Historians may look back and write about how willing we are to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations with a massive experiment that is based on false promises and flawed science just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.” So said Don Huber in referring to the use of glyphosate and genetically modified crops. Huber was speaking at Organic Connections conference in Regina, Canada, late 2012.
Huber is an emeritus professor in plant pathology at Purdue University in the US and has worked with the Department of Homeland Security to reduce the impact of plant disease outbreaks. His words are well worth bearing in mind given that a new study commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) and GM Freeze has found that people in 18 countries across Europe have been found to have traces of glyphosate in their urine (1).
Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned laboratory tests on urine samples from volunteers in 18 countries across Europe and found that on average 44 percent of samples contained glyphosate. The proportion of positive samples varied between countries, with Malta, Germany, the UK and Poland having the most positive tests, and lower levels detected in Macedonia and Switzerland. All the volunteers who provided samples live in cities, and none had handled or used glyphosate products in the run-up to the tests.
The Influence of the Biotech Sector on Safety and Regulation
Although ‘weedkiller in urine’ sounds alarming, Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, says the levels found are unlikely to be of any significance to health because they are 300 times lower than the level which might cause concern. Alison Haughton, head of the Pollination Ecology Group at Rothamsted Research, said that if FoE and GM Freeze want their work to have scientific credibility and provide a genuine contribution to the debate on pesticide residues, they should submit their work for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Valid points, you might think. But FoE believes that there is sufficient evidence to suggest environmental and health impacts from glyphosate warrant concern. It wants to know how the glyphosate found in human urine samples has entered the body, what the impacts of persistent exposure to low levels of glyphosate might be and what happens to the glyphosate that remains in the body. New research published in the journal Entropy sheds disturbing light on such concerns (discussed later in this article).
In 2011, Earth Open Source said that official approval of glyphosate had been rash, problematic and deeply flawed. A comprehensive review of existing data released in June 2011 by Earth Open Source suggested that industry regulators in Europe had known for years that glyphosate causes birth defects in the embryos of laboratory animals. Questions were raised about the role of the powerful agro-industry in rigging data pertaining to product safety and its undue influence on regulatory bodies (2).
In the same vein, FoE says there is currently very little testing for glyphosate by public authorities, despite its widespread use, and authorities in Europe do not test for glyphosate in humans and tests on food are infrequent. Glyphosate was approved for EU-wide use in 2002, but FoE argues that the European regulatory agencies did not carry out their own safety testing, relying instead on data provided by the manufacturers.
Of course there are certain scientists (usually with links to the agro-industry) who always seem to be strident in calling for peer-reviewed evidence when people are critical of the biotech sector, but then rubbish it and smear or intimidate the scientists involved when that occurs, as has been the case with Dr Arsad Pusztai in the UK or Professor Seralini in France. It is therefore quite revealing that most of the data pertaining to glyphosate safety came from industry studies, not from peer-reviewed science, and the original data are not available for independent scrutiny.
With references to a raft of peer-reviewed studies, FoE also brings attention to the often disturbing health and environmental dangers and impacts of glyphosate-based herbicides throughout the world (1). The FoE study also highlights concerns around the increasing levels of exposure to glyphosate-based weed killers, particularly as the use of glyphosate is predicted to rise further if more genetically modified (GM) crops are grown. It is after all good for business. And the biggest producer of glyphosate is Monsanto, which sells it under the brand name ‘Roundup’.
“The figures don’t lie; GMOs drive glyphosate sales.” (3)
Despite its widespread use, there is currently little monitoring of glyphosate in food, water or the wider environment. The FoE commissioned study is the first time monitoring has been carried out across Europe for the presence of the weed killer in human bodies. FoE Europe’s spokesperson Adrian Bebb argues that there is a serious lack of action by public authorities and indicates that this weed killer is being widely overused.
This certainly needs to be addressed not least because the prediction concerning increasing exposure to glyphosate is not without substance. The introduction of Roundup Ready crops has already resulted in an increase of glyphosate use. Using official US government data, Dr Charles Benbrook, research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, states that since 1996 the glysophate rate of application per crop year has tripled on cotton farms, doubled in the case of soybeans and risen 39 percent on corn (4). The average annual increase in the pounds of glyphosate applied to cotton, soybeans, and corn has been 18.2 percent, 9.8 percent, and 4.3 percent, respectively, since herbicide tolerant crops were introduced.
