A segway into glyphosate and engineered plants for food

I am someone who grew up in a farming family from the Midwestern part of the US.  For me, it was times two.  Both grandfathers operated commercial farms.  One of these eventually closed up when I was in middle school while the other still exists today.  However, my paternal grandfather’s story was a bit of an interesting one.

In late middle school, we were given an assignment to interview someone living during World War II.  I interviewed him.  Little had I known that he hadn’t gone to war.  He was, in fact, in chemistry for the Department of Agriculture and it was determined that his work was relevant enough to avoid the draft.  He later left due to a disconnect with some of what that they were doing.  It wasn’t until many years later that I came to further understand the significance of this.

I wish I could tell my late grandfather that it got better.  Unfortunately, we have a silent war occurring over chemical based applications in farming and glyphosate (a predominant agent in Round Up) is one of the most controversial headliners involved.  The US is one of the battle grounds.

It is no doubt that even adding a post of this nature will raise some eye brows.  However, despite this, I feel it is imperative to provide information that may be relevant to health.

Recently, I attended a community sponsored presentation delivered in a “state of” format.  The lead presenter, a retired chemist who worked on genetic engineering of food, began following literature centered on glyphosate and engineered foods post-career.  As a result, he became concerned and shifted into information based advocacy.  This blog post synthesizes what was provided.

The History

Glyphosate, a molecule, is one of the most successful chemicals in terms of global distribution.  It was developed and patented in the early 1970’s, then formulated as the herbicide “Round Up” in 1974.  Later, it was patented as an antibiotic.  (Remember this fact as it will come up again).

Initially it served to be a weeding agent which could reduce time and costs related to plowing fields.  In theory this could impact yield, but concrete and clear, non-biased* data suggesting benefit to yield may not be available.

Over time, additional applications of the substrate have emerged.  This includes topical applications to GMO (genetically modified organisms) and a process called “chemical ripening” which includes another spray application just before harvest.  The intent of chemical ripening is to even out the harvest across the land.

…Are you counting?

This is now three layers onto the soil in which the plants grow and, if the plants are GMO, one layer directly on to plants themselves (in which you may consume).

In countries such as the US, we have also observed a shift in the approved MRL (maximum residue limits), ie the trace amount of the pesticide legally allowed to be left over from the application.  At this point in time, more residue is allowed to remain on the food or feed as compared to years past.  The presentation did not address if there is a MRL for the soil in which the plants are grown.

…That’s right, you are now legally allowed to be exposed to more in the US.

It is also used “everywhere”.  Beyond farms, there is distribution direct to consumers for around homes, landscape applications, and other commercial ones such as along train routes and highways.

To not be exposed at all to this agent in industrialized countries such as the US would be literally impossible.

Professionally, I can tell you that we have only recently started taking “collective burden” seriously for exposures to chemical agents across the board vs LOAEL’s and NOAEL’s** on a per substrate basis.  Dr’s  Walter Crinnion and Joseph Pizzorno are two leading environmental medicine professionals who can share a wealth of information covering this topic.

What is Controversial?

As I would hope readers will understand, a commercialized chemical agent with this large of market share will have its share of study data, some of which will be funded for and directed by the company of manufacturer (it is likely you have heard of them…), while others will be independent in nature, ie external to the company of manufacture.

Although not an absolute safe guard against biases, independent, peer reviewed studies are considered gold standard.  Funding sources for external studies can vary.  There may be incentives for findings in industrial studies, but this will not be the case for university based trials.

Some findings in non-company funded and directed research has raised cause for concern.  Including, but not limited to (note, support and level of significance for each of the bullets below varies based upon the area of research);

  • animal studies suggesting vulnerability from exposure to the chemical
  • mitochondrial damage (remember, mitochondria are bacteria)
  • association to inflammation and gut lining permeability in humans (two precursors for chronic disease, particularly those related to immune dysfunction)
  • potential link to adverse cellular health and DNA damage (studies have suggested that glyphosate can enter cells in replace of an amino acid glycine, but, if so, will not fold correctly)
  • accumulation in proteins, such as animal and human milk
  • observation of “super weeds” that are resistant to glyphosate

Research reflecting possible adverse effect from current applications of glyphosate has piqued interest on a global level.  As it stands, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a call for concern.  In the US, the EPA has not reissued the WHO’s call (to date).  From a historical perspective, this is NOT common.

