rather cut and dry. A substance is either toxic or not, and there are standardized tests to determine that. However, the EPA doesn’t require toxicity data on inert ingredients (even though they’re not biologically inactive). And the use of these glyphosate pesticide formulations has continued to increase – as a result of vast monocultures of glyphosate-resistant commodity crops being planted for animal feed, biofuel and food extracts; as well as Roundup’s popular use as a week killer on lawns, schoolyards, parks, etc.
(*see page 145 for the researchers’ suggestion that glyphosate and POEA have antagonistic effects rather than synergistic, with regard to toxicity)
I would say the debate over glyphosate is passé. Despite the genius of pesticide-tolerant GE crops, burgeoning resistance has forced the development of “stacked” resistance traits. Newer GMOs are resistant to dicamba, 2,4D and other pesticides more toxic than glyphosate. And again, glyphosate is never used alone, but in conjunction with surfactants that increase it’s toxicity. The EPA acknowledges that glyphosate alone injures kidneys and causes reproductive problems. They’ve set limits for residue in food and run-off in water. But they’ve continued to increase the allowed limit of residue to keep up with the amounts which actually appear – otherwise many agricultural products would have to be eliminated from market. And last year the Texas Board of Agriculture petitioned the EPA to allow cotton farmers in that state to spray propazine on up to 3 million acres of cotton infested with glyphosate-resistant Palmer Amaranth (pigweed). Resistant pigweed has ravaged the US cotton crop for years. Propazine is toxic to the CNS, resulting in neuroendocrine effects across a variety of species. It can alter hormone levels and result in developmental and reproductive consequences. It’s really great that we were able to avoid using such a pesticide for quite a while, but it rather looks to me as if the paths forward in this area are diverging: we either continue down the road to increasing volume and toxicity of pesticides, or we alter course and attempt to re-incorporate some of our long-standing agricultural science to revamp how we deal with pests. Of course, we may have another genius idea come out of somewhere. You never know.
A number of scientists are asking for pesticides to be evaluated more thoroughly. I recently read that European authorities were planning to begin evaluating whole formulations in 2014. I don’t know if that’s happening. The industry has been fighting against it and seems to be relying on delays to avoid re-evaluation of glyphosate-based compounds until years into the future.
There are many studies which indicate that glyphosate is harmful to humans, but more importantly, that glyphosate-based pesticides are toxic. Instead of assessing the literature in order to make informed conclusions about the research on glyphosate, the three more recent meta-studies cited by Dr. Novella, and also by Biofortified (post linked to at the start of my comment) simply attempt to discredit the research that’s been done, or misrepresent the authors findings. They appear to all be industry-generated. Specifically, first the 2012 Williams et al study:
“Developmental and reproductive outcomes in humans and animals after glyphosate exposure: a critical analysis.” (available here):
For that study, one author was employed by SNBL, a contract research organization, and two of the three authors were employed by Exponent, Inc. . (I’ll talk about why that’s significant later)
One group of researchers had several of their studies referenced in the Williams et al metastudy. Here are links to a couple of those studies:
And here is a letter to the editor from that group of researchers, in reply to the meta-study:
So that you can follow the science from the original studies to the meta-study, and to the researchers’ response to how those studies were interpreted or misinterpreted by the meta-study. Other authors whose work was cited in the Williams paper also wrote to the editor to rebut the paper’s interpretation or representation of their findings.
The next two meta-studies referred to by Dr. Novella and Biofortified, (Mink et al from 2011 and 2012) can be addressed together. They come from the same four authors, all employees of Exponent, Inc.
They were published in the Journal of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology – a publication of dubious distinction. It’s funded by, among others, the chemical industry:
So, between all of the three more recent meta-studies referenced by both Dr. Novella and Biofortified, six of the seven authors are from Exponent, Inc. Why is that notable? Because Exponent is a for-hire consultancy group which provides defense materials for corporations. They’ve been known to provide excellent credentials for their “research”. You can read a little bit about one example of that here:
Company pays government to challenge pesticide research showing link to Parkinson’s
The more you look into these meta-studies, the more it becomes apparent that it’s all about how they name the results of the research they’ve included in their meta-study, and whether or not their purpose includes defending the safety of a particular product.
Pesticides, in general, are a growing public health concern. While it’s true that glyphosate is among the safest of pesticides, it’s never used in isolation. And it’s steadily increasing volume of use is concerning. It’s interesting to look at the attachment accessible through the link to the EPA site provided by Biofortified in its post on glyphosate safety, which quantifies estimated exposure.
(click on document attachments – begin at page 6 of 20)
You can see how the GMO crops line up with higher glyphosate exposure. Although there were some surprises for me. It must be that non-GMO crops with high levels of glyphosate use the herbicide for non-GMO reasons. But again, what about the presence of additional components of glyphosate herbicides? It was noted in the report that children from 1-6 have the highest exposure risk. Just estimating what amount of glyphosate is dangerous to them is meaningless if that amount is always accompanied by other components that make it more toxic – or – if the research isn’t accurately revealing the toxicity of these residues to begin with. I don’t feel reassured by the EPA’s info or regulations in light of the info provided on the EPA sites that Biofortified has linked to.
Not too long ago the EPA increased the allowed limits of glyphosate residue on foods. Was this because they found out that glyphosate was even safer than they originally thought? No. It was because they had to – or else adjudicate tons of food which had excessive amounts of residue. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record – it’s never just glyphosate that is used on our food, but instead a more toxic formulation of glyphosate and surfactants. I trust that the original intent of glyphosate-resistant GMOs was to reduce exposure to toxic pesticides and make farming easier and of lower environmental impact. But we know more now than we did when they were first instituted. And we’re using more of the pesticide than we did when glyphosate-resistant crops were first deregulated. And regarding environmental effects, scientists have known for years that glyphosate preparations have a negative impact on crop interactions with rhizosphere micro-organisms.
Other USDA scientists have found that glyphosate herbicides actually injure the glyphosate-resistant soybeans they’re used to protect.
(again, there’s lots of research on the environmental impact of glyphosate. That’s not the main focus here, but is a part of the reasoning behind the use of glyphosate-based pesticides)
I think it’s time to take a second look at this method of pest control. It’s time to test the toxicity of the formulations we’re actually being exposed to through a number of routes, and it’s time to question the environmental impact of the voluminous usage of the herbicides we’re discussing here.
Also, there was another study referenced on Biofortified’s “Is glyphosate safe?” blog post. I found that it too was industry-driven. Here’s the paper whose abstract Dr. Bodner linked to in her post on the safety of glyphosate.
