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Jul 7, 2017

Trust Us, It's Harmless

Roundup® herbicide hit the market in 1974 and was lauded as “the premier solution for the control of perennial weeds” by its maker Monsanto. Forty years and hundreds of millions of pounds
later, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has insidiously made its way into our soil, water, food, and bodies. But don’t worry, it’s harmless, they say.

Between 1996 and 2011, glyphosate use increased by 527 million pounds, and according to the most recent data available from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 180-185 million pounds of
glyphosate are applied on U.S. soils each year (compared to about 90 million pounds in 2001). The steady increase in glyphosate’s use directly coincides with the increase in crops genetically modified
(GM) to be resistant to the herbicide. A 2014 USDA report states, “Glyphosate has been the most heavily used pesticide in the United States since 2001 due in part to the popularity of herbicide tolerant crops, an overreliance on glyphosate, and a concomitant reduction in the diversity of weed management practices by U.S. crop producers.” The emergence of “super weeds,” weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate, has led farmers to use ever-increasing amounts of the herbicide, leading the biotech and chemical industries to push for higher residue levels allowed in food. In fact,
in 2013 the EPA doubled the allowable residue for glyphosate in “oilseed” crops like cotton and soybean, two of the most prolific herbicide-resistant GM crops, from 20 parts per million (ppm) to
40 ppm. The EPA concluded that “there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to the general population or to infants and children from aggregate exposure to glyphosate residues.”
Numerous scientific studies are proving otherwise.

Growing evidence is invalidating the claims that glyphosate is harmless. It is a proven endocrine disruptor, a substance that either mimics or blocks the biological actions of our hormones; it has been found to cause DNA and mitochondrial damage and cell death, at doses relative to the residues found in foods; and it disrupts the healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, killing beneficial bacteria while increasing pathogenic bacteria. Glyphosate’s action on bacteria is so strong that Monsanto patented it as an antibiotic in 2000. But beneficial bacteria aren't the only bacteria affected. Recent research has found that the normal application of glyphosate actually contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance by turning on cellular processes in disease causing bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella, which makes them resistnat to the effects of a variety of antibiotics.

A 2013 MIT study found two key ways that glyphosate negatively impacts human health: It inhibits enzymes that are critical for detoxification and other essential biological processes, including vitamin D3 synthesis, and it drastically alters the gut microbiota. Their findings led the researchers to say that glyphosate is likely to contribute to the development of inflammatory bowel diseases, infertility, obesity, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, Parkinson’s disease, liver diseases, and cancer. “While many other environmental toxins also contribute to these diseases and conditions, we believe
that glyphosate may be the most significant environmental toxin, mainly because it is pervasive and it is often handled carelessly due to its perceived nontoxicity,” the researchers wrote.

According to professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University, Don Huber, PhD, glyphosate is a chelating agent, meaning it binds to minerals in the soil and the plants, immobilizing
essential minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, manganese, and copper so they are no longer available to perform important functions in the plant—or our bodies. If you eat a plant that has been sprayed with glyphosate, the minerals in the plant will not be available for your body to use. Minerals are required
for thousands of biochemical processes in the body and mineral deficiencies are common and widespread in this country. Indeed, a number of studies comparing the mineral content of modern fruits and vegetables to those grown even 50 years ago consistently find significantly lower levels of important minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium. Glyphosate hits with a one-two punch—it binds to minerals in the plants it is applied to, making them unavailable for our bodies to use, and it changes the composition of gut bacteria, leading to a reduction in beneficial species, and an unhealthy gut cannot effectively absorb nutrients.

Whether you like it or not, glyphosate is probably lurking in your body. In a recent European study, 182 volunteers from 18 countries provided urine samples to be tested for glyphosate residues;
all of the volunteers were city dwellers who had never used or handled glyphosate. Lab results concluded that 44 percent had traces of glyphosate in their urine. A small pilot study in the U.S.
found glyphosate residues in the breast milk of 30 percent of the donated samples and urine residues at levels 10 times higher than those found in the European study. Glyphosate translocates and
accumulates throughout the entire plant that it is applied to, and it can’t be washed off. Residues can remain stable in foods for a year or more, even if the foods are frozen, dried, or processed. It has also been shown to accumulate in the organs and muscles of cows, so the meat, eggs, and dairy products that come from animals that eat glyphosate-contaminated grass, alfalfa, corn, and soy are also likely sources of the herbicide as well (current allowable residue levels in animal feed are exceptionally higher than in those foods meant for human consumption—around 400
ppm vs. 40 ppm).

