A world awash with Glyphosate

April 2014

Image of two containers of Roundup herbicide
Glyphosate is marketed as Roundup herbicide. Photo Creative Commons
The world's most popular herbicide, glyphosate, seems to have become insidiously ubiquitous in our environment [1].

In urban areas, the herbicide is used to control weeds on garden paths, playgrounds and roadways.  

In agriculture, glyphosate is used for stubble management, pre-sowing ground clearance, and pre-harvest desiccation. In the Americas and elsewhere, huge and increasing quantities of it are sprayed on GM glyphosate-tolerant crops where it accumulates inside the plants.

There is glyphosate in the air, in rain, in waterways, ground-water and drinking water, in the soil, in animal feed and in our food.
“Glyphosate residues cannot be removed by washing and they are not broken down by cooking. Glyphosate residues can remain stable in foods for a year or more, even if the foods are frozen, dried or processed.” (Kr├╝ger)
Regulators seem to be dealing with our exponential exposure to this herbicide by legalising ever-increasing levels of contamination. 

Scientists in Germany have now asked and investigated an obvious question which should have been clarified long ago: is all that glyphosate in the environment ending up in wildlife, in livestock and inside us? If so, there is a chronic, life-long exposure to a substance which has been pronounced 'safe' without the appropriate long-term or clinical trials.

The butterfly wake-up call that keeps on calling

April 2014

Image of a monarch butterfly on clover
Monarch butterfly. CC photo by Robert Huffstuttuer on Flickr
America's first ominous wake-up call to the presence of GM in its food chain came in 1999 in the form of a butterfly.
The bad news was that 'Bt' insecticide-laden pollen from GM maize dusted onto milkweed killed Monarch caterpillars.
Monarchs are gloriously-hued butterflies which migrate huge distances all over America where they have become iconic. To achieve this, they must pause to breed so the next generation can continue the epic journey. The stationary caterpillar stage depends solely on milkweed for sustenance, and their milkweed grows in the same areas as GM crops, such as Bt maize.
At the time of this first warning shot, the biotech industry's damage-limitation machinery quickly persuaded regulators that the experimental finding was too divorced from any real-life situation to worry about.
Over a decade later, the real-life situation in Mexico where Monarchs over-winter, was that the numbers of the butterflies making it back down South were in decline [1].

Glyphosate and kidney disease

April 2014
Image of a container of Roundup herbicide with long grass in the background
Glyphosate is marketed as Roundup. Photo Creative Commons
Glyphosate has, for four decades, been hyped as the safest herbicide ever. Its use has increased exponentially world-wide since the 1990s due to the advent of crops genetically transformed to accumulate the chemical while the weeds around them die. 

This reputation for safety is based on facts. In the environment, measurements have shown that glyphosate quickly disappears: it can be degraded by soil microbes and sunlight, washed away, or immobilised in the soil. In animals, it has low toxicity because animals don't have the metabolic pathway that glyphosate interferes with in plants, and the herbicide rapidly passes unchanged through the body to be excreted harmlessly in urine. All true, and all based on science. 
However, there's another side to these facts. 

Backing up the hype

April 2014

When the South African Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) challenged Monsanto to substantiate its broadcast claims of the benefits of GM crops, the best the Company could do was to provide links to its own website (see below).

DNA fibs

April 2014
Photo from Creative Commons
The original, and biggest, fib about GM plants is perpetrated to this day.  It is the wildly inaccurate image of genetic engineers simply 'snipping' a natural gene out of one organism and popping it into another, to create a crop with a precise genetic 'improvement'.

Such genetic improvements popped into the GM plants which have been commercialised to date have been 'snipped' almost exclusively from bacterial genomes.

In the ideal biotech world, DNA is just DNA and is common to all classes of organism.  All classes of organism use the self-same gene-to-protein synthetic mechanism.  Therefore, a bacterial gene snipped out and popped into a plant will generate a bacterial protein just as it did in its native bug.  The details go something like this ...

Roundup harms human cells

April 2014

Image of two containers of Roundup herbicide
Photo from Creative Commons
Several experiments have now indicated direct harm to humans from Roundup herbicide, widely sprayed on GM crops.

For example, risks to blood-, testicular-, umbilical-, embryonic- and placental-cells have been demonstrated.  Effects of Roundup on cells of the liver and kidney (our major organs of detoxification), and endocrine disruption have been indicated.  And the list continues to grow.

Science serving politics

March 2014
A poster with the slogan stop gmo
Photo Creative Commons (by Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr)
The UK Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, was in Brussels recently apparently enacting the latest instalment of the Paterson/Westminster GM soap opera [1,2].

Paterson's mission was to take back GM regulatory powers from Europe in order that the UK can unilaterally approve GM crops, grow them and make us eat them.  He was armed with a report specially commissioned by the Council for Science and Technology (CST), the Government's own science advisers.