Archive for April, 2013
According to Reuters News, a report released out of MIT suggests that heavy use of the world’s most popular herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.
The peer-reviewed report, published last week, said evidence indicates that residues of “glyphosate,” the chief ingredient in Roundup weed killer, which is sprayed over millions of acres of crops, has been found in food.
Many Americans are more familiar with RoundUp than we realize. It is a weed killer, used on lawns and gardens, with precautionary measures taken by parents to keep it locked in cabinets and out of the reach of children. What most Americans don’t realize is that this chemical is routinely used on the foods we eat, most notably corn and soy.
It is now so widely used in modern agriculture that a recent article about glyphosate, the chief ingredient found in RoundUp, from the global news organization, Reuters, highlighted that these chemicals are part of an enormous market, with world annual sales totaling $14 billion, with more than $5 billion of that spent in the US alone.
But what are they doing to us? Especially given their pervasive use on the foods we eat?
Well, MIT aimed to find out.
According to the report, authored by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the research suggests that the RoundUp residue now found on our food enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease,
Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study says.
We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Seneff said.
MIT is not alone in their concern.
In the mid 1990s, using a new technology, our soy was genetically engineered with new organisms to make it able to withstand increasing doses of weed killer, chemicals and glyphosate. The business model makes perfect sense. It enhances profitability of the chemical companies by enabling the increased sale of their chemical treatments and weed killers.
But according to the work of Professor Miguel A. Altieri of the University of California, Berkeley who had looked into unforeseen risks that might be associated with genetically engineered crops and these chemicals being sprayed on them:
“Exactly how much glyphosate is present in the seeds of corn or soybeans (genetically engineered to withstand this chemical) is not known, as grain products are not included in conventional market surveys for pesticide residues. The fact that this and other herbicides are known to accumulate in fruits…raises questions about food safety, especially now that million pounds of this herbicide, ($5 billion worth) are used annually in the United States alone. Even in the absence of immediate (acute) effects, it might take 40 years for a potential carcinogen to act in enough people for it to be detected as a cause. Moreover, research has shown that glyphosate seems to act in a similar fashion to antibiotics by altering soil biology rendering bean plants more vulnerable to disease”.
In other words, it might take a generation for these effects to show up. In light of the escalating rates of infertility, pediatric cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases, it begs the question: since the introduction of this new technology in the 1990s, is that happening now?
So why are we using a chemical that is too dangerous to store under our kitchen sinks in the reach of children on the foods we feed our families?
Monsanto is the developer of both Roundup weed killer (an “herbicide”) and a suite of crops that are genetically altered to withstand being sprayed with it. These genetically engineered crops, introduced into our food in the 1990s and 2000s, have the unique ability to withstand increasing doses of the weed killer and are known as “RoundUp Ready”. In other words, it helps them sell more chemicals.
Since the introduction of these genetically engineered crops, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data reveals that between 2001- and 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers, double the amount used six years ago.
So in the past, where we may have been getting a sprinkling of this chemical on our food crops prior to the introduction of RoundUp Ready crops, with the recent introduction of genetically engineered foods, designed to withstand this signature product, the doses are at unprecedented levels.
So what is this product doing to us?
Glyphosate, found in RoundUp, is the world’s most popular herbicide and is designed to kill pests and insects, anything but the genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” plants, such as genetically engineered corn, soy, beet, cottonseed and canola.
These genetically engineered crops , including genetically engineered corn, genetically engineered soybeans, genetically engineered canola and genetically engineered sugarbeets, are planted on millions of acres in the United States annually and widely and generously in the US food supply, particularly processed foods, without labels.
When these crops were first introduced in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was conjectured that farmers would like them because they could spray Roundup weed killer directly on the crops to kill weeds in the fields without harming the crops. And they did. But about three planting cycles in, it appears that Mother Nature has Monsanto figured out and it is now reported that over half of the farmers using these products are experiencing a resistance to the chemical company’s signature product and suffering from what are known as “superweeds” in their fields.