While the current state of agriculture makes it difficult to completely avoid glyphosate, you can minimize your exposure to the herbicide by choosing organic foods. A 2014 German study found that those subjects who ate a mostly organic diet had significantly lower levels of glyphosate in their urine
compared to those who ate a mostly conventional diet. Organic standards do not allow any genetically modified foods or the use of glyphosate herbicide. Same goes for organic meat, eggs, and
dairy products—organic standards require that the animals eat an organic diet, which includes no genetically-modified feed. By choosing organic, you are at once protecting your own health, and
letting farmers know that there is a demand for organic food. With enough consumer demand and perseverance, we can create the markets that allow farmers to choose healthier, more profitable,
and more sustainable organic practices.

According to the most recent estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than one billion pounds of pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are used each year in the U.S.—that’s nearly 25 percent of the world’s total use. One billion pounds of chemicals in
our soil, our water, our air, and our bodies… and in our children. Pesticides are a major environmental stressor on adults and children alike, but children’s developing brains are especially susceptible to these chemicals.

A study published earlier this year from Rutgers University found that exposure to pyrethroid pesticides, a class of chemical insecticides, may increase the risk of ADHD in children. The researchers analyzed data and urine samples from 2,123 children ages 6-15 and found that those children who had higher metabolites of the insecticide in their urine were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The same study also discovered that mice exposed to a pyrethroid pesticide in utero and through their mother’s milk exhibited several symptoms of ADHD, including dysfunctional dopamine signaling in the brain—which is responsible for emotional and cognitive
function—hyperactivity, attention deficits, and impulsive behavior. Male mice were affected more than female mice, similar to what is observed in children with ADHD.

A 2013 Canadian study including 779 children ages 6-11 found at least one urinary metabolite of organophosphates (another class of chemical insecticides) in 91 percent of the children and metabolites for pyrethroids in 97 percent of the children. The children with the highest levels of pyrethroid metabolites were twice as likely to have parent-reported behavioral problems.

The health effects of pesticides are so serious that The American Academy of Pediatrics issued an official statement several years ago that calls on the government, schools, parents, and medical professionals to take serious action to protect children from pesticides. “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers,
decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems,” the statement says. It continues, “For many children, diet may be the most influential source of pesticides.”

Indeed, in one study, researchers were able to drastically and quickly decrease the urinary output of pesticide metabolites in children by switching them to an organic diet for only five days. Another study published early this year found that those subjects who ate mostly organic produce had consistently lower levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine compared to those who ate mostly conventional produce. The lead researcher concluded, “The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference in the levels of pesticides in our bodies.”

Just one more good reason to always choose organic

“Locavore” has quickly become one of the buzzwords of the modern food movement. But what does it really mean? Buying local can certainly help stimulate the local economy and cut down on food miles, the distance food travels from farm to table (both good things), but the term local tells us nothing about how the food was grown, aside from the fact that it was grown near you, and “near” is a relative term. There are no legal standards for using the term, but more importantly, locally grown
foods can be, and often are, grown with the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds. All of those saved food miles don’t compensate for the fossil fuels used to produce, ship, and apply the chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and do nothing to make up for
the long-term environmental and health effects of these chemicals, which are now in your own backyard.

The only way to really know if you are buying food produced without the use of chemicals and free of GMOs is to look for USDA certified organic. Organic food production is the only system that has legal definitions, concrete standards, an inspection process, and a legal label. When you buy certified organic, you can feel good knowing that you are supporting a healthy and sustainable food production system, for your own community and beyond. Look for the USDA certified organic label first, and if it is also local, then consider it the cherry on top!

By Lindsay Wilson