Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. A huge increase in the incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases has been reported in the United States (US) over the last 20 years. Similar increases have been seen globally. The herbicide glyphosate was introduced in 1974 and its use is accelerating with the advent of herbicide-tolerant genetically engineered (GE) crops. Evidence is mounting that glyphosate interferes with many metabolic processes in plants and animals and glyphosate residues have been detected in both. Glyphosate disrupts the endocrine system and the balance of gut bacteria, it damages DNA and is a driver of mutations that lead to cancer.
http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/92/JOS_Volume-9_Number-2_Nov_2014-Swanson-et-al.pdf Nancy L. Swanson1, Andre Leu2*, Jon Abrahamson3 and Bradley Wallet4
Within the last 20 years there has been an alarming increase in serious illnesses in the US, along with a marked decrease in life expectancy (Bezruchka, 2012). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the cost of diabetes and diabetes-related treatment was approximately $116 billion dollars in 2007. Estimated costs related to obesity were $147 billion in 2008 and cardiovascular diseases and stroke were $475.3 billion in 2009. Health care expenditures in the US totaled 2.2 trillion dollars in 2007 (CDC, 2013a). The onset of serious illness is appearing in increasingly younger cohorts. The US leads the world in the increase in deaths due to neurological diseases between 1979-81 and 2004-06 for the 55-65 age group (Pritchard et al., 2013). These mental disorder deaths are more typical of the over 65 age group. There have been similar findings for obesity, asthma, behavior and learning problems, and chronic disease in children and young adults (Van Cleave et al., 2010). Type II diabetes in youth is being called an epidemic (Rosenbloom et al., 1999). The rate of chronic disease in the entire US population has been dramatically increasing with an estimated 25% of the US population suffering from multiple chronic diseases (Autoimmunity Research Foundation, 2012). These findings suggest environmental triggers rather than genetic or age-related causes.
During this same time period, there has been an exponential increase in the amount of glyphosate applied to food crops and in the percentage of GE food crops planted (Benbrook, 2012). We undertook a study to see if correlations existed between the rise of GE crops, the associated glyphosate use and the rise in chronic disease in the US.
To genetically modify a plant for herbicide tolerance, genes are identified which convey tolerance of the active chemical in the herbicide to the organism. In the case of glyphosate, glyphosate-tolerant genes were isolated from a strain of Agrobacterium. These were inserted into the genome of the plant via a multi-step process resulting in a plant that can withstand the direct application of the herbicide. Genetic modification is also utilised for developing insect resistant plants by using insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt toxin. The promoter used to drive the expression of the foreign genes is generally the 35S promoter from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV). Not only are the virus and bacteria genes themselves potentially harmful (Ho, 2013; Ewen & Pusztai, 1999), but the plants are sprayed directly with herbicides. The herbicide-tolerant plants absorb the poisons and humans and domestic animals eat them.
The GMO industry claims that genetic engineering is no different than plant hybridisation, which has been practiced for centuries (FDA, 1992). It is the reason they gave, which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted, for not having to submit GE food to rigorous safety testing to obtain FDA approval. This distortion of the facts needs to be corrected. One critical issue is that multiple genes are being transferred across taxonomical kingdoms in ways that do not occur by natural breeding methods (Bohn et al., 2014).
All living things are classified according to a ranking system that starts with species and sub species. Closely related species are grouped together under a rank that is called a genus. Closely related genera are grouped together under the rank of family. There are seven ranks. Starting with the highest they are: kingdom, phylum or division, class, order, family, genus, species.
Plants, animals, fungi, viruses and bacteria belong to separate kingdoms. Natural inter-breeding can take place between some species that belong to the same genus and very occasionally between species of different genera. However, species that belong to different families do not inter-breed and definitely species that belong to different kingdoms such as plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and viruses do not inter-breed in nature. Plants, for example, do not inter-breed with animals, bacteria or viruses. Genetic engineering allows for the transfer of genes between kingdoms in a way that does not occur naturally
The other great misconception is that only one gene with the desired trait is inserted. At this stage, science is not sophisticated enough to insert a single gene and get it to work. To overcome this problem, scientists have to combine the gene with the desired trait (such as herbicide tolerance or pesticide production) with other genes that will make it work, such as promoter genes and marker genes. The result is a complex construction of transgenes that can come from bacterial, viral, fish, plant and other sources. This is completely different from natural hybridisation.
