Toxicity Confirmed for Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-resistant GM Maize

As we rolled into a new calendar year, most people were probably unaware of a 'storm in a teacup' that was brewing in one corner of the scientific community. In November of 2012 a team from the universities of Caen and Verona reported their findings after a few years of research into what is currently the single most-used pesticide in the world and a species of corn genetically modified to tolerate it, both patented by the Monsanto corporation.

Photograph of Roundup-Ready Maize - via Wikimedia Commons

Their findings show that with life-long studies of the effects of Roundup and R-Tolerant NK603 Maize within the diets of lab-rats, there were sex-dependent hormonal changes within their bodies that resulted in significantly increased prevalence of cancers, mostly occurring in the breasts and pituitary gland of female rats and the kidneys, skin and liver of male rats.[1]

Since prior short-term studies had established a supposed safety to Monsanto's products[2], this finding met with extreme resistance from some areas of the scientific community, most notably those that had been involved with or financed by Monsanto in the testing of their products, although the response from most of the scientific community was positive. This led the authors to publish a full response to their criticisms and the data of their study, while the data collected by Monsanto remains confidential.[3]

But millions of people eat GM foods every day; surely they are safe?
A problem here is that GM maize (and possibly other GM foods) is not toxic in the same way a bottle or two of vodka is toxic. The kinds of things that usually kill somebody very shortly after consumption do so because they have an acutely toxic effect - an interference with some crucial biological process that results in collapse of the organism-as-a-whole - which can result in measurement of a lethal dose or LD50 (a dose that will kill 50% of those it is given to on average). While regulation of drugs that have such risks has been irregular at best[4], there is a different issue to consider - that of chronic exposure. There are many things, smoking tobacco for instance, which probably won't kill you today, or this week even, after you do them, but may greatly increase your chances of suffering from some quite horrible diseases after a number of years. With diet-related and smoking-related diseases currently the leading causes of death in the USA, this is a very serious issue (the top causes of death in 2009 were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke respectively, totalling over 1.4 million deaths, followed closely by 118,021 accidents - most of which were due to acute poisoning or motor-vehicle-related injuries; preliminary 2011 data is similar).[5]

Photograph of Golden Rice - via Wikimedia CommonsIt should be noted, however, that not all GM food is dangerous, as almost every modification is different. Some, such as Golden Rice, may have better nutritional characteristics than their natural relatives, and some may be benign but have useful effects for sustainability if they are ever engineered to reduce soil erosion, but when crops are engineered to tolerate or even produce some pesticide you should be worried (not only nutritionally, but crops such as these and the ones Monsanto has engineered for infertility pose a severe threat to biodiversity if they are allowed to cross-pollinate with wild species by planting them in fields), and for this reason all GM crops are subject to a safety approval procedure before they are allowed onto a market; however, these procedures have so far been much too relaxed thanks to industrial lobbying.

Just as the tobacco industry tried to dismiss and distort such scientific findings for the last few decades[6], GM food industry has been behaving similarly, attacking anyone who might threaten their profits.[7] Such reward-seeking and reality-denying behaviour is typical of many capitalists, is systematically encouraged by monetary economics, and ironically is the same kind of behaviour that is characteristic of the addictions suffered by their customers, which they depend upon for continued profits. While some governments try to regulate deadly drugs after people are already addicted, they do almost nothing to stem any developmental causes of addiction, which are well-established now. When someone is abused or put under significant stress during their childhood[8], or if the same happens to their mother during pregnancy[9], they tend to become increasingly sensitive to stress, increasing their likelihood of not only addiction but also suicide and other violent behaviour,[10,11,12,13,14,15] and all of these problems have their roots in inequality generated in market systems.[16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24]

So if you are currently living in America (or any other place where GM-containing foods aren't labelled or where Roundup hasn't been banned yet), you might want to think twice about pouring yourself a bowl of cheap cornflakes, but for those of us living in impoverished communities that currently depend upon such suppliers for mere survival, it is far more important for us to tackle the systemic causes of our misery, so that our children won't have to deal with it.

