What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and the herbicide glyphosate


       Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants and animals that have had their DNA changed through human manipulation of their genetic material.  This change is often accomplished through the insertion of generic material of one species into the generic material of another species.  This genetic engineering results in a new configuration of DNA that is not found in nature.  The new configuration of DNA is called recombinant DNA and the organism is called a transgenic organism.

       GMOs are used in medical research to produce genes that can treat disease.  Gene therapy has had some measure of success in treating certain health problems.  GMOs are also used in the production of certain pharmaceutical drugs.  For example, genetically modified bacteria are used to produce insulin to treat diabetes.  GMOs have been used to produce new varieties of ornamental plants.  In recent years lavender colored roses and carnations have been developed through genetic engineering.

       Genetic engineering is also used to modify plants used for food. For example, tomatoes have had genes from flounder fish inserted in them to make them more resistant to freezing. Genetic engineering has produced drought resistant plants.  Various types of gene modification has resulted in plants being made resistant to pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on farm lands to control for pests and weeds.  It is here where there are serious concerns as to how GMOs affect our health.

Glyphosate and GMOs:

       Soybeans, corn, wheat, alfalfa, sugar beets and other food plants have been genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, which is commonly used on farm fields.  Glyphosate inactivates an enzyme vital to the making of certain proteins in a plant and this is how it kills the plant.  A genetically modified plant is able to make a different version of this enzyme which is not affected by glyphosate.  By planting food crops genetically modified in this manner, the crops can survive the application of the weed killer Roundup.  Therefore, weeds can be killed without killing the food crops.

       Monsanto, the makers of Roundup, insists glyphosate does not adversely affect humans and animals because the metabolic pathway it uses in plant physiology to kill the plant is absent in humans and animals.   However, this pathway is present in the bacteria which inhabit human and animal physiology.  Humans and animals contain millions of bacteria, many of which are vital to the health of the organism.  Research has shown that glyphosate is disruptive to the physiology of beneficial bacteria which results in adverse effects on the health of both humans and animals. 

       For example, there are friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract that contribute to digestion and immunity.  Disruption of this bacteria’s physiology can negatively impact digestion and absorption of nutrients which can lead to numerous health problems.  Worse yet, when friendly bacteria are destroyed, pathogenic bacteria often proliferate and create toxic conditions in the intestinal tract leading to additional health problems. 

       While a genetically modified food plant may not be killed by glyphosate, research has shown that glyphosate has negative effects on the plants physiology.  These plants do not easily rid themselves of the Roundup they absorb.  The chemical glyphosate remains in the plant and affects how the plant grows.  Some glyphosate is even degraded to an acid that is toxic to the plant.

       Published studies have revealed that glyphosate resistant GMO plants have less chlorophyll which shows a reduction in photosynthesis.  These plants have smaller roots, shoots and leaves.  Most alarming is that the protein content is reduced and the level of micro nutrients are less than is found in plants not modified to resist glyphosate. Therefore, when animals or humans eat these plants, they are getting less nutrition than should normally be available.  There is also concern as to the potential toxicity that ingesting plants that have absorbed glyphosate may have on animals and humans.  Glyphosate is combined with other chemicals to enhance its activity and research indicates this combination of chemicals has toxic effects on organisms that consume plants genetically modified to handle herbicides.

       Studies done in Sweden have associated exposure to glyphosate with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the fastest growing cancer in the Western world.  In the past 40 years, it has grown by 73% in the US.  One study found a higher rate of Parkinson disease among farmers who used herbicides, including glyphosate.  Some studies show that glyphosate and herbicides containing glyphosate cause cell mutations and damage to DNA. Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has done extensive research on the effects of glyphosate and believes its presence in the body is responsible for numerous health problems including autism, Alzheimer’s, infertility, various diseases of the bowel and some types of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

       According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in United States agriculture and the second most widely used herbicide to kill weeds in home gardens. Its overall use has increased by 200 fold since 1974 when it was first introduced.  A recent study involving 650 children found that 87% of them had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested 1,600 adult urine samples during 2013 and 2014 and found that 80% had detectable levels of glyphosate. 