The stance taken by Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and the other purveyors of both chemicals and genetically engineered seeds is that GE food is “substantially equivalent” to non-GE products. According to the US FDA, “the substances expected to become components of food as a result of genetic modification of a plant will be the same as or substantially similar to substances commonly found in food, such as proteins, fats and oils, and carbohydrates” (FDA, 1992, Section I). The FDA maintains that it is up to the biotech companies that manufacture GE seeds to research and determine the safety of their products.
But Bohn et al. (2014) were able to discriminate between organic, conventional and GE soybeans without exception, based on vitamin, fat and protein content. Furthermore, they were able to distinguish GE soybeans from both conventional and organic by their glyphosate and AMPA (glyphosate degradation product) residues, as well as substantial non-equivalence in numerous compositional characteristics of soybeans. The researchers stated, “Using 35 different nutritional and elemental variables to characterise each soy sample, we were able to discriminate GM, conventional and organic soybeans without exception, demonstrating ‘substantial non-equivalence’ in compositional characteristics for ‘ready-to-market’ soybeans” (p. 207).
Exponentially increasing use of glyphosate world-wide. Since glyphosate was introduced in 1974 as the active ingredient in Roundup® it has become the most widely used herbicide for urban, industrial, forest and farm use (Monsanto, 2010). Pre-harvest application of glyphosate to wheat and barley as a desiccant was suggested as early as 1980, and its use as a drying or ripening agent 7-10 days before harvest has since become routine. It is now used on grain crops, rice, seeds, dried beans and peas, sugar cane and sweet potatoes (Monsanto, 2010; Orgeron, 2012; Orson & Davies, 2007). According to the Canadian Pulse Growers Association (PGA pamphlet, 2012), “Desiccants are used worldwide by growers who are producing crops that require ‘drying down’ to create uniformity of plant material at harvest. These products may also assist in pre- harvest weed control. In Canada, products such as diquat (Reglone) and glyphosate (Roundup) have been used as desiccants in pulse crops in the past, and there are new products on the way.” In 2012, 98% of spring wheat, 99% of durum wheat and 61% of winter wheat were treated with glyphosate or glyphosate salts in the US (USDA:NASS, 2013c). The glyphosate plots in this study include all formulations of glyphosate.
Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup®, states, “Since its discovery in the early 1970’s the unique herbicidal active ingredient glyphosate has become the world’s most widely used herbicide because it is efficacious, economical and environmentally benign. These properties have enabled a plethora of uses which continue to expand to this day providing excellent weed control both in agricultural and non-crop uses to benefit mankind and the environment. Glyphosate has an excellent safety profile to operators, the public and the environment. … It is approved for weed control in amenity, industrial, forestry and aquatic areas. Roundup Pro Biactive and ProBiactive 450 can be used at any time of the year as long as weeds are green and actively growing” (Monsanto, 2010, p.1).
The Monsanto document outlines use areas including vegetation control on agricultural land, on GE Roundup Ready Crops and on non-agricultural land. By 2006, glyphosate became used routinely for both agricultural and non-agricultural weed control and pre-harvest treatment. Since 1995, glyphosate use has rapidly increased with the planting of GE glyphosate-tolerant crops. Glyphosate and its degradation product, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) have been detected in air (Majewski et al., 2014, Chang et al., 2011), rain (Scribner et al., 2007, Majewski, 2014), groundwater (Scribner, 2007), surface water (Chang, 2011; Scribner, 2007; Coupe et al., 2012), soil (Scribner, 2007) and sea water (Mercurio et al., 2014). These studies show that glyphosate and AMPA persist in the soil and water, and the amounts detected are increasing over time with increasing agricultural use. Chang et al. (2011) reported that glyphosate was frequently detected in water, rain and air in the Mississippi River basin with concentrations as high as 2.5 μg/L in agricultural areas in Mississippi and Iowa.