Glyphosate is used on many genetically modified crops. 14 new GM crops designed to be cultivated with glyphosate are currently waiting for approval to be grown in Europe. Approval of these crops would inevitably lead to a further increase of glysphosate spraying. In the US, biotech crops, including corn, soybeans, canola and sugarbeets, are planted on millions of acres annually.
Evidence suggests that Roundup could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers, according to a new peer-reviewed report, published recently in the scientific journal Entropy (5). The study also concluded that residues of glyphosate have been found in food.
These residues enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease, according to the report, authored by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Anthony Samsel, a science consultant. The study says that negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.
In 2010, the provincial government of Chaco province in Argentina issued a report on health statistics from the town La Leonesa. The report showed that from 2000 to 2009, following the expansion of genetically-modified soy and rice crops in the region (and the use of glyphosate), the childhood cancer rate tripled in La Leonesa and the rate of birth defects increased nearly fourfold over the entire province (6).
Professor Huber also notes the health risks associated with the (increasing) use of glyphosate. He says a number of plant pathogens are emerging, which when consumed could impact human health. Based on research that he alludes to (he refuses to make his research public or identify his fellow researchers, who he claims could suffer substantial professional backlash from academic employers who received research funding from the biotechnology industry), Huber notes that the use of glyphosate changes the soil ecology, killing many bacteria, while giving other bacteria a competitive advantage. This makes plants highly susceptible to soil borne diseases. At the same time, glyphosate has a negative effect on a number of beneficial soil organisms (7).
Huber’s concerns about the impact of long term use of glyphosate on soil sterility are similar to concerns expressed by Elaine Ingham, a soil ecologist with the Rodale Institute, and also research carried out in by Navdanya in India (8).
As for GM crops, Huber says they have lower water use efficiency, tend to be nutrient deficient, have increased bud and fruit abortion and are predisposed to infectious diseases and insect damage. He suggests that Roundup Ready crops, treated with glyphosate, have higher levels of mycotoxins and lower nutrient levels than conventional crops.
“… you could say that what you’re doing with glyphosate is you’re giving the plant a bad case of AIDS. You’ve shut down the immune system or the defense system.” Professor Ron Huber (7)
He concludes that, when consumed, the GM crops were more likely to cause disease, infertility, birth defects, cancer and allergic reactions than conventional crops.
Huber claims that consumption of food or feed that was genetically modified could bring the altered genes in contact with the microbes in the guts of the livestock or people who eat them. He feels this increases diseases, such as celiac disease, allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, gluten intolerance, irritable bowel disease, miscarriage, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome.
While none of these findings conclusively prove that plant (or animal) diseases are caused by the glyphosate, Huber feels safety evaluations have been inadequate, suggesting that previous (GM sector) research was substandard and extremely misleading in its interpretation of results – or worse.
With some hugely powerful players involved here, many of whom have successfully infiltrated important government and official bodies (9), much of the science and the ensuing debate surrounding glyphosate is being manipulated and hijacked by vested interests for commercial gain.
“… publishing in this area can also be difficult. I know from the International Symposium on Glyphosate that they had to find a journal publisher outside this country (the US) to publish the research data and symposium proceedings. It’s pretty hard to get it published in the States. There are also some hazards to publishing if you’re a young researcher doing research that runs counter to the current popular concepts. A lot of research on safety of genetic engineering is done outside of this country because it’s difficult to gain access to the materials, or the statements you have to sign to have access to those materials stating that you won’t publish without permission of the supplier. I think the 26 entomologists who sent their letter to EPA in 2009 stated it aptly when they said that objective data wasn’t available to the EPA because the materials haven’t been available to them or that they’re denied the opportunity to publish their data.” Professor Ron Huber (7)
Are some Americans being poisoned from food contamination of a heavily used herbicide?
A recent peer-reviewed study of the herbicide Roundup appearing in the scientific journal Entropy indicates that this may be so.