It was not only the unknown impact of environmental and crop disruption that caused countries around the world to exercise precaution around the use of these chemicals, it was also the uncertainty of the long-term impact that these crops and the chemical products applied to them would have on both the environment, soil, a developing fetus or human health that resulted in their use being banned in 27 countries around the world and labeled in 64 more.
In light of the study out of MIT, this precautionary measure seems well-founded, as with the approval of every new RoundUp Ready crop, there is a 2-5 times increase in the amount of glyphosate that is applied.
And while that may help drive profitability for the chemical industry, there are social costs: lost yields in food production and any health care costs that may be associated with the harm that these chemicals might cause.
The authors of the MIT report are concerned that RoundUp, for which these genetically engineered crops are named, and the chemical used in it, glyphosate, are contributing to diseases as far-ranging as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, infertility, cystic fibrosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, going so far as to suggest that it “…may be the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.”
According to Green Med:
“The researchers identified the inhibition and/or disruption of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes as a hitherto overlooked mechanism of toxicity associated with glyphosate exposure in mammals.
CYP enzymes are essential for detoxifying xenobiotic chemicals from the body. Glyphosate therefore enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. The researchers also showed how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria (e.g. tryptophan), as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport, a critical biological system for cellular detoxification (e.g. transulfuration pathway which detoxifies metals).”
In working with plant biologists, I have learned that glyphosate kills weeds by turning off key enzymes that produce defense mechanisms for plants. It essentially targets and destroys their immune systems by chelating, stripping, micronutrients like magnesium, copper and zinc from the plant. As a result, there are fewer of these key micronutrients in the plants and in our food supply.
This effect, according to the researchers, can contribute to causing or worsening “…most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this. It picks up on a previous Reuter’s article that was titled “Cancer Cause or Crop Aid?”
In Canada, the Canadian tolerable levels for glyphosate are 58 times lower that those in the US and that European tolerance levels are even lower as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable subsets of the population, like pregnant women and children. Plant biologists share that the levels of glyphosate now found in the US food supply have been clinically shown to be toxic, citing its effects on human placental, kidney, liver and testicular cells.
So what will it take to address this in the United States? The EPA has promised to look into it in 2015. But that’s two years of babies being born and two more years of escalating pediatric cancer rates in the US. We already spend more on health care costs and disease management than any other country on the planet, according the the Office of Economic Co-operation and Development.
Unlike previous researchers, this is not a report from an anti-GMO activist, nor is it a report from the organic industry, this is a scientific research paper from one of our nation’s leading academic institutions led by a woman who is courageously highlighting that the potential toxicity of one of the world’s most widely used chemicals on our food supply is far greater than was previously considered.
Scientists and researchers who have spoken out on the dangers of these products are often attacked. This situation is no different, as Monsanto’s website in a “Featured Article: goes so far as to call MIT’s research “Another Bogus ‘Study.’”
We still do not label genetically engineered foods in the United States, foods that have literally been given this product’s name and are hardwired to withstand increasing doses of it, foods that were introduced as recently as the late 1990s and early 2000s into our food supply.
If the jury is still out on them, as evidenced by the MIT study, shouldn’t we at the very least be labeling them?
In light of the escalating rates of pediatric cancers, autism and other conditions impacting our children, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending a new policy, too, as seen on their website which states:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that chemical management policy in the United States be revised to protect children and pregnant women and to better protect other populations.”
The reasons for this concern are not unfounded. The American children have earned the title of “Generation Rx.” The Centers for Disease Control now reports that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15. And oncologists and leading experts in the field of cancer are calling for new treatment models, worried that the increasing costs of cancer is going to put an unprecedented strain on our health care system.
So what is a parent to do?
According to Investor Place, an investment research site that tracks the stock price of Monsanto and the impact that news like this would have on its share price, “a spokesman for Monsanto says that glyphosate is a proven safe ingredient and is less damaging than other widely used chemicals.”
It must be how our grandmothers felt when told that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer either.
While this type of corporate marketing and positioning may be in the best interest of shareholders, industry funded research often merits further independent investigation.