References:

  1. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize - G. Séralini et al, Food and Chemical Toxicology vol.50(11), pp4221-4231, November 2012 (PDF)
  2. Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans - G. Williams et al, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology vol.31(2), pp117-16 (PDF)
  3. Answers to critics: Why there is a long term toxicity due to a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide - G. Séralini et al, Food and Chemical Toxicity advance online publication, 9 Nov. 2012
  4. Comparison of acute lethal toxicity of commonly abused psychoactive substances - Robert S. Gable, Addiction vol.99, pp686-696, 2004 (PDF)
  5. Deaths: Final Data for 2009 - Kenneth Kochanek et al, National Vital Statistics Reports vol.60(3), December 2011 (PDF)
  6. “Avoid health warnings on all tobacco products for just as long as we can”: a history of Australian tobacco industry efforts to avoid, delay and dilute health warnings on cigarettes - S. Chapman & S. Carter, Tobacco Control vol.12(suppl.3), pp(iii)13-22, 2003 (PDF)
  7. The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food? - Kelly Brownell and Kenneth Warner, The Milbank Quarterly vol.87(1), pp259-294, 2009 (PDF)
  8. Child maltreatment and the developing brain; A review of neuroscience perspectives - S. Twardosz and J. Lutzker, Aggression and Violent Behavior vol.15(1), pp59-68, 2010 (PDF)
  9. Prenatal stress and long-term consequences; implications of glucocorticoid hormones - S. Maccari et al, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews vol.27(1-2), pp119-127, 2003 (PDF)
  10. Neurobiology of Food Addiction - Daniel M. Blumenthal and Mark S. Gold, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care vol.13(4), pp359-365, 2010 (PDF)
  11. Preventing Violence - James Gilligan; Thames & Hudson, 2001
  12. Childhood Abuse, Neglect, and Household Dysfunction and the Risk of Illicit Drug Use: the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study - S. Dube et al, Pediatrics vol.111(3), pp564-572, 2003 (PDF)
  13. Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults - V.Felitti et al, American Journal of Preventive Medicine vol.14(4), pp245-258, 1998 (PDF)
  14. Biosocial Studies of Antisocial and Violent Behavior in Children and Adults; A Review - Adrian Raine, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology vol.30(4), pp311-326, Aug 2002 (PDF)
  15. Psychobiology of persistent antisocial behavior; Stress, early vulnerabilities and the attenuation hypothesis - Elizabeth J. Susman, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews vol.30(3), pp376-389, 2006
  16. The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger - Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson; Bloomsbury USA, 2011
  17. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism - John McMurtry; Pluto Press, 1998
  18. Child wellbeing and income inequality in rich societies; ecological cross sectional study - K. Pickett & R. Wilkinson, British Medical Journal vol.335(7629), pp1080-1086, 2007 (PDF)
  19. The Association Between Income Inequality and Mental Health; Testing Status Anxiety, Social Capital, and Neo-Materialist Explanations - Richard Layte, European Sociological Review vol.28(4), pp498-511, 2012
  20. Poverty, Income Inequality, and Violent Crime; A Meta-Analysis of Recent Aggregate Data Studies - Ching-Chi Hsieh and M. D. Pugh, Criminal Justice Review vol.18(2), pp182-202, 1993
  21. Wage Inequality and Criminal Activity; An Extreme Bounds Analysis for the United States, 1975-1990 - Richard Fowles and Mary Merva, Criminology vol.34(2), pp163-182, May 1996 (PDF)
  22. Inequality and Crime - Morgan Kelly, The Review of Economics and Statistics vol.82(4), pp530-539, November 2000
  23. Income inequality and homicide rates in Canada and the United States - Martin Daly, Margo Wilson and Shawn Vasdev, Canadian Journal of Criminology vol.43, pp219-236, April 2001 (PDF)
  24. Inequality and Violent Crime - Pablo Fajnzylber, Daniel Lederman and Norman Loayza, Journal of Law and Economics vol.45(1), pp1-40, 2002 (PDF)

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