       A number of fruits and vegetables have been found to have residues of glyphosate.  One study showed that lettuce planted four months after the field had been treated with glyphosate had residue of this herbicide.   The lettuce seedlings absorbed the glyphosate from the soil.  This shows that this chemical is not easily degraded in the soil as claimed by the chemical companies.  It apparently remains in the soil for a long time.  In 2009, a French court found Monsanto guilty of falsely advertising Roundup as biodegradable, environmentally friendly and leaving the soil clean.

       Research shows that glyphosate reduces the number of beneficial soil bacteria that breaks down organic material.  This has resulted in the reduction of organic material in the soil with the consequent reduction of many micro nutrients that such material provides plants.  Glyphosate reduces the viability of bacteria that transforms nitrogen into forms that can be used by plants.

       What is very disturbing is that since glyphosate resistant food plants such as soy, corn and wheat were introduced to the farming industry, weeds have become increasingly resistant to this herbicide requiring greater amounts being used to stay ahead of the weeds.  Farmers feel they can readily use this chemical to control weed growth without apparent harm to their food plants.  Research, however, shows plants are absorbing this chemical and are being harmed along with organisms that eat such plants.

       In addition to producing GMOs resistant to herbicides such as Roundup, other GMOs have been produced to make plants resistant to pesticides and fungicides. There also are GMOs being introduced into animals to increase milk and meat production and to increase resistance to disease. For consumers trying to avoid eating GMO products, the task is becoming increasingly more difficult.  For example, it is becoming more and more difficult to find soybeans that have not been exposed to GMO's as pollen from a farm using GMO soybeans can be carried by the wind to farms growing non-GMO soy and cross pollinate with the non-GMO soy.  It is estimated that around 70% of processed foods consumed in America contain some genetically engineered ingredients. 

The safety issue:

       It is troubling that the FDA has not done independent testing of GMOs to determine their safety for human and animal consumption.  Most testing is done by the very companies who produce the GMOs or the chemicals GMOs are designed to resist.  This raises questions about the creditability of such testing.  It is instructive that some countries (Japan, Australia) have banned GMOs and other countries (the European Union) require labeling of GMO grown foods.  In the US, labeling of GMOs is not required and attempts by consumer groups to require such labeling have been thwarted by heavy lobbying by companies that make GMOs and the chemicals GMOs are designed to resist. Also, segments of the scientific community claim foods containing GMOs do not need to be labeled because they create no health risk. 

       In view of the manipulation of genetic material in ways not found in nature, it would seem prudent to conduct independent studies of the long term effects of such manipulation on living organisms and the environment.  There also needs to be much more independent research done on the effects of glyphosate and other chemicals being used as herbicides, pesticides and fungicides.  The independent research that has been done to date on these chemicals indicates they have deleterious effects on human and animal health.      

       Because of the lack of such long term studies and yet enough studies indicating negative consequences related to GMOs and their impact on our health, a group of natural food retailers formed the Non-GMO Project.  This organization has facilitated a third-party verification program which looks at every step of the manufacturing process of foods and supplements to insure that no GMOs have been involved.   One company involved in this project is New Chapter.  At present, nearly 75% of New Chapter’s products have been Non-GMO Project verified. The company Garden of Life has had some of its products verified as Non-GMO as has several other companies.  Products that have gone through this process will bear the Non-GMO Project seal on the product label. Another label that is beginning to appear on some products is "Glyphosate Residue Free."  Products bearing this label will mean the ingredients in such products have been verified to not have been exposed to glyphosate. 

       At Milk ‘N Honey, we carry a number of products from the companies New Chapter and Garden of Life that have  the Non-GMO Project seal.  Some companies whose products we carry state Non-GMO on their product labels but do not as yet have the Non-GMO Project seal.