Because glyphosate is in air, water and food, humans are likely to be accumulating it in low doses over time. Glyphosate residues of up to 4.4 parts per million (ppm) have been detected in stems, leaves and beans of glyphosate-resistant soy, indicating uptake of the herbicide into plant tissue (Arregui et al., 2004).
Reports from Germany of glyphosate in the urine of dairy cows (Kruger et al., 2013b), rabbits and humans (Kruger et al., 2014) ranged from 10-35 ppm. According to the study (Kruger, 2014, p. 212), “Chronically ill humans had significantly higher glyphosate residues in urine than healthy humans.” Furthermore, the cows were dissected and glyphosate residues in the tissues of the kidney, liver, lung, spleen, muscles and intestines were comparable to that found in the urine. This means that the glyphosate is not being passed through the urine without affecting the organism and that meat and dairy are an additional source of dietary glyphosate for humans.
Industry and lobbyists claim that GE crops reduce the amount of pesticides used on crops, resulting in a more sustainable agriculture. This has proved not to be the case. Since the introduction of GE seeds in 1996 the amount of glyphosate used on crops in the US has increased from 27 million pounds in 1996 to 250 million pounds in 2009 (US Geological Survey pesticide use maps, 2013). Charles Benbrook (2012) showed that there was a 527 million pound (239 million kilogram) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011. Furthermore, Benbrook states that the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. This has led to genetically engineered forms of corn and soybeans tolerant of 2,4-D, which he predicts will drive herbicide usage up by approximately 50% more.
In the US, glyphosate residues allowed in food are some of the highest in the world. In July of 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2013) raised the maximum allowable residues of glyphosate. An abbreviated list is provided in Table 1 and Table 2. and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is the ‘textbook example’ of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins” (p. 1416).
Séralini et al. (2011) reviewed 19 studies of animals fed with GE soy and corn. The studies covered more than 80% of the GE varieties that are widely cultivated around the world. Their review found significant levels of negative effects to the kidneys and livers of the animals that ingested GE feed.
In another review article, Samsel & Seneff (2013b) point out that glyphosate is patented as a biocide and, as such, it kills the beneficial bacteria in our gut, leading to the steep rise in intestinal diseases. This has also been reported in the microbiota of horses and cows (Kruger, 2013a) and poultry (Shehata et al., 2012) where it was found that, “highly pathogenic bacteria as Salmonella Entritidis, Salmonella Gallinarum, Salmonella Typhimurium, Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum are highly resistant to glyphosate. However, most of beneficial bacteria such as Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus badius, Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Lacto-bacillus spp. were found to be moderate to highly susceptible” (p. 350). The authors postulate that glyphosate is associated with the increase in C. botulinum-mediated diseases in these domestic farm animals. Carman et al. (2013) reported that a diet of GE corn and soy was associated with stomach inflammation in pigs.
In 2012, Antoniou et al. published a review of the evidence on the teratogenicity and reproductive toxicity of glyphosate on vertebrates. Gasnier et al. (2009) published evidence that glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors in human cells. They reported toxic effects to liver cells at 5 ppm and endocrine disrupting actions starting at 0.5 ppm. They concluded that glyphosate damages DNA in human cells. Subsequent studies have also shown that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor (Paganelli et al., 2010; Antoniou et al., 2012). A more recent study showed that glyphosate causes the multiplication of estrogen sensitive human breast cancer cells, which further confirms that it acts as an endocrine disruptor (Thongprakaisang et al., 2013).
An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that either mimics or blocks hormones and disrupts the body’s normal functions. This disruption can happen through altering normal hormone levels, halting or stimulating the production of hormones, or interacting directly with the organ the hormone was meant to regulate. Because hormones work at very small doses, endocrine disruption can occur from low- dose exposure to hormonally active chemicals (Vandenberg et al., 2012). Threshold doses of pesticides are set based on toxicology studies assuming the response is linear. But the response is not only non-linear, it is also dependent on the hormone level in the body at any given time. The meta study on endocrine disruption by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Environment Program clearly makes this point (Bergman et al., 2013, p. 19): “Endocrine disruptors produce non linear dose responses both in vitro and in vivo; these non linear dose responses can be quite complex and often include non-monotonic dose responses. They can be due to a variety of mechanisms; because endogenous hormone levels fluctuate, no threshold can be assumed.” Consequently, low doses over long periods of time may lead to very serious illnesses.