The question of labeling genetically engineered foods is not just an academic debate, it is increasingly an ethical one. And while the industry will claim that this is a concern afforded to the wealthy, that these crops are needed to feed the world, mounting scientific evidence is proving that with no long term human health data, other than what we are witnessing ourselves in the health of the American children, labels represent a precautionary measure, afforded to parents in 64 countries around the world who are able to walk into a grocery store and choose if they want to feed their children foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
As evidence and controversy grows, highlighting the toxicity of these products increasingly used on our food supply in the US, labels afford American eaters the same rights afforded to eaters around the world. Cancer doesn’t care what side of the aisle we are on or what our income is, and the costs of diseases being born by our families, our corporations and our economy have the potential to destroy our competitiveness in the global marketplace.
A label and the knowledge that comes with it would go a long way to protecting the health of our country.
Learn how you can protect the health of your children and family from genetically engineered products and the chemicals upon which they are dependent to grow at www.justlabelit.org and at The Pesticide Action Network.
Resource: Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy. 2013; 15(4):1416-1463.
Written by Robyn O’Brien after visiting farmers in Iowa in August 2010.
Had someone told me four years ago that I’d be standing tractor-side, appealing to farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soybeans for their support on the cornfields of Iowa, I’d have thought they were nuts. But there I stood in August in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa for aTractor Ride for Tots.
The event had been the brainchild of a big-hearted farmer named Scott McAllister. Scott, a fourth generation farmer, had reached out after learning about my work. He wanted to show me the farms.
So there we stood on a humid August day – Scott, farmers and tractors- ready to kick off our 50 mile tractor ride across the small towns of Iowa, and I had no idea what to expect. As Scott introduced me to the farmers, they smiled in amusement eager to get out on their tractors (reminding me more of my boys on their bikes than the agricultural giants I’d been a bit fearful of meeting).
And as I spoke about how 1 in 3 children now has autism, ADHD, allergies or asthma, they nodded in agreement as they’d seen the TV commercials on their local stations that spoke of how pervasive autism had become in military families, now affecting 1 in 88 children and knew what was happening to their grandchildren. They then introduced themselves and we set out on our tractor ride.
It was pretty quiet.
As the day wore on, so did the stories. A man named Mark shared tales about his high school reunion, while “Pa” shared stories about his grandson. And one they called “Beauford” spoke of their stewardship of the land learned at their grandfathers’ knees, record harvests and record rainfalls (and told a funny tale about how his wife moved out on him). They shared stories about lost crops, lost livestock and lost loved ones. They were sincere and authentic, proud and humble, and dedicated to their trade in ways seldom seen in today’s culture. As fourth and fifth generation farmers, their legacies were deep and their commitment strong.
Yet at the same time, as they spoke about the recent changes in agriculture and its new costs structures, there was an ambiguity. With trait fees, licensing fees and technology fees now required of farmers, this wasn’t the same business model that their grandfathers had built, and they knew it, with numbered lot signs and logos down the sides of their fields. As we discussed the privatization and patenting of agriculture and the impact it was having on their business, one of them shared, “The toes they step on today will be the tush they’ll be kissing tomorrow.” As they had witnessed firsthand the impact that this new cost structure had on debt loads and declining income levels and spoke candidly about monopolistic practices and predatory pricing.
And as we road from town to town, they laughed about their lives and livelihoods being in the hands of Mother Nature, saying “It either makes you religious or alcoholic,” as all of them chuckled. And having seen billboards juxtaposed against each other on the side of the Iowa highway, I had seen what they were saying and couldn’t help but listen.
I asked about their friend, Tom Vilsack, who now serves as the Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, and they shared stories about how he’d lived in their friend, Jimmy’s, childhood home, as well as his unusual political beginnings, quickly rising to Mayor, when a gunman shot and killed Mt. Pleasant’s mayor. And I listened as they shared their stories, shared their lives and shared their passion for farming.
And as the day came to a close, a farmer named John asked, “Did you see that lady with the white hair back there?”
