Is Monsanto’s Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?

Is Monsanto’s Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?
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Higher levels of pesticides on GMO soy is a concern since Monsanto’s Roundup has been shown to have adverse effects on human placental tissue.

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GMO soy has been found to be contaminated with pesticide residues, but are these levels anything to worry about? The researchers described these levels as “high,” but compared to what? Compared to the maximum allowable residue levels. The legal limit for glyphosate in foods had been set at .1 to .2 mg/kg, so OK, maybe that is high, exceeding the legal limits by an average of about 2000%, whereas organic and conventional nonGMO soy both had none.

So what did Monsanto do? Did the industry ditch the whole GMO thing, go back to using less pesticides so that residue levels wouldn’t be so high? Or, they could just change the definition of high. What if they could get authorities to raise the maximum residue level from point one or point two up to say. 20. Then the residue levels don’t look so high anymore, problem solved. The acceptance level of glyphosate in food and feed has been increased by authorities in countries that use Roundup-Ready GM crops. In Brazil, they went up to 10 and the U.S. and Europe now accept up to 20. In all of these cases, the maximum residue level values appear to have been adjusted, not based on new evidence indicating glyphosate toxicity was less than previously understood, but pragmatically in response to actual observed increases in the content of residues in GMO soybeans—otherwise it wouldn’t be legal to sell the stuff.

What evidence do we have, though, that these kinds of residues are harmful? For 12 years we’ve heard that Roundup interferes with embryonic development, but the study was about sea urchin embryos. For 14 years that Roundup may disrupt hormones, but that’s in mouse testicles.

Blogs will dish about concerning new studies implicating roundup in male fertility, but if you look at the study, it’s about rat testicles. Some blogs cite studies with disturbing titles like “Prepubertal exposure alters testosterone levels and testicular shape,” but they’re talking about puberty in rats, though doesn’t make as catchy a blog title.

Why not use human tissue? Women are having babies every day—why not just experiment on human placentas, which would otherwise just get thrown away and in 2005 researchers did just that. And despite all the negative effects in rodents, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup didn’t seem to have much of a toxic effect on human cells even at high doses, or have much effect on a hormone-regulating enzyme, leading Monsanto-funded reviewers to conclude that regardless of what hazards might be alleged based on animal studies, glyphosate is not anticipated to produce adverse developmental and reproductive effects in humans.

But pure glyphosate isn’t sprayed on crops, Roundup is, which contains a variety of adjuvants and surfactants meant to help the glyphosate penetrate into tissues. And indeed when the study was repeated with what’s actually sprayed on GMO crops, there were toxic and hormonal effects even at doses smaller than the 1 or 2% concentration that’s used out on the fields.

Similar results were found for other major pesticides. It took until 2014, but 8 out of 9 pesticide formulations tested were up to one thousand times more toxic than their so-called active ingredients, so when you just test the isolated chemicals you may not get the whole story. Roundup was found to be 100 times more toxic than glyphosate itself. Moreover, Roundup turned out to be among the most toxic pesticide they tested. It’s commonly believed that Roundup is among the safest, though, an idea spread by Monsanto, the manufacturer. However, this inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to the huge economic interests involved.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Eric Constantineau via Flickr.

GMO soy has been found to be contaminated with pesticide residues, but are these levels anything to worry about? The researchers described these levels as “high,” but compared to what? Compared to the maximum allowable residue levels. The legal limit for glyphosate in foods had been set at .1 to .2 mg/kg, so OK, maybe that is high, exceeding the legal limits by an average of about 2000%, whereas organic and conventional nonGMO soy both had none.

So what did Monsanto do? Did the industry ditch the whole GMO thing, go back to using less pesticides so that residue levels wouldn’t be so high? Or, they could just change the definition of high. What if they could get authorities to raise the maximum residue level from point one or point two up to say. 20. Then the residue levels don’t look so high anymore, problem solved. The acceptance level of glyphosate in food and feed has been increased by authorities in countries that use Roundup-Ready GM crops. In Brazil, they went up to 10 and the U.S. and Europe now accept up to 20. In all of these cases, the maximum residue level values appear to have been adjusted, not based on new evidence indicating glyphosate toxicity was less than previously understood, but pragmatically in response to actual observed increases in the content of residues in GMO soybeans—otherwise it wouldn’t be legal to sell the stuff.

What evidence do we have, though, that these kinds of residues are harmful? For 12 years we’ve heard that Roundup interferes with embryonic development, but the study was about sea urchin embryos. For 14 years that Roundup may disrupt hormones, but that’s in mouse testicles.

Blogs will dish about concerning new studies implicating roundup in male fertility, but if you look at the study, it’s about rat testicles. Some blogs cite studies with disturbing titles like “Prepubertal exposure alters testosterone levels and testicular shape,” but they’re talking about puberty in rats, though doesn’t make as catchy a blog title.

Why not use human tissue? Women are having babies every day—why not just experiment on human placentas, which would otherwise just get thrown away and in 2005 researchers did just that. And despite all the negative effects in rodents, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup didn’t seem to have much of a toxic effect on human cells even at high doses, or have much effect on a hormone-regulating enzyme, leading Monsanto-funded reviewers to conclude that regardless of what hazards might be alleged based on animal studies, glyphosate is not anticipated to produce adverse developmental and reproductive effects in humans.

But pure glyphosate isn’t sprayed on crops, Roundup is, which contains a variety of adjuvants and surfactants meant to help the glyphosate penetrate into tissues. And indeed when the study was repeated with what’s actually sprayed on GMO crops, there were toxic and hormonal effects even at doses smaller than the 1 or 2% concentration that’s used out on the fields.

Similar results were found for other major pesticides. It took until 2014, but 8 out of 9 pesticide formulations tested were up to one thousand times more toxic than their so-called active ingredients, so when you just test the isolated chemicals you may not get the whole story. Roundup was found to be 100 times more toxic than glyphosate itself. Moreover, Roundup turned out to be among the most toxic pesticide they tested. It’s commonly believed that Roundup is among the safest, though, an idea spread by Monsanto, the manufacturer. However, this inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to the huge economic interests involved.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Eric Constantineau via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

What is glyphosate? Please see the “prequel” to this video, Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Roundup Ready Soy. Before that I covered GMO corn: Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Bt Corn.

It’s the dose that makes the poison, though. Do we have evidence that the levels of Roundup chemicals not only found on crops but also in our bodies after eating those crops actually have adverse effects? That’s the subject of the final installment of this video series, GMO Soy and Breast Cancer.

Commercial interests can have a corrupting effect on the science of nutrition and hold sway over institutions that are supposed to operate in the public interest. See for example:

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