Endocrine disruptors can increase or decrease hormone production, imitate hormones or even transform one hormone into another. Endocrine disruptors can also tell cells to die prematurely, compete with essential nutrients and build up in hormone-producing organs. These imbalances and malfunctions of the endocrine system can lead to diabetes, hypertension, obesity, kidney disease, cancer (breast, prostate, liver, brain, thyroid, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) (Marc et al., 2004; Thongprakaisang et al., 2013), osteoporosis, Cushing’s syndrome, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, infertility, birth defects, erectile dysfunction (Soto & Sonnenschein, 2010), sexual development problems and neurological disorders such as: learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD) (de Cock et al., 2012), autism (Schulkin, 2007), dementia (Ghosh, 2010), Alzheimer’s (Merlo et al., 2010), Parkinson’s and schizophrenia (MacSweeney et al., 1978). Endocrine disruptors are especially damaging to organisms undergoing hormonal changes: fetuses, babies, children, adolescents and the elderly (Bergman et al., 2013).
Given that glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria balance, the metabolic process, the uptake of nutrients, the endocrine system, and damages DNA, it seemed likely that there would be correlations between the increase of these diseases and the exponential increase in the use of glyphosate, particularly with the advent of glyphosate-resistant food crops. To this end, we searched for epidemiological disease data, along with pesticide use on crops and the percentage of GE crops planted since first being Swanson, Leu, Abrahamson & Wallet Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 2014 introduced in 1995.
The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA:NASS) maintains a database of US crops. Every year they randomly select fields of certain crops and send surveys to the persons who manage those fields. Among other things, they ask what herbicides were used, the application rate, how many times was it applied, and whether or not the field was planted with a GE variety. Surveys are only sent to the states that are the major producers of a given crop, usually accounting for about 90% of the total US acreage planted in that crop. They then perform a statistical analysis and report the total acreage planted, the percentage of acres that are GE, the Percentage of Acres Treated (PAT) with each herbicide for that crop and the application rate per acre per year. One can then calculate the total amount of an herbicide that was applied to that crop in the survey states for that year.
Data files from the USDA containing the information for GE varieties are available from 2000-2013 (USDA:NASS 2013a), but only corn, cotton and soy are tracked. Data for 1996-1999 were obtained from a USDA agricultural report (Fernandez-Cornejo & McBride, 2002). The survey states accounted for 85-90% of all corn, cotton and soy grown in the US. Sampling errors for the percentage of GE crops planted are given as 1-2%, varying by year and crop. The increase in the adoption of GE crops in the US from 1996-2010 is shown in Figure 1.
Data files containing the information for herbicide applications are available from 1990-2012 (USDA:NASS 2013b). Sampling errors (reported as standard errors) are small (<5%) in both the PAT and the application rate if the PAT is greater than 50%. Sampling errors are 5-10% if the PAT is between 10-50%, while the sampling errors are 10-100% if the PAT is <10%. We extracted the data for glyphosate applications to corn, cotton and soy. Data for cotton was not included in these results because, except for cottonseed oil in food and cottonseed meal in animal food, cotton is not generally considered a food crop. Though the manufacturers claim that there are no GE content or traits in processed foods (like oil), it has been reported that glyphosate residues up to 0.350 ppm have been detected in refined soy oil (GEAC, 2006).
From 1990-2002, glyphosate data were available for all three crops, but beginning in 2003 data were not collected for all three crops in any given year. Data on the application rates were interpolated for the missing years by plotting and calculating a best fit curve. Results for the application rates for soy and corn are shown in Figures 2 and 3. Because the PAT was relatively small prior to about 1995, the sampling errors are much larger for pre-1995 data, more so for corn than for soy. Also, data were not missing until 2003 for soy and 2004 for corn. For these reasons, the interpolated curves begin in 1996 for soy and 1997 for corn in Figures 2 and 3.
To calculate the amount of glyphosate applied, it was also necessary to interpolate the PAT for both corn and soy. This was easier because they followed almost exactly the curves for the percentage of acres planted in GE crops. GE soy crops are only herbicide tolerant (HT), which nicely tracked with the PAT for glyphosate, as shown in Figure 4. GE corn crops can be either insecticide resistant (Bt) or HT or both (stacked). The HT and stacked trait percentages, reported separately in the USDA files for corn, were plotted with the PAT for glyphosate as shown in Figure 5.