“Review of genotoxicity studies of glyphosate and glyphosate-based formulations”
“Larry Kier and David Kirkland were paid consultants of the Glyphosate Task Force for the preparation of this review. The Glyphosate Task Force is a consortium of 25 European glyphosate registrants, listed on http://www.glyphosatetaskforce.org/. Larry Kier is also a past employee of Monsanto Company. Monsanto Company was the original producer and marketer of glyphosate formulations. The authors had sole responsibility for the writing and content of the paper and the interpretations and opinions expressed in the paper are those of the authors and may not necessarily be those of the member companies of the Glyphosate Task Force.”
So, as far as I can see, every study referenced by Dr. Novella and/or Biofortified is industry-influenced – even to a great degree. I understand that pseudoscience like Seneff’s needs to be addressed. It’s important to deconstruct the bad reasoning that underpins such a bad paper. But pointing out the wrongs in Seneff’s paper doesn’t point to rights with glyphosate.
I respectfully request that the toxicity of glyphosate, or more importantly, the toxicity of glyphosate-based pesticides, be re-evaluated by Dr. Novella and by Biofortified. It would be great to see a more skeptical approach to the subject of pesticide toxicity as a public health issue. And instead of zeroing in on one aspect of this issue, that is, the relative safety of one pesticide component, it would be gratifying to see the valuable time and brain power of these respected parties focus instead on the broader issue of modern agriculture and how we might forge a path forward which will be safer and more unifying, rather than increasingly toxic and divisive.
Thanks for the detailed comment, but you aren’t actually criticizing anything about the science, but attempting to dismiss these documents based on ad hominem arguments. They’re not the only ones – regulatory agencies in countries that allow the use of glyphosate constantly re-evaluate the science. Germany just completed their last year.
You also did not complete the opposite ad-hominem analysis, in fact I found out while doing research for GENERA that one author of a study you linked to above is surprisingly not as independent as we all thought. It does not invalidate their results, and does not lead me to conclude that on that basis alone their study should be distrusted.
As you may know, France is the country “who invented the precautionary principle” in French fashion.
Precautionary principle enshrined in our national constitution. Or how to make the patronage politics with agro-scientific subjects (GMOs / pesticides) without much compromise electorally.
So we have the rules of the safest and most restrictive approvals of the planet for plant protection products.
It is only my opinion and I will admit that it is subjective.
There is in France this public organisme “Observatory on Pesticide Residues,” which rightly oversees all plant protection products registered on all crops in Europe and of course in France.
All components (active ingredients, surfactants and other additives) of each product are assessed / testés.POEA is one of them.
Strangely, the POEA may be present in domestic products is not an initiator of anxiety.In France this is the case.
“The European approval of safeners, synergists, co-formulants and adjuvants: synergists, safeners and adjuvants which are components of some pesticides, are now subject to an approval process similar to that of the active substances More. a new Annex 3 establishes the list of coformulants for use in plant protection products is prohibited (negative list). ”
For more explanation (sorry again, it’s in French):
Our favorite French researcher has yet tried to present the POEA as a source of crippling anxiety.
If you like cytotoxicity studies here is one for the anxiety.
Be careful if you renew this experience with soap, dishwasher, juice, cosmetics you have the same conclusions.
In short, this finding directly on the cells is normal and I hope you all know why.
Good day to all
This is a really long post with a lot of arguments in it. To keep my response short, I am only going to address a few of those here and will deal with others later.
“But there’s at least one error in the 2000 study: it says there are no synergistic effects when glyphosate is combined with POEA or other surfactants.* It’s now evident that POEA is more toxic than glyphosate. And even though glyphosate is a relatively safe herbicide, it’s always combined with other, less safe compounds. That synergy makes the mixture more toxic than either ingredient on its own.”
This argument is completely confused. Glyphosate has low toxicity. POEA has higher toxicity, but it is still relatively low. The two together have no more toxicity than POEA – in fact the evidence is that they have less. So there is no synergy between the two components. http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00139709-200423030-00003
“But toxicology is supposed to be rather cut and dry. A substance is either toxic or not, and there are standardized tests to determine that.”
This is not correct. Toxicity always depends on the dose. Regulators address whether a product can be used in such a way that the dose received is below a level which may result in toxicity.
“And again, glyphosate is never used alone, but in conjunction with surfactants that increase it’s toxicity.”
This statement is incorrect. The toxicity comes from the surfactants. Adding surfactands does not make glyphosate more toxic.
“The EPA acknowledges that glyphosate alone injures kidneys and causes reproductive problems. They’ve set limits for residue in food and run-off in water. But they’ve continued to increase the allowed limit of residue to keep up with the amounts which actually appear – otherwise many agricultural products would have to be eliminated from market.”
This shows a complete lack of understanding of how pesticide residues are regulated. The residue requirements are based on what might be reasonably expected from normal use of the product provided that exposure to the pesticides from all sources is below the RfD, the dose that is likely to be without appreciable risk of deleterious effects if consumed every day for a lifetime. Some recent changes to glyphosate residue limits have come about to changes in use patterns, to align with CODEX levels and to accommodate the inclusion of N-acetyl glyphosate in the residue limit. In all cases, the MRL changes mean that potential exposure stays under the RfD. You can read the EPA discussion on some of the latest changes http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-05-01/pdf/2013-10316.pdf
My previous post seems to have become stuck in moderation. This one I will make shorter and address just one of your arguments.
“But again, what about the presence of additional components of glyphosate herbicides?”
The additional components are not relevant for assessment of exposure through consumption of commodities, because they are not present in the commodity. The additional components are surfactants that are added to aid glyphosate absorption by leaves. The remain on the surface of the leaf of GM crops and do not get into the component that is harvested for consumption.
Karl, neither you nor I, nor Dr. Novella are toxicologists. The only reason we’re discussing the toxicology of glyphosate is: it’s the active ingredient in pesticides like Roundup – which are used in association with >90% of GE crops. This site, and Dr. Novella’s site, and sites like GLP, all support GMOs. So, if we want to promote/defend GMOs in general, apart from their individual applications, we have to support pesticide-tolerant GMO crops. And so, we have to defend glyphosate. I’ve already explained why I think the argument about glyphosate with GE crops is passé, but since G is still being used, and at an increasing rate, I think it’s good we look at the controversy over glyphosate – which has generated awful papers like the one from Seneff, and which has also generated industry papers like the ones linked to by Dr. Novella and Biofortified.
“… regulatory agencies in countries that allow the use of glyphosate constantly re-evaluate the science. Germany just completed their last year.”
