I’m angry because companies are putting chemicals on my food and then not telling me about it. Sure, GMO wheat was banned in this country. But did you know that farmers use Roundup to desiccate or dry the crop before harvesting the wheat? So even though you’re not eating genetically engineered food, you’re probably getting a dose of chemicals. Labeling a product as “genetically engineered” doesn’t tell you the whole story. Currently there is no organized activism behind labeling products with the warning “contains Roundup.”
Glyphosate (aka “Roundup”) is the most popular form of weedkiller in the world. America consumes 25% of the world’s glyphosate, yet we comprise only 4.4% of the world’s population.[i] Several weeds have been identified as being glyphosate resistant. Often called “superweeds,” they aren’t responding to standard applications. To combat this problem, farmers have sprayed more Roundup. In June 2013, Monsanto successfully increased the allowable amount of glyphosate on many crops, including potatoes and beets,[ii] approved through the FDA (see Docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2012-0132).[iii],[iv]
Residues of glyphosate are found in sugar, corn, soy, and wheat. Unfortunately, there is no scientifically recognized testing of glyphosate residues in food in the United States. The most recent study I found was released June 2013[v] and commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) and GM Freeze. Researchers found that people in 18 countries across Europe had traces of glyphosate in their urine.[vi] If anyone can find recent glyphosate testing in commercial foodstuffs, please comment below.
For something that is so ubiquitous, how does it work and what does it do?
Glyphosate’s action is derived from disrupting the way plants normally make aromatic amino acids. The technical name for this process is called the shikimate pathway. Most plants that absorb glyphosate can’t make certain proteins and therefore die. (Roundup Ready crops don’t die, and therefore farmers can spray them liberally without fear of losing their crops.)
Monsanto argues that “Glyphosate is not poisonous to mammals- it inhibits EPSP (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3 phosphate) synthase, an enzyme that mammals lack because we obtain aromatic amino acids in our diet.” But what they neglect to say is that the bacteria in our gut also rely on the shikimate pathway to make aromatic amino acids. Thus, some of the flora of our digestive system dies when it comes in contact with glyphosate. The fact that glyphosate can be found in the urine proves that it isn’t destroyed in the stomach and does not dissipate to nil before it reaches the intestines.
Monsanto also argues that since glyphosate’s salt form is readily soluble in water, it freely passes out of the body in the urine and does not bioaccumulate. However, a study done in Germany[vii] found glyphosate in the intestine, liver, muscle, spleen and kidney of slaughtered cows. Clearly, further study of glyphosate accumulation must be done by independent researchers.
Gut bacteria are crucial for digesting food and extracting vital nutrients like sulfate and manganese. Thus, a human body that contains glyphosate can become deficient in these nutrients.
That gut bacteria colonizes and works synergistically with humans is now understood. Microbiome is the name given to the “ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that share our body space.”[viii] So important is this relationship between microbes and the human body, that the National Institute of Health’s Human Microbiome Project studies its processes.[ix]
In my next blog post, I will explain what an adjuvant is, and why Roundup is more toxic than just glyphosate alone.