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Deterioration of Public Health Parallels Increase in GM Crops and Glyphosate Use

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Marked Deterioration of Public Health Parallels Increase in GM Crops and Glyphosate Use, US Government Data Show

The steep rise in incidence of 22 chronic diseases in the US correlates strongly with the increase in GM crops and the application of glyphosate-based herbicides

Institute of Science in Society      Prof Peter Saunders   Dec. 10, 2014

Ample evidence of glyphosate toxicity already exists

Despite what the manufacturers say, there is ample evidence to show that glyphosate, the active ingredient of Monsanto’s Roundup, Syngenta’s Touchdown, Dow’s Durango and many other herbicides, is highly toxic and a serious hazard to human and animal health. There is documentation of miscarriages, birth defects, carcinogenesis, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, neurotoxicity, and toxicity to liver and kidney at levels well below recommended agricultural use (See, for example, first Chapter of [1] Ban GMOS Now , ISIS special report, [2]  Glyphosate and Cancer, SiS 62). Several countries, among them Denmark, The Netherlands, France, El Salvador and Sri Lanka have recognised the dangers imposed total or partial bans on the use of glyphosate, though the ban in Sri Lanka was lifted under pressure from the manufacturers (Sri Lanka Partially Bans Glyphosate for Deadly Kidney Disease Epidemic  [3]) .

Other countries, especially those with large chemical and biotech industries and/or a major commitment to industrial farming, take a totally different view. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently increased the permitted tolerance levels for glyphosate residues in food. The European Food Safe Agency (EFSA) has recommended the re-approval of glyphosate for use in Europe with an increase in acceptable daily intake (ADI) from 0.3 to 0.5 mg per kg body weight. It is not surprising that EFSA reached this decision; the review was in fact carried out by a ‘Glyphosate Task Force’ (GTF) made up of a consortium of chemical companies including Monsanto, and based its conclusions largely on reports submitted by the manufacturers (Scandal of Glyphosate Re-assessment in Europe [4]).

The industry does its best to keep evidence of glyphosate toxicity out of the public’s view and the public record. The recent improper unilateral retraction of a published paper by Séralini and his group ([5],  Support Séralini Team for New GMO and Pesticide Risk Research [6], Retracting Séralini Study Violates Science and Ethics [7] ) is a case in point.  It followed the appointment by the journal of a former Monsanto employee to a newly created editorial post. Unusually, it was done in the open. We know of other cases that were not made so public, and possibly many more that we have not even heard about.

That’s not all. Confidential papers obtained from the US EPA by Moms Across America under the Freedom of Information Act contain studies carried out by industry showing that glyphosate is lethal to shrimps, fish, oysters and canaries after 96 hours, and at concentrations of <1 to hundreds of parts per million (ppm), to which humans are routinely exposed [8].

Millions of Americans are said to have been eating GM food with no ill effects

The argument that the  industry relies on most heavily is that for fifteen or more years, millions of Americans have been eating GM food, or food that have been sprayed with glyphosate, or both, and they have not been harmed; and this surely proves beyond doubt that neither GMOs nor glyphosate are hazardous to health [9]. This is obviously a totally unscientific statement; because there has been no GM labelling in the US, it is impossible to tell how much GM food anyone has eaten. Nevertheless, physicist and former scientific adviser to the US Navy Nancy Swanson realised that it is possible to examine the health status of the nation before and after the introduction of GM food and the sharp increase in glyphosate herbicides that went with it. What she and her colleagues found was devastating.

Over the past fifteen or twenty years there has been a large increase in the number of Americans suffering from a whole range of chronic diseases. This is the same period over which there has been a very large increase both in GM crops and in the use of glyphosate-based herbicides [10]. The team have made use of the best available government data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the incidence of diseases, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for GM crops grown and glyphosate herbicide used.

Because there are records for each year, it is possible to compare how both GMOs and glyphosate on the one hand and the various diseases on the other have changed over time. And the results are striking. Graph after graph showed the same parallel increases over time. On example is given in Figure 1 for liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Figure 1   Incidence of liver cancer, % GE corn & soy, and glyphosate applied from 1975 to 2009

Note that the increase in liver cancer incidence rises sharply above the long term trend that goes back to the 1970s. In other words, while liver cancer had been increasing for some time, the rate of increase accelerated at about the same time that GM crops appeared and glyphosate use rose more sharply. The incidence is now about double what it would be if it had continued to rise at the pre-1990 rate.