Germany re-evaluated glyphosate in order to report to and advise the EFSA – for all of Europe. The actual glyphosate formulations aren’t publicly available for regulatory review because they’re considered proprietary, and, additionally, it seems that the BfR relied on the Glyphosate Task Force to summarize the studies which were reviewed for re-evaluation. The Glyphosate Task Force is a consortium of 25 European glyphosate registrants – the self-same group which paid the consultants who authored the meta-study Dr. Bodnar linked to in her blog post on glyphosate safety (which I pointed out in my comment above). This is the industry reviewing the industry’s products. Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Ultimately, the report increases the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate – up 67%. I guess eventually we’ll find out for sure whether or not there are negative results from chronic exposure – that is if we differentiate them from other environmental toxins and from past exposure, and from actual exposure to formulations which aren’t solely glyphosate. The re-evaluation by the BfR may be worth examining on its own – but that would require much more space than is appropriate here (it’s over 3000 pages), and would require access to the report.
You did answer my question about whether or not whole formulas are now being evaluated in Europe. No, they aren’t. But, interestingly, Germany has since moved to ban formulations with POEA. A number of countries have banned or partially banned glyphosate pesticides. It seems that EU regulations are moving toward more thorough assessment of these mixtures, but the EFSA hasn’t kept up. And the next re-evaluation of glyphosate in Europe isn’t scheduled until many years in the future, so the pesticide preparations continue to be evaluated on only active ingredients, even when inert ingredients are more toxic.
What do you make of this? Do you feel that the EPA should be looking at the toxicity of glyphosate-based formulations and not just glyphosate? Do you think we have a good understanding of what the ubiquitous presence in our environment means? (please see links I’ve addressed to Chris in my reply below) What do you base this on, either way? How do you feel about weed resistance and adding more toxic herbicides to the GMO-herbicide tolerance model in agricultural monocultures? What about glyphosate’s negative impact on root organisms, which affect the health of the plant?
The genesis for my comment was the fact that Biofortified made a post promoting/defending glyphosate safety, then Dr. Novella made one using the same studies, and now Biofortified has made a post about Dr. Novella’s post. It feels echo-chamberish. And the studies are all from Exponent, Inc. – a company known for defending corporate polluters. It would be nice to see an independent review of the toxicology studies because these three meta-studies have systematically dismissed the results of several independent studies. And there’s no evaluation of what we’re actually being exposed to through the environment and what the effect of that exposure is.
Chris, you make a number of good points.
The abstract says: “the weight of evidence is against surfactants potentiating the toxicity of glyphosate”.
We’re still left with this:
“It is difficult to separate the toxicity of glyphosate from that of the formulation as a whole or to determine the contribution of surfactants to overall toxicity. Experimental studies suggest that the toxicity of the surfactant, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), is greater than the toxicity of glyphosate alone and commercial formulations alone.”
So I think this makes a good case for testing the toxicity of whole formulations, and not just the ingredient labeled “Active”.
“Toxicity always depends on the dose. Regulators address whether a product can be used in such a way that the dose received is below a level which may result in toxicity.”
Another good correction of what I said about things being cut and dry. I appreciate the chance to explain.
There are a lot of things being said about the toxicity of glyphosate. In reaction, some say: the dose makes the poison. Water is toxic at a certain level. Salt is toxic at a certain level. What I’m saying is: we have standardized methods for evaluating the toxicity of any substance. We can refine the dose of a medication that will kill us if we take too much or not help us if we take too little. But in many cases we rely on the “great indefinite” – that is – we modulate everything to healthy adults. We may or may not differentiate based on sex, weight, age, health status, etc. While it’s true that too much water or salt will kill us, we need those things to survive, and we consume them based on instinct (for the most part). Many doctors say we’re eating too much salt and we’re unwisely replacing water with sugary drinks. That’s a bit off-topic, but the point is, we don’t consider water or salt to be toxic in the way that we evaluate pesticides. Glyphosate is toxic. So it’s all about determining how much is toxic to whom, and whether or not the “whoms” are being exposed to that amount – and, of course, is the exposure and effect worth the utility of the product. Exposure and effect are what’s being evaluated when regulatory agencies decide what’s permissible – as you indicate. And of course in many cases of chronic exposure, the amount isn’t as important as the effect. For any substance not necessary for health and considered toxic, the degree is simply a measure of the damage. For instance, lead is something we tolerate at a very low level in our water. Is that because we need a little lead in our diet? No, it’s because it’s virtually impossible to remove it all and we’ve determined that we can survive a certain amount. Is this how we’re approaching glyphosate, or other pesticides? There’s atrazine in my municipal water. Nobody wants it there, but we can’t remove it all. There’s also glyphosate in my water, at an apparently safe amount. So, for these pesticides, unlike water and salt, we’re weighing the value of the agricultural utility of those products against the physiological and environmental harm they do. You can see why it’s a contentious matter. How is it decided and by whom? Are there conflicts of interest? Ideological motivations?
It’s the indefinite nature of exposure and effect that is concerning to me. The EPA sets a limit, and then increases it at the request of the manufacturers (after evaluating the petition). Are we basing these limits on what the science says? Most research submitted for regulatory purposes comes from the industry and isn’t available for public scrutiny. The formulations being used aren’t made public because they’re trade secrets. The industry has a vested interest in selling its products. What I’ve try to draw attention to is the fact that the meta-studies being used to promote glyphosate here, and on many other blogs, all come from the industry and in many cases don’t accurately represent what researchers are saying.
“Adding surfactands does not make glyphosate more toxic.”
It makes the glyphosate-based herbicide more toxic.
“…For non-threshold risks, the Agency assumes that any amount of exposure will lead to some degree of risk. Thus, the Agency estimates risk in terms of the probability of an occurrence of the adverse effect expected in a lifetime.”
The creepiest thing about reading all the EPA stuff is: Why do we have glyphosate in our carrots and sweet potatoes? Even those used to make baby food? Maybe we ought to start checking babies to see how much glyphosate they actually have in their bodies instead of simply estimating the amount we think they’ll be exposed to through food residues. Exposure through residues on food were calculated based on a dietary survey conducted 2003-2008 – not current (and I have to hope that parents were surveyed as to what their babies eat?) The BfR (referenced in comments above) has responded to one paper which claimed that 60 to 70% of people have glyphosate in their bodies with: “it’s plausible”. For any given individual, we have no idea what the actual exposure might be. Exposure in the US midwest is higher than exposure in Connecticut.
