Last year while driving across the country, I made a slight detour northward to visit the city of Moscow, Idaho. I met up with Professor Shelley McGuire at Washington State University and two other members of her team, Kimberly Lackey and Bill Price, who together published the study that showed that breast milk did not contain glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. It was a simple and scientifically straight-forward series of experiments, and was confirmed by a separate research team in Germany. Scientifically this was uncontroversial, but Dr. McGuire’s team became embroiled in controversy because some organizations found it inconvenient for their political campaigns against the chemical.
Organizations like Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse attacked her reputation and her research, while USRTK submitted records requests for all her correspondence. This study was so important that they gave her both barrels. Meanwhile, she was open, patient, and wanted to answer people’s questions. Followers of these organizations even got upset when their moderators deleted her civil answers to their questions. It became apparent that they didn’t even want their followers to learn from this study.
At the height of it all, Shelley received a harassing postcard. With a combination of bad photoshop skills and maximum creepiness, someone sought to harass her by snail mail. We know of only one other scientist who has received such an illuminating treatise on productive dialog – me*. The Boston postal artisan even wrote “Thanks for the support” in German, giving it an original charm it desperately needed. When people lash out at scientists with such hateful, tasteless, confused artifacts, it means that they are revealing parts of the universe that are dangerous to their identity.
In Moscow, we sat down and had a great chat about the study, its methods, interpretations, funding, and public reactions. I also described my visit to Covance in Madison, WI, which is the company that did some of the glyphosate detection experiments. I learned that conflicts of interest are not always what they seem. Dr. McGuire’s research was thorough, confirmed, and influential for public policy – everything that the organizations who attacked her were not. This contrast was also explained in Food Evolution (see my review here), which you should see if you haven’t yet done so.
In all these serious considerations of glyphosate, breast milk, science and conflict, we found some good opportunities to laugh. Give it a watch, and tell us what you think! After all, no subject is too heavy to grab a refreshing drink, sink into a comfy couch and have a nice evening chat.
McGuire, MK et al. Glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid are not detectable in human milk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 May;103(5):1285-90. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.126854
“Our data provide evidence that glyphosate and AMPA are not detectable in milk produced by women living in this region of the US Pacific Northwest. By extension, our results therefore suggest that dietary glyphosate exposure is not a health concern for breastfed infants.”
*After publishing this article, several other individuals have come forward and reported to have also received a version of the skull-and-crossbones postcard. Mary Mangan published a Storify cataloguing them as they come forward.