“Yes. She smiled and waved and was so pretty,” I said.
“Well you see, you see…..that…well….she’s my wife. And, and, and…..” And as I looked into the face of this farmer, his eyes welled with tears, and my heart hurt, and I asked, “Is she sick?” And he nodded. Cancer. Twice.
And as the tractors were put away, we said our good-byes, reflecting on new dialogues, new knowledge and new friendships. And we knew that we were all in this together.
And while none of us could do everything, we also knew that all of us could do one thing. And sometimes that one thing is simply taking the time to listen. Really listen. Because if you do, you may realize that there is far more that unites us than divides us, as our hearts beat in unison for the love of our families.
Since the original posting of this article, Big John’s wife died of cancer. She was beautiful, and it was an honor to meet her
Dr Bob: Welcome to my series of blogs that will continue to be written until someone at the Centers for Disease Control and PREVENTION gets on the ball and says “Yes, we have an autism epidemic! We are now very concerned and will do something about it.”
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics just released a study entitled “Changes in Prevalence of Parent-Reported Autism Spectrum Disorder in School-aged U.S. Children: 2007 to 2011-2012.” (1) Their findings: 1 in 50 children ages 6-17 have autism.
I will ask again: Why is nobody alarmed? Why is nobody at the CDC issuing a press release saying, “Parents, we hear you, we are just as concerned as you are. We now realize there is an epidemic that continues to worsen year after year and we are dedicated to determining the cause.”
Here is why – you can read it in the conclusion of the study: “much of the prevalence increase from 2007 [which was 1 in 86 school-age children] to 2011-2012 [1 in 50 children] was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized ASD.”
Translation: “Don’t worry. Sure, autism is common, but it’s no more common now than it used to be, so there’s no need to panic.”
Well, I’ll tell you that as a pediatrician and a parent, I am in a panic. Partly because I continue to see patients in my own office develop autism at an alarming rate. Partly because I continue to see the children of friends and relatives develop autism spectrum disorders. On a very personal level, my own older children who are now 17 and 20, will probably start having kids of their own soon, and I can’t yet tell them what causes autism and how to completely prevent it. Back when my kids were young, I thought we would surely get to the bottom of this before they would be grown up and start having kids of their own. Well, now we are here, and we still aren’t getting any closer to an answer. Why? “Because there isn’t an epidemic.”
If I told you, “Hey – there’s a new infectious disease that will strike 2% of all children that will significantly impair them for their entire life,” wouldn’t you expect the CDC to jump all over this and get to the bottom of it quickly? If we have a sudden epidemic, the CDC jumps all over it to avoid a panic. The swine flu comes to mind. But if there’s a disease that is very slowly making its way through our population with only a very gradual, but questionable increase, then there’s no reason to panic. We’ll get to the bottom of it someday. That’s how I think the CDC is looking at this. They certainly want to help. They are good people who do good work. I know they’ll find the answer some day. But they are trying to portray autism as something that has always been around and is barely increasing. They don’t want parents to panic. They don’t want people to stop having children. They don’t want people to start making up reasons why autism is increasing. They don’t want parents to look for answers on their own.
The problem with this approach is that it leaves the million or more children with autism and their families out in the cold, feeling alone,like victims of an epidemic that no one will admit is happening. And it means that another million children will develop autism over the next ten years.
Back in medical school, I rarely heard the word autism. Now, not a day goes by without autism being discussed in my practice. We must have answers now. We need to have this epidemic acknowledged by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. We need to know why autism is happening, and how to more effectively treat it and help children recover. We are doing fairly well at this for some kids. We do bring some children to recovery, but not enough. For every child that does recover, several more are being diagnosed to take his or her place.
We need to be concerned. We need to act with a sense of urgency. We have to care more about autism and do something about it. Parents and the future generation of children are counting on us. And I will keep raising concern in hopes that someday this message will be heard and action will be taken.
Dr. Bob Sears
TACA Physician Advisory Member
Pediatrician and author of The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery and Prevention
For more information about Dr. Bob, please see www.askdrsears.com