(Beyond Pesticides, July 22, 2015) Months after the World Health Organization (WHO) formally associated the world’s most widely used herbicide -glyphosate (Roundup)- with cancer, one of the world’s leading experts on cancer risk, and co-author of the WHO’s report, Christopher Portier, PhD, told a scientific briefing in London that the herbicide can damage human DNA, which could result in increased cancer risks. This finding comes on the heels of a call by the Soil Association for a United Kingdom (UK) ban on the use of glyphosate after finding residues of the chemical in bread.
Earlier this spring, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as Group 2a “probable” human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in laboratory animals. Since then industry has hit back defending its champion product, even attempting to undercut the WHO’s findings with an industry-based assessment that reached the opposite conclusion, based on classified industry reports. Now an internationally recognized scientist, Dr. Portier, former associate director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, (NIEHS) and director of the Office of Risk Assessment Research at NIEHS, reiterated WHO’s findings at the UK Soil Association scientific briefing in Westminster on July 15. During his presentation, Dr. Portier said, “Glyphosate is definitely genotoxic. There is no doubt in my mind.” Genotoxicity is described as the ability of a chemical agent to damage the genetic information within a cell, causing mutations that may lead to cancer. According to Dr. Portier’s presentation, there is strong evidence that glyphosate and its formulated products are genotoxic and an oxidative stressor. Find Dr. Portier’s and other presentations from the scientific briefing at the Soil Association.
At this briefing, the Soil Association disclosed findings of glyphosate residues in bread being sold in the UK. The results of this study shows that glyphosate use in the UK increased by 400% in the last 20 years and is one of the three pesticides regularly found in routine testing of British bread -appearing in up to 30% of samples tested by the UK government.
According to the Soil Association’s policy director Peter Melchett, “If glyphosate ends up in bread it’s impossible for people to avoid it, unless they are eating organic. On the other hand, farmers could easily choose not to use glyphosate as a spray on wheat crops —just before they are harvested. This is why the Soil Association is calling for the immediate ending of the use of glyphosate sprays on wheat destined for use in bread.”
Glyphosate, produced and sold by Monsanto, is touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals by industry. Glyphosate has been shown to have detrimental impacts on humans and the environment. Given its widespread use on residential and agricultural sites, its toxicity is of increasing concern. A mounting body of data has found that formulated glyphosate (Roundup) products are more toxic than the active ingredient, glyphosate, alone. Roundup formulations can induce a dose-dependent formation of DNA adducts (altered forms of DNA linked to chemical exposure, playing a key role in chemical carcinogenesis) in the kidneys and liver of mice. Human cell endocrine disruption on the androgen receptor, inhibition of transcriptional activities on estrogen receptors on HepG2, DNA damage and cytotoxic effects occurring at concentrations well below “acceptable” residues have all been observed. A 2008 study confirmed that the ingredients in Roundup formulations kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, even at very low concentrations, and causes total cell death within 24 hrs.
In addition to WHO’s findings, previous studies have linked the toxicant to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. It is also a known endocrine disruptor, causes reproductive effects, kidney and liver damage, and is toxic to aquatic organisms. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1985 originally classified glyphosate as ”˜possibly carcinogenic to humans’ based on tumors in laboratory animals, but changed its classification to evidence of non-carcinogenicity in human years later, most likely due to industry influence.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also contributed to glyphosate’s expanded use by deregulating crops, including the vast majority of planted corn and soybeans, that are genetically engineers crops to be tolerant to the chemical. In recent years, weeds have exhibited resistance to glyphosate and its efficacy has been called into question. Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) routinely finds glyphosate in U.S. waterways especially in the Midwestern states and the Mississippi River valley.
Glyphosate is registered for use on wheat and can be applied before harvest to control weeds. Residues of glyphosate and its major metabolite aminomethyl-phosphonic acid (AMPA) have been measured in the seed and foliage of wheat following preharvest applications, with residues increasing as the rate of application increased. While no formal testing of glyphosate residues on wheat (or other commodities) occurs in the U.S., EPA has indicated that due to growing public interest in the chemical it may recommend sampling for glyphosate in the future. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Pesticide Data Program is responsible for tracking pesticide residues in crops, but EPA has not requested glyphosate testing on any commodity. Testing for glyphosate is however, more expensive than for other pesticides, which is probably the reason tests have not been conducted before. But with growing concerns over the toxicity of glyphosate, and its widespread use on GE crops like corn and soybeans, federal agencies both in the U.S. and elsewhere are being urged to begin quantifying and tracking glyphosate residues in food .
Beyond Pesticides advocates for a regulatory approach that prohibits high hazard chemical use and calls for alternative assessments. We suggest an approach that focuses on safer alternatives that are proven effective, such as organic agriculture. Thus, the best way to avoid glyphosate residues in bread and other foods is to buy and support organic agriculture. Our database, Eating With a Conscience (EWAC) provides information on the pesticides that could be present in the food we eat, and why food labeled organic is the right choice. EWAC also includes information on the impacts chemical-intensive agriculture has on farm workers, water, and our threatened pollinators.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.