Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, bring with them a raft of concerns. These aren’t new, of course; both authority figures and the public have debated the worth and wisdom of GMOs for decades now. Sometimes the debates get nasty indeed, as in the case of Monsanto versus small farmers who try to save seeds cross-pollinated by the giant company’s modified crops, or those who reuse seeds they bought once. (1)
Others worry that genetically modified organisms carry risks to people who eat them, because they’re consuming novel species whose effects have not been tested. Perhaps worse, those who plant GMO crops simply release those spliced-together genes into the environment … where they will remain for all time. Currently, at least, there is no way to “recall” those genes once they’ve spread into the natural landscape, into saved seeds and into wild organisms with which they can cross-pollinate.
Most worrisome of all, however, is the fact that “More than 80% of all genetically modified crops grown worldwide have been engineered for herbicide tolerance,” points out the Non-GMO Project. (2) “As a result, the use of toxic herbicides, such as Roundup®, has increased fifteenfold since GMOs were first introduced. In March 2015, the World Health Organization determined that the herbicide glyphosate (the key ingredient in Roundup®) is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’”
That’s a big problem, especially since that fifteenfold use has translated to a fivefold human exposure to this toxic chemical, showing up in products across the grocery store and even in human urine since the introduction of GMOs. (3) It’s prevalence isn’t the main problem, though. New (and not-so-new) evidence points to major health problems related to glyphosate exposure. Here are six of the most alarming.
#1 Brain Cancer
Currently we don’t have enough evidence to conclude that glyphosate specifically causes brain cancer, though many studies show a positive correlation between chronic insecticide exposure and glioma. (4) Other studies back up these findings, some showing mixed results, such as this study which finds a strong correlation between herbicide exposure and brain cancer in women. (5)
Other correlations include “Results from an Italian case-control study suggested a fourfold excess risk for glioma among farmers who used insecticides and fungicides and a threefold excess risk among herbicides users” and others “reported a significantly increased risk for glioma, but not for meningioma, associated with the highest quartile of cumulative occupational exposure to pesticides.”
As with other studies about brain cancer and pesticides/herbicides, most of the cited reports did not break down the study into different classes of pesticides.
#2 Breast Cancer
Links between glyphosate and breast cancer are significantly clearer. In one study, tellingly entitled Glyphosate Induces Human Breast Cancer Cells Growth Via Estrogen Receptors, glyphosate acted as an endocrine disruptor, throwing hormones off kilter and increasing the incidence of breast cancer. (6)
That’s not just for large doses, either. These studies examined low, controlled, long-term exposure to glyphosate-containing products such as Roundup. In other words, they are drawn from conditions very like those of farmers, landscapers and homeowners who regularly use or come into contact with glyphosate. Considering that breast cancer is one of the leading causes of women, these findings are significant, relevant and worth looking into.
#3 Chronic and Acute Kidney Disease
The kidneys are delicate organs, responsible for the removal of waste products and extra water from blood, to be turned into urine for removal from the body. For obvious reasons, these organs are critical to survival, and kidney disease can lead to fatality – quickly or slowly. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a major problem across the world, and acute kidney injury (AKI) also affects many. Unfortunately, evidence indicates that both likely stem in part from glyphosate exposure.
Epidemiologic reviews show that “Based on experimental and sometimes clinical evidence, a number of pesticides in common use in many parts of the world are known human nephrotoxins, albeit causes of acute kidney injury (AKI) rather than CKD, in particular glyphosate.” (7) That said, glyphosate is also linked with CKD: “Glyphosate has also been shown to trigger epigenetic effects and resulting kidney damage in rats following chronic exposure to ultra-low water concentration of 0.1 ppb of Roundup.”
#4 General Cell Toxicity
Cytotoxicity, or the characteristic of being toxic or deadly to cells, is no joke. While this isn’t related to any specific disease, it is most certainly related to death. Consider some common cytotoxic compounds, such as those in snake, spider or pufferfish venom. These can cause destruction of DNA, swelling, metabolic disruption, cell death and even the release of toxic contents into the larger bodily environment, perpetuating toxicity.