Results and Discussion. The plots are loosely grouped into related disease categories. If the disease data were linearly increasing prior to the 1990s, a linear trend line was overlaid on the plot in green. The error bars on the green trend lines are the residual standard errors from the least squares fit. In some cases, the axes have been adjusted to better illustrate the correlation; otherwise the data are plotted as is. In all cases, the left vertical axis is the prevalence or the rate of incidence or death from the disease. The right vertical axis is both the percentage of GE corn and soy planted and the amount (in 1,000 tons) of glyphosate applied to the corn and soy crops.
Correlations of cancers of the liver, kidney, bladder, and thyroid with the planting of GE crops and glyphosate applications
Epidemiology data for cancer incidence were obtained from the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database (National Cancer Institute, 2013). Based on published reports on endocrine disruptors, we expected but did not find correlations for: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (slightly rising), prostate (oscillating), testicular (slightly rising), colon (slightly decreasing) and breast (slightly decreasing) cancers. The decrease in breast cancer may be attributable to reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (Chlebowski, 2012).
We found strong correlations for cancers of the liver, kidney, bladder/urinary and thyroid. Results are shown in Figures 7-10. Thyroid and bladder cancers especially seem to track with the advent of GE crops and associated glyphosate applications. Thyroid cancer seems to affect females more, while males are more susceptible to liver and kidney cancers (not shown in graphs). We found weaker correlations between pancreatic cancer incidence (R = 0.84 with %GE crops & R = 0.92 with glyphosate applications) and deaths from acute myeloid leukaemia (R = 0.89 with %GE crops & R = 0.88 with glyphosate applications). Both of these peaked in the 1980s, then decreased and are now rising again. Pancreatic cancer incidence began rising again in 1996 and myeloid leukaemia deaths in 1989
Correlations of obesity, lipoprotein metabolism disorder and diabetes with the planting of GE crops and glyphosate applications
Epidemiological data for obesity deaths, lipoprotein metabolism (hyperlipidemia & hypercholesterolemia) disorder deaths, and diabetes incidence and prevalence also showed strong correlations with glyphosate use and GE crop growth. Death data were again obtained from the CDC mortality files (CDC, 2013b). Diabetes prevalence (CDC, 2013c) and incidence (CDC, 2013d) data were obtained from CDC National Center for Health Statistics. Results are shown in Figures 13-16.
According to the CDC, approximately one third of people with diabetes have not been diagnosed. Therefore, the National Health Interview Survey underestimates the true incidence and prevalence of diabetes. Because diabetes and obesity are associated with sugar consumption, we present the per capita sweetener delivery for US consumption (USDA, 2013) in Figure 17. The majority of the sugar consumed is from corn, sugar beets and sugar cane. In 2011, 88% of the corn (USDA:NASS, 2013a) and 90% of sugar beets (ISAAA, 2011) planted in the US were GE. Glyphosate is routinely used for sugar cane crop ripening and desiccation (Orgeron, 2012).
Hyperlipidemia is characterised by inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), abdominal pain, enlargement of the liver and spleen (hepatosplenomegaly), and small yellow skin lesions called eruptive xanthomas (Raphael, 1993; Berglund, 2012). Diseases associated with secondary hyperlipidemias include obesity, diabetes mellitus (type I and type II), hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, chronic kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, and cholestatic disorder, a major risk factor for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
According to Samsel & Seneff (2013a) glyphosate disrupts the CYP enzymes that are heavily involved in producing bile acids. Ordinarily, the liver exports a lot of cholesterol as cholesterol sulfate into the bile acids. This allows the digestive system to digest fats, which are then packaged up into the chylomicron with the cholesterol sulfate packed into its outer shell to deliver cholesterol to all the tissues. When the liver cannot make bile acids, it is forced to divert the cholesterol into LDL, so the LDL rises, resulting in hypercholesterolemia.
Conclusion may be determined that GMO foods may be harmful to human health and require more impartial scientific peer reviewed study