To end, I understand that the EPA is trying to accommodate the needs of agriculture while protecting the safety of the public. I don’t suspect that most healthy adults need to be concerned about eating and drinking a lot of glyphosate. But a 3 year old in the midwest? I’m not as sure that over the course of a lifetime that child won’t be exposed to an amount of glyphosate herbicide that will prove to be a health problem. And since we don’t evaluate total effects of exposure to numerous different pesticides, I think our regulatory system is lagging behind the deployment of these various pesticides in increasing amounts. As I said, the volume of glyphosate used continues to increase and the environmental evaluations are slow to catch up, while glyphosate-resistant weeds have inspired new GE crops which are resistant to pesticides more toxic than glyphosate (and we’re still not talking about surfactants, although the EPA does look at them independently)
here’s info from the USGS –
U.S. Geological Survey
note – the results are from 2002. Do you think the presence of glyphosate in the environment has decreased since then? From Reuters: “The USGS said more than 88,0000 tons of glyphosate were used in the United States in 2007, up from 11,000 tons in 1992.”
I’m willing to bet that usage since 2007 has again increased exponentially.
and the AWRA:
Journal of the American Water Resources Association
I haven’t the time for a detailed response at the moment, but I wanted to point out a big issue that I take with your characterization of how you think other people think:
This is not true in the slightest. That’s like saying that if we wanted to promote computers in general then we would have to support Apple computers. The logic is unsound, as its its flawed premises.
Thanks Chris – I’ll have to look at this some more. I do understand that it’s the surfactants that facilitate toxicity in amphibians, who are exposed in the field, or through interspersed wetlands. Frankly, I’ve always been more concerned about the environmental effects of some GE crops than I have been about human health effects from consumption. But what I’ve come to see lately is that, living in the midwest, the environmental effects ARE contributing to human health effects. In the end, they’re not separable.
Karl, it’s possible you’re right on that. But, if you’re promoting computers, and Apple is a computer, then you’re promoting Apple by promoting computers. And if Apple is >90% of computers, and you’re promoting an accessory made by and used mostly with Apple – why would anyone think that you weren’t promoting not just computers in general, but Apple computers – as the vast majority of the computers you’re promoting?
But I see that there is some fault in my reasoning, because I haven’t allowed for the possibility that this is about promoting the herbicide for no other reason that to promote the herbicide. (which would be like promoting Apple accessories just because you thought they were great, even though your stated purpose is to promote computers, not accessories).
I guess after looking at so many blogs like this one it just started to seem weird that a pesticide is being promoted and defended when the stated purpose of the sites is to educate about GMOs. What does glyphosate have to do with GMO education except that it’s used in conjunction with >90% of them?
GMO technology is separate from pesticides – why are they being promoted together if not for the sake of the 90%?
I would sure like to see high quality studies done that look specifically at any effects potential for glyphosate pathology potential to gut bacteria that utilize the shikamate pathway that the main mode of toxicity for glyphosate in plants. people on this forum have intimated that the gut environment deactivates the glyphosate somehow so that it does not affect the gut bacteria, but I have not seen papers that substantiate those suggestions. How could glyphosate body burdens build up without transiting the gut without altering the glyphosate to some other chemical to show in the body as glyphosate that the industry needed to have EPA up the allowable body burden??? It would seem logical to assess this possibility to clarify the issue. Altered gut bacterial assemblage could have significant health implications just as antibiotic effects on gut assemblage has effects. I would be pleased if these studies were from multiple labs and multiple methodologies to really look at the possiblities comprehensively and accurately.
If,…I say if, there is gut assemblage shift in humans, then there may also be in amphibians, fish, and other organisms that might affect their health and populations.
“So I think this makes a good case for testing the toxicity of whole formulations, and not just the ingredient labeled “Active”.”
In fact there is a requirement for testing toxicity of the formulation. However, that is only applicable to potential suicides.
I don’t find your long rambling explanation of why glyphosate should be considered special in terms of toxicity compared with salt (which you state is non-toxic despite the clear evidence that it is as toxic as glyphosate) very compelling. It is almost as if you are trying to argue that because you have a concern about a compound that trumps the evidence.
“And of course in many cases of chronic exposure, the amount isn’t as important as the effect.”
This is quite assuredly not the case. Toxicity data works on the principle of LOAEL that is the lowest dose that causes any adverse effect (so dealing with the effect) in chronic studies and then using the next smallest dose in the test as the NOAEL.
As to adults versus children, etc., the regulators already take this into account in their assessments of allowable residue limits. There was discussion of this in the EPA assessment I linked to.
“How is it decided and by whom? Are there conflicts of interest? Ideological motivations?”
As you have already noted there is a standard procedure for measuring toxicity of compounds, so there can’t be ideological motivations. Yet before raising this question you have already made an ideologically motivated conclusion that glyphosate is toxic, yet salt is not toxic – despite the evidence pointing to similar levels of toxicity.
“Most research submitted for regulatory purposes comes from the industry and isn’t available for public scrutiny.”
Actually, a lot of it is http://www.inchem.org/documents/jmpr/jmpmono/v86pr08.htm
The issue of surfactants affecting aquatic organisms has been known for a long time. There are, for at least the last 2 decades, special formulations of glyphosate for use near water and it is illegal to use the other formulations.
Mr. Karl Haro von Mogel gave the last evaluation of glyphosate performed by Bfr (RFA). The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (Bfr) is responsible for community work by the EU decision.
Bfr conducts its own research on topics that are closely related to the tasks of évaluation.Glyphosate and its various commercial formulations are included.
The people of Bfr are very rigorous and so severe as to their findings.Unless someone brings evidence to justify prove the contrary.But I have never seen it.
You also have this in the discussion.
Good weekend to all
Chris, I’m not talking about the surfactants, I’m wanting to see more good quality research specifically for glyphosate on human, amphibian, and fish gut bacterial species.
Because food products are genetically modified to be roundup resistant. That’s where they get their resistance from.
Ray, Mlema asked about surfactants. That was who I was responding to.
Gut bacteria are not something I know much about (except E. coli). I do know that simply changing your diet will change your gut bacteria.
Monsanto was sued by the State Attorney of NY for making false claims of glyphosate: safer than table salt, ok to spray where children and pets play, stays where you spray. etc. They lost and had to stop saying those things.
Na, Cl and H2O are all necessary for human health. We’ve established an RDA for sodium. Many Americans consume far more than is recommended. Chronic high-sodium diet contributes to high blood pressure. But the human body has exquisitely precise ways to balance electrolytes, and a person must consume some amount of these elements to remain healthy.
The EPA has based its reference dose for chronic daily glyphosate exposure on 5 studies done by Monsanto in the 1980’s. Chronic exposure causes kidney and reproductive difficulties.
Some are willing to draw the magic line and say that somewhere below the maximum tolerated amount of exposure established by the EPA your three year old child can consume glyphosate daily without negative health effects. My understanding of physiology won’t let me do that, but I’m willing to be educated.
By what physiological mechanism does a three-year old’s daily exposure to glyphosate = zero harm?