Studies have found that glyphosate does indeed disrupt and even kills cells. (8) Specifically, in the presence of glyphosate, scientists noted “increased release of extracellular lactate dehydrogenase indicative for membrane damage” and “DNA migration in single-cell gel electrophoresis assays” and that, “Furthermore, an increase of nuclear aberrations that reflect DNA damage was observed.” In other words, glyphosate damages cell membranes, disrupts and displaces DNA, and causes genetic mutations that can lead to cancer and other diseases.
#5 Damage to Human Embryonic, Placental and Umbilical Cells
One of the most distressing effects of glyphosate use is that it “requires” the addition of other ingredients in order to work most “effectively.” But the addition of ingredients in formulations such as Roundup makes them even more toxic. In fact, studies have found that “Roundup and other commercial glyphosate herbicide formulations have been found in studies to be far more toxic than the isolated supposed ‘active ingredient’ glyphosate. This is logical, since the added ingredients in commercial herbicide formulations, called adjuvants, are included specifically to increase the toxicity of the supposed ‘active ingredient’ to the weeds.” (9)
These additional ingredients pose major threats to developing babies, even at concentrations lower than those used in ordinary landscape environments. (10) Obviously, so-called inert ingredients are not nearly as inert as Monsanto and other companies would have us believe.
Even more distressingly, the tests carried out to prove toxicity (or lack therefore) have never been tested on a long-term basis. Experiments are quick and dirty, meant to indicate no immediate harms – but that doesn’t demonstrate safety 50 years down the road, especially in response to constant, low-dose exposure – a scenario that frequently leads to hormone disruption in analogous situations.
#6 Proliferation of Plant and Animal Pathogens
We may not yet know all the problems associated with glyphosate. Much like antibiotics, there exists significant danger that long-term use of glyphosate encourages the development of resistant plant and animal pathogens, or “superbugs.” (11) To combat these, humans may have to resort to greater and greater concentrations of potentially deadly chemicals such as Roundup. One day, even those may not prove effective, leading to an epidemic.
Bottom line: The research does not show that glyphosate is safe for widespread use. To the contrary, research seems to indicate that humans should fear rather than embrace the toxin. At the least, people need to know the potential consequences and stop blindly believing huge corporations that assure safety where there is too little evidence of it.
- (1) Monsanto Sued Small Farmers to Protect Seed Patents, Report Says. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/12/monsanto-sues-farmers-seed-patents
- (2) GMO Facts. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/
- (3) Glyphosate Exposure Skyrockets 500% in Humans Since GMOs Introduced (2018). Retrieved from http://www.weedkillercrisis.com/news/glyphosate-exposure-in-humans-skyrockets-500-since-gmos-introduced/
- (4) Agricultural Pesticide Use and Risk of Glioma in Nebraska, United States. (2018). Retrieved from https://oem.bmj.com/content/62/11/786
- (5) Occupational Exposure to Pesticides and Risk of Adult Brain Tumors. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967588/
- (6) Glyphosate Induces Human Breast Cancer Cells Growth Via Estrogen Receptors. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691513003633
- (7) Pesticide Exposures and Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology: An Epidemiologic Review. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5442867/
- (8) Cytotoxic and DNA-Damaging Properties of Glyphosate and Roundup in Human-Derived Buccal Epithelial Cells. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22331240
- (9) Myth: Roundup Is a Safe Herbicide with Low Toxicity to Animals and Humans. (2015). Retrieved from http://earthopensource.org/gmomythsandtruths/sample-page/4-health-hazards-roundup-glyphosate/4-1-myth-roundup-safe-herbicide-low-toxicity-animals-humans/
- (10) Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/weed-whacking-herbicide-p/
- (11) Environmental and Health Effects of the Herbicide Glyphosate. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29117584