Glyphosate whistle-blower comes under sustained attack
Pusztai 1999 - Carrasco 2009
This is a highly revealing interview (originally in Spanish) with Prof Andres Carrasco, who is having to cope with a vicious campaign of vilification in Argentina, involving Monsanto and its cohorts inside and outside of government, as a result of the publication of his findings on glyphosate and embryo development. He doesn't pull his punches. There are eerie echoes of what happened in 1999 with Arpad Pusztai. The translation is a bit crude, but the key points are there.
Contact and more info:
A group of concerned scientists has circulated a statement of protest on the internet and in a very small period of time received more then 600 signatures from Argentina and also from Mexico, Brazil, the US and Europe supporting this stance. Dr Miguel Teubal and Dr Norma Giarracca
"What happens in Argentina is almost a massive experiment" 03 05 09
Two weeks ago in Pagina/12 we reported the devastating effects of the compound herbicide Roundup on human embryos. Expecting a reaction, "but not so violent", the researcher was threatened, and had to defend himself against a smear campaign. It was even claimed that his research did not exist. Carrasco contests these charges and renews his own charges against the multinational chemical industry.
By Dario Aranda
Anonymous threats, media smear campaign and political pressure were some of the consequences of an investigation into the health effects of the intensive chemical model of agriculture and, more importantly, this pressure encouraged the dissemination of the research findings.
On the second floor of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) works Andrés Carrasco, professor of embryology, principal investigator of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) and director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology. With thirty years of scientific and academic work behind him, recently he confirmed the lethal effect of glyphosate on embryos. The most famous brand containing glyphosate is Roundup, produced by the multinational Monsanto Company.
Prof Carrasco knew there would be a reaction from the industrial the sector, but had not expected it to be at such a high level. "I did not discover anything new, and only confirmed what other scientists discovered," he says, in his small airy office. The industry spokesmen spent two weeks on a complex smear campaign that has not yet finished. Clearly they preferred the old regime of silence and acquiescence to progress on new evidence. They even questioned the existence of Carrasco's research. "They think they can easily destroy thirty years of an academic career. They are all hypocrites, these troops from the corporations, but they are afraid. They know they can not cover the sun with their hands. There is scientific evidence and, above all, hundreds of people who are living proof of a health emergency linked to glyphosate. "
Twenty days ago, this newspaper published its investigation. But three days later another unexpected fact emerged: the Environmental Lawyers Association filed a document before the Supreme Court, which requested the prohibition of the use and sale of glyphosate pending an investigation into its effects on health and the environment. Companies like Monsanto went ballistic and and began to issue press releases, alarmed by the possible negative impact on their profits. Five days later, on Monday 20, the Defense Ministry banned Soybean planting in their fields, citing the harmful effects of pesticides. This was an unprecedented political event, a national body warning of the evils of agrochemicals. At that time, businesses, chambers of industry, media communication operators and politicians declared the highest alert. Never before have multinational agribusiness and their spokesmen reacted so violently. During a full week they mounted a campaign in defense of the pesticides, and at the
same time, they sought to discredit their critics. The great fear of the supporters of Agribusiness is a ban on the most widely used pesticides like Roundup -- used as the chemical emblem of the current agricultural model.
Glyphosate toxicity and reactions
- Did you expect a reaction like that? - No. It was a violent reaction, and excessively dirty. Especially since I had found nothing new, just something that confirmed what others had come to by different paths. So I do not understand why business made such a stir. Remember that the origin of this goes back to the work with community victims of the use of agrochemicals. They are the irrefutable proof of what I researched in systematic and model experimental work 30 years ago, and which confirmed that glyphosate is devastating to amphibian embryos. Even at doses far below those used in agriculture it causes many and varied deformations.
- The results can be extrapolated to human health? - Vertebrate animal models currently used in embryological research have a common gene for mechanical early embryonic development and regulation. The results should be considered as an extrapolated alteration or external impact. The scientific world knows it, and officials from ministries too. So when I found evidence for these things, two issues arose -- how to research the effect of a mechanism that alters the normal embryo (which is underway); and then how to make the results known to the world.
- Why did the dissemination of your findings become a problem? - Because there are no institutional channels accessible to scientists who who can undertake research of this type, with powerful interests lined up against them. So the decision to make the findings public was a personal one, because there is no national security reason, or jargument in the economic interests of the corporations, to justify silence when it comes to public health. I must make it clear, when you have a result that is only of interest to a small circle, delays are acceptable in tidying up the smallest details, and then publication reaches just that small circle. But when you discover facts which may impact on public health, you are obliged to give them urgent and massive dissemination.
- Is it a common practice to disseminate a scientific breakthrough before being published in a scientific journal? - It is quite common. The country has institutions that broadcast their everyday scientific progress, that agents have to press that spread progress; nobody questions the media and the reply without asking. Broadcast progress, without papers and publications is not very good. Of course, these distributions of research results generally do not affect the interests of powerful groups.