Table 1 shows the correlation coefficients between each of the conditions and the amount of glyphosate used, and % of GM maize and soya. None of the 44 correlation coefficients falls below 0.8 – the conventional minimum level for a correlation to be called ‘strong’ – and all but seven are greater than 0.9.

Table 1:  Pearson correlation coefficients between the incidence in the US of 22 chronic diseases since 1995 and (a) the amount of glyphosate applied to maize and soy  (b) the percentage of maize and soy planted that was GM (from [10])

Condition Glyphosate use %GM
Hypertension 0.923 0.961
Stroke 0.925 0.983
Diabetes prevalence 0.971 0.983
Diabetes incidence 0.935 0.955
Obesity 0.962 0.962
Lipoprotein metabolism disorder 0.973 0.955
Alzheimer’s 0.917 0.937
Senile dementia 0.994 0.918
Parkinson’s 0.875 0.952
Multiple sclerosis 0.828 0.876
Autism 0.989 0.933
Inflammatory bowel disease 0.938 0.812
Intestinal infections 0.974 0.901
End stage renal disease 0.975 0.958
Acute kidney failure 0.978 0.967
Thyroid cancer 0.988 0.938
Liver cancer 0.960 0.911
Bladder cancer 0.981 0.945
Pancreatic cancer 0.918 0.841
Kidney cancer 0.973 0.940
Myeloid leukaemia 0.878 0.889

There is clearly a strong correlation between the conditions on the one hand and GMOs and glyphosate use on the other. This does not by itself prove there is a causal relationship, but it is certainly evidence in favour of one. When we add to it the evidence that glyphosate has led to birth defects in humans, that it has been found to harm laboratory rats, cattle on farms, and other animals as well, that it interferes with an important metabolic pathway in animals, that it adversely affects beneficial gut bacteria, that it acts as an endocrine disruptor, and more besides, the case against glyphosate becomes very strong indeed (see [11] A Roundup of Roundup Reveals Converging Pattern of Toxicity from Farm to Clinic, SiS 65, for the most up-to-date review).

To conclude

There have been all too many examples in the past of substances where there was compelling evidence that they were dangerous to health or the environment or both and yet they continued to be produced and used because of pressure from the manufacturers and weak regulators and governments. These include tobacco, asbestos, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), benzene, and many more [12, 13]. If governments continue to rely on advice from the industry and ignore the growing body of evidence, glyphosate will be yet another example of serious harm that could have been avoided.


  1. Ho MW & Sirinathsinghji E.Ban GMOsNow. Health and Environmental Hazards Especially in Light of the New Genetics. ISIS Special Report, 2013.http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now.php
  2. Ho MW. Glyphosate and cancer. Science in Society 62 12-14, 2014
  3. Sirinathsinghji E. Sri Lanka partially bans glyphosate for deadly kidney disease epidemic. Science in Society 62 18-21, 2014.
  4. Swanson N and Ho MW.   Scandal of glyphosate re-assessment in Europe.  Science in Society 63 8-9, 2014.
  5. Séralini G-E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D and  de Vendômois JS (2012),  Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicity. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005  (This paper was improperly retracted by the journal but has been republished: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)
  6. “Support Séralini team for new GMO risk research”. ISIS Report. 21 November 2014   http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Support_Seralini_Team_for_New_GMO_Risk_Research.php
  7. Ho MW and Saunders PT. Retracting Séralini study violates science and ethics. Science in Society 61 20-21, 2014.
  8. “Mom receives glyphoste task force studies on glyphosate submitted to the EPA”, Zen Honeycutt, 2 December 2014, http://www.momsacrossamerica.com/glyphosate_task_force_studies_on_glyphosate_submitted_to_the_epa
  9. Monsanto. What Independent Experts are Saying about GM crops. 2014. http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/what-experts-say-about-gm-crops.aspx 6/12/14
  10. Swanson NL, Leu A, Abrahamson J and Wallet B. Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of  America. Journal of Organic Systems 2014, 9, 6-37.
  11. Sirinathsinghji E. A Roundup of Roundup reveals converging pattern of toxicity from farm to clinic. Science in Society 65 (to appear) 2015.
  12. Harramoës P, Gee D, MacGarvin M, Stirling A, Keys J, Wynne B and Guedes Vaz S (2002). Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000 European Environment Agency, Copenhagen. ISBN 92-9167-323-4.
  13. European Environmental Agency. Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Science, Precaution, Innovation. 2014. http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/late-lessons-2

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