Given the current regulatory environment of higher up executives from the chemical industry cycling into leadership positions high up in EPA and other regulatory agencies, and the reverse problem of EPA people getting recruited to work for the chemical industry out from the regulatory agencies, very clearly there is a major institutional and pervasive conflict of interest bias (unintentional or intentional) continually happening in our system that arrives at many questionable regulatory edicts. A three year old child is still very far from developmental maturity of body defense mechanisms. This maturation process complexity is still very far from being understood well enough.
There really is no way that safety from such exposure to glyphosate could be logically comprehensively understood enough to declare that there is no risk. The new science of epigenetics is progressing rapidly and even now demonstrates this gulf of lack of sufficient knowledge of the complexities involved to have any confidence in such a declaration of no adverse effect potentials. It’s politics, incompetence, or both that drives such a statement. Obviously only some of the current science is taken into account, cherrypicked, with avoidance of scientific data gaps and uncertainty in the completeness of our knowledge. This is just my humble private opinion. More qualifiers are needed in any statement of safety to a three year old.
Monsanto was not sued by the State Attorney of New York. Rather the Attorney General of the State of New York made a finding under the provisions of Executive Law §63 that Monsanto’s advertising was false and misleading.
The human safety component was declared false and misleading, because at the time of the advertisements, Monsanto’s glyphosate products were going through a re-registration process at the EPA and as the EPA had not yet ruled, it was misleading to declare the product safe.
“Some are willing to draw the magic line and say that somewhere below the maximum tolerated amount of exposure established by the EPA your three year old child can consume glyphosate daily without negative health effects. My understanding of physiology won’t let me do that, but I’m willing to be educated.”
I have already linked to the EPA advice where they discuss this. You haven’t addressed any of the arguments made in that document. So I don’t think you are willing to be educated.
Chris, Monsanto had to stop saying that glyphosate was safer than table salt, safe to spray where children and pets played, and that it stayed put – because those claims were false and misleading. It had nothing to do with registration.
The EPA site doesn’t discuss any physiological mechanism by which a 3-yr old, or any human, can ingest some amount below the NOAEL with zero harm. That’s not what the EPA does. The EPA balances the desires of industry with protection of the environment. They’re underfunded and have to contend with industry lobbies which continually work to limit their objectives and abilities. So if you want to education me as to how a person can ingest some amount of glyphosate every day with zero harm, as long as it’s below the amount claimed to cause observable harm, you’ll probably have to recruit other resources to do so.
From what I can see the EPA is relying on 5 older studies from Monsanto to determine toxicity.
Ray Kinney – Roundup kills amphibians, whether they’re in the water or not.
(there’s lots of other research on this available online)
This does seem to be due to the combination of surfactants and glyphosate – the problem being that these formulations do end up in the water even when they’re not directly employed. But they directly impact amphibians exposed on land.
yes, I have read papers on amphibian health problems with glyphosate, but my question is even more specific for how some of the mortality is physiologically cause. If there is research on gut bacterial assemblage alterations, it could shed light on similar effects in other animals and especially humans.
Relyea’s body of work is pretty clear that amphibian harm is limited to early life stages and is down to POEA. It doesn’t at all seem to be the combination of glyphosate and surfactants, it’s the surfactant. Probably one of the reasons that the formulations that use surfactants specify not using them near or on aquatic environments.
Surfactant damage to developing amphibians is hardly surprising – amphibians lack decent protection for their cell membranes etc – surfactants disrupt cell membranes. This isn’t a good thing, particularly when you lack a decent skin barrier (amphibians…) and are very small (developing ones)
Yes, i understand those issues, but am concerned that there may be subclinical low dose effects in many animal species from glyphosate itself that would not cause any ‘belly up’ obvious effect, but that might still alter gut bacterial assemblages to the detriment of other physiologic systems that could then be chronic low dose adverse effects that would become population limiting by promoting a less healthy condition (e.g. less nutrition, intestinal epithelial alterations, etc.). It would be very easy to overlook something like that, if the research was not designed to detect such subtle effects that reduce organism abilities.
Any effect that reduces abilities over significant exposed population would constitute a population decline pressure. Simple short term toxicity assessment could easily not detect such chronic low dose effects on populations, special designs of research would need to be carried out. Behavioral effects of toxicants are well known to be important in fish toxicology (Dan Weber et. al.) e.g. lead toxicology. I don’t know if amphibians have been studied for low dose long term exposure to glyphosate potential for behatioral effects toxicology. Glyphosate certainly does alter the shikamate pathway in plants to cause the weed killing effects.
Though human cells do not use the shikamate pathway, many bacteria do use this system, therefore it seem plausable that one could question and research ‘if there is any chance that gut bacteria can be altered’ or, is the glyphosate entering the gut somehow deactivated in the process and altered enough that there is not a risk of altering gut function.
Indeed, and all the literature on the levels that impact gut biota (predominantly in chickens, but it probably isn’t unreasonable to assume this’d carry across species reasonably well) make it clear that residual levels wouldn’t have the remotest impact – so that need not be of concern.
Glyphosate doesn’t bioaccumulate, it degrades pretty quickly in the environment (good source of phosphorous), so its hard to see how this could be problematic either.
Minimal inhibition concentrations of glyphosate, in vitro, were 0.15 mg/ml in worst case scenario for isolated bacteria.
Per acre rates tend to be about 0.75 lb active ingredient per acre. Which translates to 340g.- in between 5 and 15 gallons of carrier (19L minimally)
Conveniently 1mg/ml is the same as 1g/L – so if we assume a worst case of 1lb active ingredient in minimal 19L of carrier we wind up with 23g/L or 23mg/ml.
So clearly if one were to completely fill ones gut with sprayed on glyphosate it could well knock out any susceptible bacteria. This however doesn’t seem particularly likely (you’d have issues if you completely filled your gut with anything) particularly when one considers that an acre is equal to 43560 square feet, so per square foot you’re only going to see, maximally, about 0.5ml of spray, or 11.5mg of glyphosate (the bulk of which is going to hit either crop plants or weeds and get bound here, another bunch of which is going to wind up in the soil (where it will likewise bind)
I guess one could perhaps assume 10%, or 1.15mg per square foot, which if consumed all at once might conceivably alter gut biota for a fleeting moment. It strikes me however, that this is simply an exercise in grasping at straws – most of the push I’ve seen in this area is fearmongering around the potential impacts on humans (which given exposure and MICs is negligible) and it strikes me this particular piece is merely a play on that. Again, given the MICs and potential exposure levels and time frames… it strikes me as a complete waste of resources and animal life to investigate for answers which are pretty much guaranteed to be boring at best, even if slight impacts are seen (which I wouldn’t forsee them being)
Relyea’s work used the highest spot spraying rate (equivalent to 64 L/ha) of a formulation that is illegal to use around waterways.
