Roundup and birth defects - a new report

June 2011

7 months and counting
Photo from Flickr
'Roundup' herbicide is toxic, and not only to plants. In animals, it causes “endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neuro-toxicity, and cancer, as well as birth defects.”

The science has been summarised in a new report, “Roundup and Birth defects”, co-authored by a group of international scientists and researchers.

The Report details the published, peer-reviewed, freely accessible and mounting evidence of harmful effects. Some of the findings are recent, but some go back a far as the 1980s. All of them have been ignored.

Roundup and Birth Defects” also asks “Is the public being kept in the dark?” The question is answered in a blow-by-blow account of how EU regulators have manipulated the information presented to them to promote and preserve the Roundup in your food chain and to protect the interests of the biotech industry.

The story isn't pretty: a disgraceful combination of cherry-picking the studies, redefining scientific terms, disconnecting the corroborating data, shifting the regulatory goal-posts and avoiding transparency at all costs.

Roundup has been on the market for decades. Why is it suddenly a problem?

This herbicide is now a problem because GM 'Roundup Ready' crops have been designed to tolerate it. As a result, Roundup accumulates in Roundup Ready crop plants. The more Roundup farmers spray on their GM crops, the more Roundup accumulates in the crop and in the soil. And it doesn't go away.

Given this predictable increased exposure to the herbicide, you might think it must have been checked for safety?

The problem with studying 'Roundup' for safety (or anything else) is that, just because it's called 'Roundup' on the label, doesn't mean it's just one substance nor just one product. Roundup is a cocktail of chemicals which has evolved over the decade to make it increasingly lethal to plants and increasingly easily absorbed by all plants, both non-GM (weeds) and GM (food). Add to this that the ingredients are a commercial secret. It has been impossible for systematic studies of all the constituents (individually and combined) of all the successive Roundup formulations to be carried out. Moreover, safety studies have been based on antiquated methods much less sensitive than the modern techniques now available.

And as if all that isn't bad enough ...

The problem with Roundup is that it has been used so excessively, courtesy of Roundup Ready crops, that Roundup Resistant weeds have evolved. The desperate answer to Roundup-resistant weeds is to spray ever more Roundup and a stack of other toxic chemicals, all of which end up in food and feed.

In short, the problem with Roundup is that it's present in food in increasing quantities, in increasingly toxic formulations and in increasing combination with other, potentially synergistic, toxins. Commercials interests move much faster than the science needed to support them, and both move faster than the regulators.

Here are just some examples of what the Report uncovered.

The EU manufactured a loophole in its own laws to please industry and let their chemicals flow unimpeded into Europe. Although a new regulation (1107/2009) mandating a new, stringent, approval process is now in place, regulators have found themselves so overwhelmed by the deluge which poured through the loophole, that they have postponed the review of many toxic agri-products including that of Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate. In practice glyphosate safety may not revisited under the new EU regulations until 2030. In the meantime the outdated assessment method will be applied, and if Roundup passed this with flying colours last time, it will do so again.

Regulators have made a habit of arbitrary exclusion of key sets of data on Roundup's safety. Serious problems revealed by feeding studies in rabbits were dismissed because it was decided rats should be the only model used in such studies. The thinking seems to be that rabbits are an inappropriately sensitive model when it comes to Roundup. However, the possibility that humans are even more sensitive than rabbits doesn't seem to figure. (Readers might remember that the UK Food Standards Agency dismissed a study which found severe health problems in GM-fed rats in favour of one which found no ill-effects in mice, see ROUNDUP, BIRTHS DOWN – GMFS News Archive, February 2009).

Antiquated tests have been mandated under the pretense of setting standards in the science. Older tests are based on gross changes of a very narrow range of parameters. Modern methods have identified predictive functional changes at the sub-cellular level which are risk factors for chronic disease: these can be used to identify windows during which the physiology is vulnerable to damage for example from endocrine disruptors. Modern, sensitive methods are disallowed just because they're new.

Established models are rejected. Early embryological mechanisms are so similar in all animals that most studies are carried out on models which can be studied easily because they occur outside the mother i.e. amphibian and chicken eggs. This has allowed the regulators to ignore them because frogs and hens are not humans. It has also led to the declaration that studies based on the micro-injection of amphibian embryos with glyphosate are too unrealistic to take the defects produced seriously. Since, unlike the human embryo in the womb, amphibian eggs have a thick protective layer to enable free existence in a pond, injection of toxins is often the only way to expose them to a chemical. It is a very spurious and ignorant objection to one of the most damaging studies to emerge in the literature (see ROUNDUP CAUSES BIRTH-DEFECTS – GMFS News Archive, October 2010)

Recommendations made in the Report include:
  • immediate withdrawal of Roundup and glyphosate until a new review has been carried out using the full range of up-to-date tests
  • assessments must include all adverse effects found in the peer-reviewed open-access literature
  • industry tests must respond to the findings of independent, peer-reviewed studies
  • regulators must abandon the habit of repeating outdated and misleading assurances about the safety of Roundup and glyphosate.
The authors call for transparency at all levels of the assessment process and for all available data to be used in the assessment process.


We seem to be living with a severe case of regulatory dysfunction born of addiction to GM. Like any other addict, the regulators will be the last to admit their problem. Unless you take action, they will continue to manipulate the rules and reason away or trivialise all problems which emerge.

Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?” is a long report, but very readable. Check it out for yourself at:

Like all the damning evidence described in this Report, it will be brushed under the carpet unless you make it clear to your MP, MSP and MEP that you expect action to be taken to protect yourself and your family from Roundup and glyphosate.

  • Michael Antoniou et al., Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark? Earth Open Source, June 2011

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