How much disease is Roundup causing?

December 2014
Photo of sign which says hazardous pesticides in use
Pesticide warning sign. CC photo by the justified sinner on Flickr
"We have dispersed hundreds of millions of tonnes of (chemical pollutants and GMOs) in the ecosystem. Most are stable and toxic and penetrate every form of life. For instance, results show that there is no human breast milk on the planet that is free from insecticides (such as DDT) and plasticizers. There is no fetus without several hundred pollutants attached to its genes. There is no Member of the European Parliament measured without at least fifty pollutants in his blood." (G. E. Séralini's team)

This toxic mix from our environment and food now includes artificial DNA, analogues of viral DNA such as the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus gene promoter (CaMV), novel proteins, analogue 'Bt' insecticides, and increased levels of agrichemicals associated with GMOs.

Within the last 20 years there has been an alarming increase in serious illnesses in the US, along with a marked decrease in life expectancy. The onset of serious illness is appearing in increasingly younger cohorts.

Following on from the data presented last year by Dr. Nancy Swanson describing disturbingly parallel annual increases of chronic diseases and glyphosate use [1], her investigation has now been expanded and published.

Looking for epidemiological links between glyphosate (applied as Roundup formula) and health effects is complicated by two major factors.

One is that the introduction of the herbicide has been insidious, starting as a slow drip which turned into a gush which seems to have been growing ever since.

Herbicides containing glyphosate hit the market in 1974, but until GM herbicide-tolerant plants came along, its use was limited. 'Roundup Ready' soya became a commercial reality in 1996. Within just three years, it accounted for 50% of US soya planted, and rose steadily to plateau out at 90% by 2006. Roundup-tolerant maize didn't feature much until 2003, reaching 50 % of plantings after four years, and levelling off at 70-75% of the total by 2008. Despite the apparent stability of total Roundup-tolerant soya and maize planted in the five or so years since their maximum was reached, the application of glyphosate has continued to rise steadily.

Besides herbicide-tolerant GM food, our bodies now have exposure to glyphosate from other crops (such as wheat) sprayed with the herbicide to assist harvest, from GM-fed livestock products, from contaminated water and air, and from urban weed control.

But no one's making any measurements: our glyphosate exposure levels are a mystery.

Secondly, the harmful effects of glyphosate on the mammalian physiology gradually being identified by science are highly varied and often dependent on other factors, such as interacting minerals and chemicals in the herbicidal formulae added to aid cell penetration.

Swanson focused her attention on human chronic diseases of the kind already suggested by lab experiments: for example, interference with the liver's ability to deal with toxins and fats, increased pathogenic gut microbes, kidney disease, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, nutrient uptake, and neurotoxic effects.

Graphs were prepared of changes in the incidence of various chronic diseases (age-adjusted to compensate for the time-related improvements in treatment over the decades) against glyphosate application or GM crops grown.

Her results suggested that key conditions, such as cancers and diseases of the organs of detoxification (the liver, kidneys and bladder) were strongly correlated with glyphosate, and also Irritable Bowel Syndrome, intestinal infection, dementia and autism. 

The conclusion was that "The (statistical) probabilities in the graphs and tables show that it is highly unlikely that the correlations are a coincidence. The strength of the (statistical) correlations shows that there is a very strong probability that they are linked somehow. The number of graphs with similar data trends indicates a strong probability that there is a link. Although correlation does not necessarily mean causation, when (it is so high for) a list of diseases that can be directly linked to glyphosate, via its known biological effects, it would be imprudent not the consider causation as a plausible explanation."

There may, of course, be a relationship between disease and glyphosate through a third variable, and complex interactions involving many other variables are also likely to be important. However, Swanson points out that

"no other toxic substance has increased in ubiquity in the last 20 years as glyphosate has".
One other potential problem stemming from the GM crops themselves was suggested during the course of the study: there has been a "startling " increase in hospital discharges for viral hepatitis C. The CaMV promoter incorporated into many GM crops is very similar to the DNA sequences in hepatitis raising questions about the activation of dormant viruses and their recombination with the novel viral DNA in food.

"... the regulatory approach in the US is reactionary rather than precautionary. Instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action is initiated. Instead of requiring industry to prove the safety of their devices or chemical products, the public bears the burden (in terms of disease, lost livelihood and death) of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful." (US President's Cancer Panel)


Although Europe isn't so gung-ho about the dangers of GM food as the US regulators, resisting GM produce once it's being grown there becomes impossible. At the end of the day, the proof of GM or chemical harm is going to be your death. 

This isn't necessary.

Prof. G. E. Séralini (see below) puts the whole thing another way:

"Currently, assessment of human health impacts of pollutants is carried out via epidemiological studies, which look at the relationship between exposure to a certain substance and a given disease over short time scales. This works well for microbial impacts but not for pollutants affecting human health. The latter affect multiple bodily systems and act in combinations over long-term periods - factors which make the effects difficult to evaluate through epidemiology. "

Séralini has explained to government authorities that this dependence on epidemiology should be abolished and replaced by biochemical, cellular, and laboratory animal studies, farm and wildlife observations, and human case studies, rather than waiting for people to die.

Professor Giles Eric Séralini 

Prof. Séralini works with lawyers, economists, and sociologists to improve the legislation on chemicals and GMOs and the methodologies for their assessment, as well as to shed new light on the interactions between health and environment.

CRIIGEN (Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering) and ENSSER (European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility), which he co-founded, have had an international impact on research and regulatory regimes for GMOs and pesticides.


Prof. Séralini is now proposing a comprehensive research programme of risk assessment on GMOs and associated pesticides. To start with, he wants to measure the presence of Roundup residues in the organs and diets of rats fed GMOs and/or Roundup during his controversial life-long feeding experiment [2], and to undertake additional analyses to investigate the reported metabolic disturbances in their livers and kidneys.

The project needs funding of 50,000 Euros. You can help by making a donation, no matter how small, even £5 will help: check out

Also, if you have contacts in any health- or food-interest organisations ask them to consider doing some fund-raising for the project.


[2]  GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012


  • Nancy L. Swanson, et al., 2014, Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America, Journal of Organic Systems 9(20
  • Support  Séralini Team for New GMO and Pesticide Risk Research, Institute of Science in Society Report 21/11/4
  • Assessment of Environmental and Health Risks of GMOs and Associated Pesticides - Project for a one-Year Postdoctoral Fellowship for Pr. G.E.  Séralini's team, Institute of Science in Society Report 21.11.14

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