- But there is a tension in science on when to release a breakthrough? - The tension is whether the disclosure should expect to be "approved" (a process which takes years). Now, if the research has implications beyond the academic sphere, affects society, the moral dilemma is whether I keep quiet until I have the last detail, and my libido is satisfied, or whether I turn on the alert. I decided to give the alert, and insist it is nothing new. There are clear background studies such as those of Belle and Gilles-Eric Seralini, who have done studies with other models, and published them. Their studies are more important than mine. What institutions should do, instead of attacking people like me, as is happening from some officials and businesses, is to start working to rectify the damage that my research has uncovered.
- Businesses, the media, agribusinesses argue that your study was not a serious one? - There are investigations in various parts of the world that have very serious implications, such as those just mentioned. Companies and their journalists dismiss inconvenient employee research, and at the same time fail to listen to the waterfall of medical charts from areas affected by glyphosate poisoning; the provinces are full of victims of pesticides, but the big corporations do not want to see the day when they will be held responsible. I do not understand why my story is more important than that of the Mothers of ItuzaingÃ³ (on the outskirts of Cordova, the emblem of agrochemical contamination). Doctors in the provinces have been complaining for years, as have the peasants and urban slum dwellers. And all is silent. But the evidence is incontrovertible reality. I am inspired by this reality and the facts about it are known. Agricultural enterprises, the media, and world scientific and
political leaders are basically hypocrites regarding the effects of pesticides. It is a simple thing for them to protest and dismiss research, but they seem incapable of observing and absorbing the medical evidence and recognizing the countless claims from Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Entre Rios, Cordoba and Santa Fe.
- What other workers are there? - Belle and Seralini in France. There is also work from the Universidad Nacional del Litoral and researchers like Alejandro Oliva, Rosario, with the collaboration INTA and Agrarian Federation. There are the surveys of the doctors Rodolfo Paramo (Santa Fe) and Dario Gianfelici (Entre Rios). Not many studies, but they are serious and available.
- Why does science not study this issue? - Because most of the world does not have the huge acreages with soybeans as are found in Argentina. There are nearly 18 million hectares here. From the ecotoxicological point of view, what happens in Argentina is almost a massive experiment.
Corporations and science
- They have attempted to discredit your investigation by saying that the UBA and CONICET are not aware of the work? - The UBA-CONICET and management agencies do not necessarily have to know everything I do or what all their other researchers do. It is within our power to define the lines of work, to investigate and publicize our results. That is the logic of research. So I do not have to seek permission to launch an idea or a new issue and they need not know, because science does not work at the whim of the supervisory bodies of the subjects we choose. It is part of academic freedom to make progress on theory, research and the development of questions. It also said that Conicet as an institution did not support my research. That is probably true, because it was not asked and does not endorse the framework of a new idea within the scope of a project. This is what happens in hundreds of research projects being conducted. Let me be clear, Conicet has no responsibility for my research
decisions. They are personal decisions, as appropriate, and they are non-institutional. And this is within my powers. Neither do I require institutional approval to develop my research, although we know that some areas are more resisted than others!
- There are agreements between government and the mining Conicet Barrick Gold, and also Monsanto, with encouragement for them to make research awards. Is research that might be critical of these sectors less welcome than other types of research? - I prefer not to answer.
- You could investigate for Monsanto? - Of course. CONICET and UBA permit that. Moreover, many scientists have been working for years for biotechnology companies under the guise of advisor- consultant for Conicet which allows them up to twelve hours a week to provide its research services to the public or private sector.
- Your research is accused of not being validated in a scientific publication. - That's a cheap jibe that only demonstrates an irrational fear of companies. In the scientific world you do not obtain validation for your research by publication in an industry magazine. Moreover, scientists are aware of mistakes and even frauds that are published in specialized journals. Many times something is published and then it is shown to be wrong. On the other hand, there are often investigations that are not published -- not because they are bad, but because the magazine is not interested either for editorial or "special interest" reasons. A personal example: in 1984 I discovered genes that were important for embryonic development, now called Hox genes. I published two papers in Cell, one of the best magazines in the world. There were those who accepted the work, and those who did not. It took years for the scientific community to validate the findings.
- The laboratory is dependent Conicet Embryology. Your work must be validated by the Conicet? - Please be clear, neither the committee nor publisher Conicet validated my research. What they do is to evaluate the evidence presented and to judge from the strength of the data and the argument. They have no way to verify the results in practice. The only certainty is the validation that other researchers can give by repeating experiments systematically and refining the results of the investigation.
- When are you going to share your work and bring the discussion to the scientific community? - In brief. I have to finish some testing and then I will be ready. What I love most is to pass my findings along to colleagues, so that other researchers can replicate the work. In fact I have already shared with my peers in this country and abroad. Now those studies should be independent, and NOT provided by corporations or by their accomplices in the government.
- Monsanto could replicate the work? - If they hire qualified researchers, yes. I have no doubt they will, and we all know what results will eventually be forthcoming!