The chemical in question is glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. The study reveals that measurable amounts of glyphosate have been found in food sold to the public. And, according to the study, this chemical has serious detrimental effects to the human body.
Serious Side Effects
“Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” say study authors Stephanie Seneff, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Anthony Samsel.
According to the study, Glyphosate impairs the CYP (Cytochrome P450) pathway, a gene pathway vital to forming and breaking down molecules in cells, as well as enzyme functions that regulate some hormones and blood pressure. The abstract of the study states serious side effects: “Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Roundup works in conjunction with is Monsanto’s biotech crops, which are genetically engineered to be immune to the herbicide. Roundup is used on millions of acres of food crops, which include corn, sugarbeets, and canola.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, glyphosate is the most popular herbicide in the country. It is widely used in lawn care, gardens, and golf courses all over the country.
Monsanto Refutes the Science
Monsanto denies all of these claims, and insists its product is safe. Monsanto’s Executive Vice President of Sustainability says “We are very confident in the long track record that glyphosate has. It has been very, very extensively studied.”
Review Not Coming Until 2015
As far as oversight is concerned, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is continuing a standard review of glyphosate, and will determine whether use of said chemical should be restricted…in 2015.
The Huffington Post, Entropy Abstract, Medical Daily
Did you see the latest indictment of Monsanto making the rounds? It’s a “peer-reviewed” paper in the journal Entropy, co-authored by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, blaming glyphosate, the compound in the herbicide Roundup, for virtually all the ills that can befall us.
But here’s the thing — they made it up. Or, all but. They say, “We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is a ‘textbook example’ of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins.” Exogenous semiotic entropy! That sounds serious. Google it, though, and you find that those three words occur together in only place. This paper. They made it up. At first, I thought the whole thing was one of those jargon-laden academic hoaxes but, alas, it isn’t.
Slog through their argument (and, please, if you take this seriously, read the paper!), and you find it boils down to two things. Glyphosate, they claim, 1) inhibits CYP enzymes, which are active in lots of metabolic processes, and 2) disrupts gut bacteria, which are susceptible to its mechanism (disrupting the shikimate pathway), even though humans are not. Therefore, any condition that involves metabolic processes or gut bacteria must be affected by glyphosate exposure. QED!
Here’s the list of ills they blame, at least in part, on Roundup: inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, autism, anorexia, dementia, depression, Parkinson’s, reproductive issues, liver diseases and cancer.
The evidence for these mechanisms, and their impact on human health, is all but nonexistent. The authors base their claim about CYP enzymes on two studies, one of liver cells and one of placental cells, which report endocrine disruptions when those cells are exposed to glyphosate. Neither study is CYP-specific (The effect of pesticides on CYP enzymes, by contrast, has been studied specifically.) As for the gut bacteria, there appears to be no research at all on glyphosate’s effect on them.
Samsel and Seneff didn’t conduct any studies. They don’t seem interested in the levels at which humans are actually exposed to glyphosate. They simply speculated that, if anyone, anywhere, found that glyphosate could do anything in any organism, that thing must also be happening in humans everywhere. I’d like to meet the “peers” who “reviewed” this.
After reading the paper, I had to wonder — who are Samsel and Seneff? Seneff is a Senior Research Scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. Her advanced degrees are in electrical engineering. She describes herself as having “recently become interested in the effect of drugs and diet on health and nutrition.” Samsel describes himself as an “Independent Scientist and Consultant,” and, for the last 37 years, has run Anthony Samsel Environmental and Public Health Services, which does “Charitable community investigations of industrial polluters.” I think it’s fair to say they probably went into this with a point of view.
There’s real danger in bad science like this. Industrial agriculture has created a lot of environmental problems. We have to find ways to reform our food system, but shoddy research only helps Monsanto. If we base our objections on papers like this one, we won’t — and we shouldn’t — be taken seriously.
Cambridge carjacking turns into gun battle in Watertown; at least one officer shot
Police from Watertown, Cambridge and Boston are in the area of Dexter and Laurel streets in Watertown, where two “Middle Eastern” men with guns and possibly grenades were shooting at officers. At least one officer has been shot.
What might be an IED was found on Laurel Street.
One suspect was run over and nabbed by police. The second took off on foot and police said he was armed with both a gun and either grenades or IEDs.