Dr. Zach Bush is one provider who maintains various information related to health concerns and pesticide exposure.

Other Cause for Concern

Although slightly outside of the scope of this presentation, countries such as the US have very high rates of obesity and chronic conditions associated to being over weight or obese.  Concern for the over consumption of refined and processed food choices providing limited to no quality nutritional value is high.  Many of these processed foods represent applications of widely produced GMO crops such as soy, corn, and rapeseed that makes canola oil.  As mentioned above, these foods are not only being refined and processed, they are the ones directly sprayed with herbicides in commercial farming.

Why a Community Presentation?

Local communities have little to no authority to regulation pesticides, yet some communities would like to do more.  Some policy driven organizations have formed and will vary by the local level.  National agencies do also exist.

In Closing

Product selection, including food, is one way to reduce risk and provide some level of a consumer voice (via purchasing decisions).  GMO based crops are herbicide resistant by design.  This includes soy, corn, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, sorghum and cotton.  These crops are sprayed directly as plants and.  Chemical ripening is popular in grain, seed, and legume based crops.  Therefore, these plant sources for food and consumer products may have the highest application frequency.

A few other resources are listed below.

Typically I allow comments on posts.  Due to the offensive nature some take towards anyone who presents any sort of information related to this specific topic, I have turned comments off.  As I said, there is a silent war.  I believe it is a sad and disturbing one.

Other resources

Research publications

Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Travert, C. & Seralini, G.E. (2012, Mar).  A Glyphosate-based Herbicide Induces Necrosis and Apoptosis in Mature Rat Testicular Cells In Vitro, and Testosterone Decrease at Lower Levels.  Toxicology In Vitro, 26(2), 269-279.

Gasnier, C., et al. (2009, Aug 21).  Glyphosate-based Herbicides are Toxic and Endocrine Disruptors in Human Cell Lines.  Toxicology, 263(9), 184-191.

Kruger, M., et al. (2014).  Detection of Glyphosate Residues in Animals and Humans.  Environmental and Analytical Toxicology, 4(2).

Larsen, K., Najle, R., Lifschitz, A. & Virkel, G. (2012, Nov).  Effects of Sub-lethal Exposure of Rats to the Herbicide Glyphosate in Drinking Water: Glutathione Transferase Enzyme Activities, Levels of Reduced Glutathione and Lipid Peroxidation in Liver, Kidneys and Small Intestine.  Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, 34(3), 811-818.

Samsell, A. & Seneff, S. (2013, Dec).  Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II: Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance.  Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 6(4), 159-184.

Samsell, A. & Seneff, S. (2013, Apr 18).  Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases.  Entropy, 15, 1416-1463.

Swanson, N.L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J. & Wallet, B. (2014).  Genetically Engineered Crops, Glyphosate and the Deterioration of Health in the United States of America.  Journal of Organic Systems 9(2).


*Non-biased is a descriptive term commonly used in reference to scientific information.  Essentially in any form of scientific presentation (published studies, information used in white papers, citations used in verbal/visual presentations, etc), peer-reviewed, independent studies are considered the standard for "non-bias".  Some bias may still exist in how the information is presented or how the study was conducted.  Despite a scientific preference for peer-reviewed and independent, studies funded by companies, that are also self-directed and reviewed, can be published.  Some journal standards do exist, but there are many publications and media sources to date.  Academic based research institutions and the researchers involved are not compensated with incentives related to research outcomes in the same way as they could be if private industry is their workplace and/or setting of research.  Disclosure of this information is suppose to be indicated when it is published (see... ).

**LOAEL and NOAEL refer to Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level and No Observed Adverse Effect Level.  These scientific standards are used in assessing safety and approving various products that may be produced for commercial reasons.