Roundup disrupts human cells

April 2011

There's evidence of what Roundup does to human cells that Monsanto doesn't like at all.

French scientists have revealed that Monsanto's prize herbicide, Roundup, may not be anything like as safe as previously supposed.

In one study, human liver cells, a recognised model for studies of toxic effects, were exposed to four different Roundup formulations and to their active weed-killing ingredient, glyphosate. The results did not support the “regulatory agencies around the world” who concluded that “glyphosate herbicides pose no unreasonable risk to human health” (Monsanto 2005). Endocrine disruption was seen after exposure to one formulation of Roundup at a concentration as low as 0.5 ppm (parts per million). At increasing concentrations of the herbicides, DNA damage was observed at 5 ppm and cytotoxic effects were seen at 10 ppm. The maximum allowable residue level of Roundup in animal feed is 400 ppm. The study suggests that, if a safety factor of x100 below the lowest harmful dose is applied, the allowable residue level in human food should be 100,000 times lower than is currently the case.

Other studies by the French team have found disruption and death of human placental, umbilical and embryonic cells after exposure to Roundup. Elsewhere, scientists have observed the herbicide to cause impaired liver-cell respiration and chromosome aberrations.

Until 1996 and the advent of 'Roundup Ready' GM crops which can accumulate high levels of the herbicide without harm, our food couldn't be sprayed with Roundup. Human safety studies focused on the occupational hazard to farm-workers handling bulk quantities of the weed-killer: the daily intestinal absorption of small amounts of Roundup sequestered inside food was not an issue. Somehow, the possible health effects on the developing embryo and infant were overlooked.

The serious safety questions raised by the present findings could put an end to the use of Roundup Ready crops as human food. This would consign most of Monsanto's current GM crop research and development to the dustbin.

True to form, the company is not rushing to check up on what its Roundup-sprayed products might be doing to the public, but is busy shooting the French messengers who carried out the experiments.

Monsantoblog jumped into action with a “blunt discussion” written by its Director of Medical Sciences and Outreach. The offending scientists apparently are guilty of choosing to test reproductive cells and to measure endocrine-receptor activity for “maximum political ruckus”, and not because of a need for optimum scientific understanding.

Interestingly, Monsanto's article seems to tell us quite clearly that Roundup is, and indeed always was, unsafe to eat. For example, it stresses:
  • that cells exposed to surfactants such as those included in Roundup, “get sick” (surfactants are detergent-like chemicals which allow water-soluble glyphosate to penetrate the waxy layer on the outside of leaves, and possibly help entry into the cells too)
  • that the surfactant in Roundup injures cells
  • that the disruptions observed would be found in all cells
  • that all herbicides have some such damaging surfactants.

The Monsanto Director's blunt discussion seems to suggest that NO food should be sprayed with weed-killers because they pose an inherent risk to every cell of our body, leading to chronic disease and reproductive harm.

The French scientists also tested the effects of “one known adjuvant of Roundup formulations”, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or 'POEA', a derivative of fat. Their references for this information are dated 1999 and 2000. They also note that Roundup's adjuvants are “usually considered as inert and are protected as a trade secret in manufacturing”. The Monsantoblog article makes a point of drawing attention to POEA as a detergent based on natural materials. But is this a smoke-screen? In 2005, when Monsanto was pushing new formulations of Roundup, “the original Roundup herbicide” which was introduced in 1974 is referred to in the past tense, and its ingredients are clearly identified as glyphosate, water and POEA. There are no secrets there, and presumably no need for secrets since the original Roundup is history. If you've a very suspicious nature, you might wonder if the Roundup formulations now being sprayed on crops have anything as innocent as the suggested POEA in them? You might also suspect Monsanto's eagerness to draw attention to POEA. Whatever the current formulations of Roundup contain, independent scientists aren't likely to be able to do any experiments to assess their safety.

Our food watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, should be encouraged to make VERY sure that any “inert”, and therefore un-metabolised, Roundup ingredients incorporated into our food are safe to eat.

(This article is adapted from an article which originally appeared on GM-free Scotland in November 2009. The original article is archived here.)
  • Gasnier et al. (2009) Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine-disruptors in human cell lines, Toxicology, June 2009
  • Benachaur and Seralini (2009), Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells, Chemical Research in Toxicology, 22(1)
  • Benachaur et al. (2007) Time- and Dose-Dependent Effects of Roundup on Human Embryonic and Placental Cells, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 53:1
  • Richard et al. (2005) Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Plancental Cells and Aromatase, Environmental Health Perspectives 113:6
  • Peixoto, (2005) Comparative effects of the Roundup and glyphosate on mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, Chemosphere 61:8
  • Rank et al. (1993) Genotoxicity testing of the herbicide Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate isopropylamine using the mouse bone marrow micronucleus test, Salmonella mutagenicity test, and Allium anaphase-telophase test, Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology 300:1
  • Williams et al. (2000) Safety evaluation and risk assessment of the herbicide Roundup and its active ingredient, glyphosate for human, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 31
  • Dr. Dan,
  • Monsanto Backgrounder - History of Monsanto's Glyphosate Herbicides, June 2005

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