It doesn’t match anything close to normal field applications (typically up to 2L/ha) or indeed formulations that are allowed near waterways.
The effect is entirely due to the surfactant. Putting dish-washing liquid on the skin of amphibians would have the same effect – hence the requirement for biodegradable detergents for dish-washing liquid.
Thanks, that helps me get more perspective on the issue.
It would appear that glyphosate formulations meant to be used in an aquatic environment also include instructions to add surfactants? I may be confused on that, so if anyone can direct me to instructions saying otherwise I’d like to read them.
The problem with glyphosate herbicides and amphibians is: lack of buffers between agricultural (or other) areas and wetlands, overspray, and amphibians migrating at times that correspond with spraying.
Other issues: beneficial insects eating eggs sprayed with the herbicide. (sorry, getting lazy and can’t find the reference)
chouaneur, can you tell us who authored the report?
Isn’t glyphosate’s inhibition of anaerobic nitrogen fixation a concern?
A lot of pesticide applications are done ‘outside’ of the label requirements. How often have ‘tank mixes’ been created and applied as a single application of multiple pesticides when label restrictions were ignored, or when such mixing was not guided and approved by toxicologic assessment. What new toxicants and adverse effects have been created and dispersed across lands and populations? it is so easy to decide to cut costs by one flight of a helicopter rather than two or three flights. Private small landowners often commit such ill-advised practices in close proximity to neighbors and to family. How many cases of chemical trespass have occurred, how many adverse effects have occurred, how many butterfly, bee, frog, fish, and humans have been health compromised?
Why are medical doctors often stymied by not being able to help treat affected people because the sprayed ingredients were withheld as propriatary industrial information… withheld entirely, or delayed to long for effective treatment? The whole system has a lot of ragged edges that lead to many problems… it’s a messy world out there, and a label does not absolve many of those insults suffered. IMHO.
My comments are private opinion, not those of any boards of directors I sit on.
Grasping at straws again Ray? Off label? Do you mean that off label use of vehicles should require banning until more rsearch is done? Folks die in vehicles all the time. Medical DR.s stymied? Pease provide proof.
Eric, I’m not saying that glyphosate should be banned, just used far more wisely when it is needed because alternatives are not available. Is that grasping at straws??? Just seems like logic. Should physicians have access to application records if needed for exposed peoples medical conditon emergencies? I think so! Grasping at straws?? “Please provide Proof” Alright, This past year forestry use pesticide applications resulted in direct spray contamination of adjacent farms, farm animals, and humans. These are high risk application sites. Serious medical problems resulted and veterinarians and physcians were refused access to timely application records to guide emergency treatment. Google: Curry county, OR, herbicide spray issue articles to get a larger picture of the harms done. This was not an isolated event. Grasping at straws? Yes, I guess I am, because the industry does not do it’s due diligent homework and applicators often do not use due diligence either.
Eric, Since you asked… Try Googling: Triangle Lake Oregon, forestry spray investigation, 2014, both the state and federal responses and the media articles of resident harm and data gaps in the investigation. Yes, perhaps that is all ‘grasping at straws’, I guess that people exposed to chemical off site trespass exposures are left on their own to just deal with the resultant adverse effects… yes, that is why we must grasp at straws… however, that does not seem unreasonable given the current pesticide/ societal wellness conflicting paradigm. I guess I’m just a ‘grasper’… shouldn’t you be?
“Grasping at straws again Ray? Off label? Do you mean that off label use of vehicles should require banning until more rsearch is done? Folks die in vehicles all the time.”
Eric, If a vehicle violates laws and commits a hit and run on my family, and the law enforcement knows who did it but refuses to investigate toward preventing such abuse happening to other people, yes, I guess I’d be out there ‘grasping at straws again’, shouldn’t you be?
Peoples’ rights to conduct their business freely should end where another persons rights begin. If corporations have ‘personhood’ and commit such hit and runs, they are sociopaths. These are not ‘straws’ they are foundations of human rights our country says that it is founded on.
If corporations, or drunk drivers, behave in such socially irresponsible ways at times, YES, I think we all should ‘grasp at straws’ until the system becomes better regulated or more personally responsible. As it stands now, such violators are sociopath pests, and they become in need of pest ‘management’.
If you speed and hit someone. It is not the manufacturer’s faullt. It is your fault. If someone uses a pesticide incorrectly. It is not the manufacturers fault. If someone in Oregon working for the gov’t sprays all over the place throw him in jail. Do not advocate restricting my use in Florida. And please quit dreaming up possible disaster scenarios. You will not live in a state of nirvana anytime soon.
The label specifically states that “an aquatic approved surfactant system” should be used in any applications to or near water.
I’m not saying it is all the manufacturer’s fault, but that the whole system needs careful revision and innovative thinking. Obviously there are many severe problems to work at making better… I’ just don’t see a lot of progress but instead a lot of reluctance to be innovative to improve the system in an good timescale. Nirvana, of course not, dreaming up scenarios, of course not… they are real problems for real people. There is ample opportunity to improve the system, and verges on criminal not to.
Way too negative again. We use far safer pest control now than when I first started growing.
Negative, yes.. too negative, no….. we have a lot of work to do, and we are not doing it fast enough. I honor your safety improvement, but there is so much more that does not get improved.
I looked at some labels for Roundup formulations that can be used near water, and I didn’t notice anything about “An aquatic approved surfactant system” – but I’m sure it must be there somewhere (I believe you). I don’t know anything about what surfactants would be safe in that environment – so I’ll take your word that there are safe surfactants for use where amphibians breed and live.
The main problem is the regular formulations ending up where they’re not supposed to be. Or people using the wrong stuff – unaware of the harm. Oh well. Whaddya gonna do? People gotta kill plants. 🙂
Basically states there is only one pre-mixed formulation registered for use near water that being touchdown pro – http://www.lakeandpondsolutions.com/media/34180/touchdown%20pro%20label.pdf
otherwise one purchases glyphosate and surfactant individually and mixes – there are, apparently, numerous aquatic environment suitable surfactants available.
The piece also states that the toxicity of POEA in aquatic environments was known, and thus registration was never pursued for use in same.
To state that the problem is that these formulations are ending up where they shouldn’t be needs some sort of evidence to back it up, as nothing presented thus far establishes anything beyond POEA being harmful to young amphibians in mesocosm experiments.
Another ecotoxicologic ‘straw’ that bothers me: glyphosate is a mild chealator of metals. If Pb is a soil contaminant and gets chealated, can the POEA then fascilitate entry of that glyphosate bound with Pb into the plant, just as it is intended to do for just the glyphosate? Lots of AG soils have lead in them.