After carjacking a Mercedes SUV at gunpoint, they dropped the driver off at a Memorial Drive, then at some point stole a State Police pickup.
Update from the Guardian
Boston policeman shot dead and explosions in Watertown chase
Police on the campus of Boston MIT where an officer was shot dead. A chase with several suspects and explosions took place later in the Watertown area, police said. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty
A police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been shot and killed at the campus outside Boston, authorities said early Friday. As the manhunt began for the shooter, police reportedly became involved in a chase with several suspects in which explosives were said to have been thrown from a vehicle.
Live news reports said police officers were dealing with explosives left on the ground after the chase in the Watertown area, near Cambridge where MIT is located and eight miles to the west of central Boston. Police were told to switch off mobile phones and other electronic devices for fear of setting off explosives.
It was not clear whether the two incidents were connected. MIT is in Cambridge to the north-west of the Boston city centre, and Watertown is further to the west of that.
The police officer at MIT had been responding to report of a disturbance Thursday night when he was shot multiple times, according to a statement from the Middlesex district attorney and Cambridge police. It said there were no other victims.
MIT said on its website that police were sweeping the campus in Cambridge and urged people to remain indoors until further notice. People were urged to stay away from the Stata Building, a mixed-use building with faculty offices, classrooms and a common area.
The drama comes little more than three days after the twin bombing of the Boston Marathon that killed three people, wounded more than 180 others and led to an increase in security across the city.
The campus shooting took place about 10.30pm local time outside an MIT building, according to state police spokesman Dave Procopio.
The officer, who was not immediately identified, was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead from his wounds.
About 11,000 people attend the prestigious university.
A family of chemicals naturally produced by fungi are phenomenally effective at killing human cancer cells, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and published in the journal Chemical Science.
“What was particularly exciting to us was to see, across various cancer cell lines, that some of them are quite potent,” lead researcher Mohammad Movassaghi said.
The study was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
Researchers have known for some time that a fungal chemical known as 11,11′-dideoxyverticillin demonstrates cancer fighting properties, but the chemical occurs in such small quantities that it was impossible to test its potency. Then a few years ago, MIT scientists successfully synthesized the chemical in the lab.
11,11′-dideoxyverticillin is just one of a family a fungal chemicals known as epipolythiodiketopiperazine (ETP) alkaloids. Scientists believe that fungi use ETP alkaloids to prevent other organisms from moving into the territory where they are living. In the new study, the researchers artificially synthesized 60 different ETP alkaloids and related chemicals in order to test them against different cancer lines.
“There’s a lot of data out there, very exciting data, but one thing we were interested in doing is taking a large panel of these compounds, and for the first time, evaluating them in a uniform manner,” Movassaghi said.
Alkaloids target cancer cells, ignore healthy ones
The researchers tested each of the 60 compounds against both lymphoma and cervical cancer, then took the 25 most effective chemicals and further tested them against breast, kidney and lung cancers. They found that the cancer-fighting chemicals were 1,000 times more likely to kill a cancer cell than they were to kill a healthy cell.
Because the scientists had manufactured all 60 chemicals by systematically varying specific parts of their underlying chemical structure, they were then able to isolate the chemical properties that make these fungal compounds most effective against cancer.
For example, the researchers found that two ETP molecules joined together were more effective than solitary ETP molecules, and that compounds containing two sulfur atoms were more effective than those containing fewer.
Significantly, the researchers were also able to identify portions of the fungal molecules that can be changed without producing any reduction in cancer-fighting effectiveness. This may help scientists turn the naturally occurring ETPs into more potent anti-cancer drugs, by replacing these “neutral” sections of the molecule with antibodies or other molecules designed to specifically deliver the ETP to a cancer cell.
The researchers now plan to use their findings to develop more precise cancer-fighting ETPs.
“We can go in with far greater precision and test the hypotheses we’re developing in terms of what portions of the molecules are most significant at retaining or enhancing biological activity,” Movassaghi said.
Numerous drugs currently on the market have been derived from fungi. The most famous of these is penicillin, the first modern antibiotic, which was derived in 1929 from a species of mold known as Penicillium rubens.