No, glyphosate does not inhibit nitrogen fixation. It is an EPSP synthase inhibitor. This enzyme in involved in synthesis of aromatic amino acids. (By the way, animals to not possess this enzyme.) Also, glyphosate has no soil activity because it bind tightly to the soil.
Ray, if Pb gets chelated by glyphosate, the resulting salt will be virtually insoluble. Surfactants won’t make that more soluble. Also, the amount of surfactant in a glyphosate application is very low and most will associate with lipophilic molecules on the soil surface, such as leaf waxes. This is not like the soil wetters that get applied in very large concentrations and volumes to drive them into the soil.
The main role of POEA in facilitating glyphosate absorption is to stop the spray droplets in bouncing off waxy leaves and to aid spreading the droplet, so the glyphosate molecules are closer to the leaf surface and can enter more easily.
Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate
Germany has banned POEA as an ingredient in herbicides.
You might be right, but your logic is lacking. “Weeds didn’t magically control themselves prior to GM crops and then turn nasty.” Prior to Roundup Ready GMOs there was competition for the available weed space. Sure the farming process was creating niche for some species to do well and others not, and so farmers would have to go picking weeds all day every day. With the GMO solution, your killing the weeds and not your crop. Its easy to imagine how well this works the first year, but some weeds that weren’t every able to compete in the past have some natural resistance to the herbicide and now can exploit the newly created niche environment and over a couple of generations, just take over. This is the same reason you have to take your whole prescription of antibiotics or else resistant bacteria develop. Funny how life works, big or small it survives. and our actions play a role in that. Not taking that into account is the reason why scientists can’t have this conversation alone, and other thinking is needed.
Your second point fails to explore other risk assessments. Right now 80% if corn and soy in the world are the exact same seed. Basically clones. Now we have known for a long time that this is a bad idea. Its the reason every country has a seed bank. Its the reason there is a large underground bunker in Antarctica that holds millions of seeds. The current domination of two or three companies and their product actually posses and significantly larger risk of world wide famine than moving toward alternative farming technology.
The final thing I’d like to say is that we need to be honest and admit that science, and chemistry in particular, has a horrible track record of predicting harm when it comes to health and environmental safety. Science have do wonderful things, there is no doubt. But the fact is every single environmental pollutant is the result of the implementation and commercialization of scientific discoveries. The 2% you are talking about is over 300 million tons a year of Glyphosate. Do you really believe that the application of that amount of chemical, year after year. can really be “safe” from a scientific perspective?
The genetically engineered corn and soy crops are not clones of each other. They are genetically distinct varieties, but they may share the same transgenes that were bred into them. Again, the GMO crops out there are not genetically identical.
You are picking at straws here, but I’ll reduce my statement in the interest of an honest discussion. The plants created by GMO companies are genetically less diverse than traditional’s bred seeds. Same risk, same result.
Ewan, your statement from Feb 20th, apparently I missed at the time.
To state that the problem is that these formulations are ending up where they shouldn’t be needs some sort of evidence to back it up, as nothing presented thus far establishes anything beyond POEA being harmful to young amphibians in mesocosm experiments.
You mean to say that you have not followed USGS research data on AG pesticide runoff pollution of waterways??
TopherX, how do you know that they are less genetically diverse? Robb Fraley said during a speech last year that they have been incorporating more genetic diversity into their varieties than ever before. While he did not cite a source for this information, you are also making a positive claim that they are less genetically diverse. They have access to their own genetic data. What is your evidence to support your claim?
TopherX – I work in corn breeding at Monsanto. We release probably 100 new corn hybrids per year into the US market. Pioneer probably does similar. Syngenta somewhat less, but one assumes a still not unreasonable amount.
Traits produced through genetic engineering are introgressed into these, and into other ‘tranitionally’ bred lines. Transgenics and traditional breeding are not mutually exclusive approaches, if they were transgenics would be dead in the water. They are parallel processes which are brought together once success in both areas is likely.
In terms of a transgene it won’t be brought to bear on breeding material until deregulation is a near certainty (ie regulatory approval in major markets) – breeding material will have transgenes introgressed once it begins to look promising (the process of introgression is expensive, but not so expensive as to be prohibitive should a few breeding lines not make it to market)
You lie, utterly, when you suggest that all GMOs are clones – this should, infact, be immediately obvious to anyone familiar with either corn or soy.
In North America corn is grown as far north as Florida and as far south as there is North America. NA is split into relative maturity zones between 75 and 120. This approximates the number of days from planting to grain maturity (actually a measure of the growing degree units required to get there) – this is under genetic control. Multiple different hybrids exist per company per RM zone – this categorically could not be achieved if all GMOs were clones of each other, they’d have the same genetics, and would mature similarly (so either all the corn in the south would mature before summer even hits, or all the corn in the North would never flower).
Nobody is grasping at straws here, you’re flat out 100% wrong, both in terms of the clonal nature of GMOs, and in terms of the genetic diversity.
There have been risk assessment studies of agricultural practices for decades, and you are welcome to go look them up. Lack of genetic diversity in modern agriculture is not a new concern. What has changed is that 80% of the world are now using seed from 2 or 3 companies. Furthermore allowing broad genetic diversity undermines nature of the product that Monsanto and others are trying to sell. It is in their interest to ensure that the plants perform as advertised and allowing genetic diversity would challenge the claims made about their product. If its a frivolous concern its on the seed sellers to prove that, I don’t think you should just be taking their word for it especially since they have been caught in a number of lies to regulators.
Ok fair enough. But do you think adding 100 new strains a year is as diverse as farmers keeping their seed year after year mixing genes on a local basis, letting the genetic diversity develop in a more natural way? You are putting your 100 new strains up against millions of individually and historically developed strains. Sorry, I don’t see that as being on par.
If you have some pertinent data that I ignored please supply a link.
Hybrids have been deployed since the 30’s, the problem you’re focusing on is the specialization of breeding, not GMOs.
The system works better – will there be lower diversity? Probably yes, but this comes with the bonus of improved performance. Farmers aren’t going to willingly sacrifice performance just for increased diversity (which is only useful to a certain point anyway) nor should they be expected to.
suggests that even as far back as 1917 there were common varieties used across wide geographies. Apparently going to a time where farmers save seed in the manner you’re talking about requires one to basically enter the 1800’s (or early 1900’s minimally, where corn yields were in what, the 20-40Bu/Ac range? Which is like 10% of yield in the current system.
“There have been risk assessment studies of agricultural practices for decades, and you are welcome to go look them up.”
This tells me that you do not have a citation to support your claims.
” What has changed is that 80% of the world are now using seed from 2 or 3 companies.”
Not 2 or 3 varieties. See Ewan’s comment about genetic diversity in those varieties.
” It is in their interest to ensure that the plants perform as advertised and allowing genetic diversity would challenge the claims made about their product.”
Phenotypic diversity is to be avoided in farmers fields. This may include eliminating genetic diversity. Although if you think about it, the introduction of “Refuge in a bag” is actually putting some genetic diversity in the field again, while maintaining phenotypic diversity. Note that having one field being genetically uniform does not say anything about a neighbor’s field needing to be genetically identical. That is the claim that you are making and talking about diversity within a field is a different issue.
You have demonstrated that you do not know what you are talking about here. Calling other people liars does not rescue you from the problem of making false claims yourself and not being willing to correct your own errors.
First, I’m not here to do academic research for you, and even if I were, there is so much bogus info out there on both sides that you no doubt would discount anything I put forward. But of course you know that or you’d provide sources of your own, which you haven’t. Second, nothing in you or Ewan’s comments substantially contradict the thesis I have put forward. Picking on one small aspect of someone’s statement while ignoring the crux of their idea, is an age old technique of someone who knows their argument is weak. Its not a trap I’m interesting in falling into today.
TopherX, I keep hearing this claim about loss of biodiversity as an argument against GMO crops. But I don’t know how to take it seriously.
Can we agree about what biodiversity means? My first proposal would be that within any species, the number of different genes is the biodiversity. But GMO breeders introduce new genes that have never before been in the species gene pool, which, at least at the beginning, is an increase in biodiversity, not a decrease.
In order to turn this increase into a decrease, we have to posit that some of the newer varieties are so much better than most of the older varieties that farmers, en masse, abandon old varieties and that removes from the gene pool of the species any genes which were found only in the abandoned varieties. It is conceivable that this could happen, although I doubt that it does. But if it happens, it is because the newer varieties are better, not because they are GMO. You could make exactly the same argument against any new crop variety which represents an improvement over existing varieties, with the result that you would have to oppose all improvements in every crop species. I am guessing that you would find it uncomfortable to go that far.
But also, you seem to be assuming that each new transgenic variety is unique and uniquely preferred. In fact, once a scientist has introduced a new trait (gene) into a plant, that plant is crossed, conventionally, into numerous existing varieties. After all, a corn variety that does well in the south is likely not be the best choice for the far west, and a corn variety for early planting is not likely to be best for late planting, etc., etc. So all GMO corn is not identical. I don’t have the data on this, but the seed catalogs seem to be getting fatter, not thinner, each year. There are more varieties to choose from than there were before.
Finally, there is such a thing as a seed bank. Breeders, taken as a whole, see value in maintaining at least the potential biodiversity of a crop.
Nothing contradicts what you have put forward?
One of your arguments hinged on a complete fallacy. So what we have put forward absolutely contradicts a good third of what you put forward. This doesn’t invalidate anything else you said, true, but to make the claim that nothing has been substantially contradicted is pure hogwash.
To move on to examine your claims…
Prior to Roundup Ready GMOs…. farmers used other herbicides. Weed control was still achieved, it was just more spotty and harder work. Resistances to weed control techniques arise, this is known. http://weedscience.org/ has information on this. Documented herbicide resistance started occuring in 1975, fully 20 years before the adoption of GM crops. Your viewpoint is substantially contradicted due to being, essentially, a fantastical hodge podge of made up reality.
Now, we’ve already covered that your clonal bit is totally off the mark, so that is substantially contradicted.
Because all Xs are caused by Ys does not mean that all Ys cause Xs. #notallscientificdiscoveries.
No, the 2% I am talking about, if you read the post you’re responding to… is ~6 million people. So… we can call that substantially contradicted as for some reason you are under the impression that 2% of the population is somehow equivalent to 300 million tonnes of anything.
At 300 million tonnes a year, infact, we could apply 3200oz per acre on all arable land on the entire planet. Which seems, to me at least, a tad excessive. It’s almost like you’re using entirely the wrong unit of measurement there. 300 million pounds seems far more likely (given that US usage in 2007 was in the 180-185million pound range), which is 136,000 tonnes, but hey, you’re only 3 orders of magnitude out, which is akin to confusing a newborn baby to a crowd of 50 people.
Perhaps there is something in your statement left to contradict, I don’t see it, but perhaps you could redact everything that has been shot down and, without invented numbers, blatant mistruths etc actually make a point worth considering – if one exists within the original post we’re rebutting here it is so deeply buried in mire that it is simply unrecognizable.
Thank you, your response is way more grounded in rationality and logic than the post I was responding to or the ones that I received after. I also pointed to the seed banks as a saving grace on this situation should the worst case risk assessment come true. Unfortunately that won’t save us right away, and famine is still likely which is the point I was attempting to put forward.
You are absolutely right that the terms are used and abused by both sides in an effort to force their point. Another reason scientists shouldn’t believe that this conversation is for them alone.
The only point I’m not overly convinced of is when you assume that the GMO varieties are supplanting traditional varieties because they are “better”. There are many economic and political factors at play that may supersede consideration of quality, environmental impact, health effects, etc. Furthermore most of the claims made by the industry don’t seem to be playing out in the field. But of course a case by case analysis of those claim would be required, which isn’t something we can fully explore here.
Ewan, Just Google ‘pesticide contamination of US agricultural streams, USGS’ explore to your hearts content. Never been there before I take it?
No Ray, that’s too much information to go digging through for something you are claiming exists. Show me the pertinent data which establishes that POEA is ending up in waterways in concentrations which would be expected to have an effect based off of microcosm studies. Going through the first 5 links on google, and the first 5 on google scholar shows nothing. Given that the mobility of POEA in soil is <2%
and the EPA statement embedded here
You're insinuating that the formulations (not glyphosate, but the specific formulation with POEA which is not registered for use in aquatic environments) are getting into waterways, and then givng a terribly handwavy evidence sparse response that evidence exists to support your stance. Piss or get off the pot.
More on glyphosate’s environmental effects:
Glyphosate herbicide affects belowground interactions between earthworms and symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi in a model ecosystem
Glyphosate applications on arable fields considerably coincide with migrating amphibians
I wonder if tillage would effect migrating amphibians or earthworms?!
In an online interview with a doctor (chiropractor…) about the evils of glyphosate, Stephanie Seneff stated: “You wonder, if you were smoking organic tobacco, it might not be so bad for you…”
For some reason she thinks tobacco is sprayed with glyphosate.
So there we have it—a chiropractor posing questions about a herbicide to a computer scientist.
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