- How will you continue the investigation? - We have confirmed malformations in embryos. Now we are seeking to discover the mechanisms involved. That is one more step. As a scientific worker, I must continue with the degree of academic freedom that I have, in trying to see what the causes may be. Mechanistic and molecular observations will be made, and I will publish the results. Apart from the amphibian, which serves as a model, we want to extend to other experiments on models of embryological development, such as birds.
- Can there be a possibility that these new tests, when the results are published, will not repeat the aberrations you have already discovered? - No way. These were controlled experiments, which were rigorous. Furthermore, there is other scientific evidence that points in the same direction. Therefore, I insist, I have not discovered anything new. I got certain results and believe in them. If the scientific community reaches a different conclusion, so be it. The core of the problem should not be this research. Who would want to hide the sun with his hand? I have simply encouraged more discussion. But there are sectors that want to close down and dismiss my research, simply for ideological, economic convenience.
- You have been accused of using wrong methods in your glyphosate research -- which would explain your spectacular results. It is claimed that the glyphosate concentrations in your experiments would never be matched in the case of consumption by humans. There was somebody who mentioned that "if we put oil in a glass of milk, of course it will cause poisoning", and they claimed that no fuel should be prohibited on that basis. - That kind of assertion has several facets. On the one hand, it shows biological ignorance, which is understandable for anyone who is not engaged in this branch of science. But the words that have come from the spokesmen of the corporations, also shows a deliberate and cynical intention to discredit an experimental design and procedure which is globally accepted. So that seems to be both malicious and hypocritical. It is well known both in the scientific community and in the agricultural sector, that the spraying of glyphosate herbicide affects ecosystems,
operating directly or indirectly on insects and other animals when they come into contact with the herbicide. So in addition to plant cells, it also affects organisms composed of animal cells. Our experiments warn that the cocktail sold as "pure" or harmless causes animal cells to generate developmental abnormalities in the embryo. Therefore glyphosate in the cell alters embryonic cell function, as in the plant cells of weeds. Moreover, it is already proven that herbicides are moved by wind. In reality, the suffering of families in camps near field boundaries and neighborhoods close to the spraying is incontrovertible. Therefore, glyphosate can be crossing respiratory barriers and / or entering placental and embryonic cells. There are even scientific advances in this direction, as there are records of glyphosate and possible metabolites in pregnant women. This could be correlated with potential effects including malformation. Therefore, if the degrading pure glyphosate which has been
ingested has an effect on the behavior of embryonic cells in animals during development, it is essential that we examine this in a proper experimental strategy. I insist that I used a classic strategy of analysis in my scientific research.
- Do you think that glyphosate must be banned? - In my work I would not go that far. And it is not my responsibility to propose a measure of that type. That having been said, based on 30 years of study in the genetic regulation of embryos, I will say that glyphosate generates changes in development. I am sure of that.
- The results do not correspond to the classification or Senasa recommendations of the Secretary of Agriculture. - It is a clear problem for them, who classify glyphosate as having low toxicity. Everything they say is contrary to what several studies show. Those confirm the alteration of cellular mechanisms and, above all, demonstrate the suffering of families from a dozen provinces. It's crazy to think that nothing happens.
Government pressures and need for studies
- Since your work at the Ministry of Defense, your research has been linked to a government operation against the employers in this field. - No serious person could think that. On the one hand, for anyone with 30 years academic work that would risk dismissal. For another, it is a fact that the Government did not ask me to do that. They don't wish to prohibit glyphosate, and cannot do it anyway. Some of the media invented that conspiracy. In fact I experienced some pressure arising from the core of my research. So no one can tell what the Government actually wants.
- Which officials put you under pressure? - I would prefer, for the moment, not to give names.
- In addition to the staff that moved against you, arguing for agribusiness (especially in the Ministry of Agriculture), there are senior people linked to the biotech sector, and pushing for agrofuels, as a second issue. - Again, I will not give names. But the official concentration of effort should be on obtaining further results, and on forming multidisciplinary teams. The reasonable and more scientific reaction would have been more humane, especially as there is a warning here on an issue related to human health. The logical reaction following my research should have been to study the difference between biodegradability and decomposition, and the different routes of glyphosate penetration -- and to review the regulations controlling the use and effects of glyphosate on human health in a systematic manner. But if they pander to business interests, we must make further studies.
Dependent media and intimidation
- Why didn't your study get support from other media and from companies? - Nearly a week after the publication shadowy players, for example from the business and media sector, got involved. Then the attacks commenced. The last straw was when I appeared in my laboratory to find commercial lawyers (CASAFE) demanding to see my research reports and data, and they conducted interviews which were very intimidating towards my staff. This was unacceptable bullying, but they have no right to access the contents of my laboratory on the pretext that they represent the law. I do not discuss my research with private companies or lawyers, especially if they are part of the problem. I discuss my results with my peers who will judge my professional expertise, in conferences, meetings, seminars and every day in my laboratory. On the other hand, I received intimidating calls, as reported. Therefore, I am careful about who I work for. Clearly, ClarÃn and La Nation, some say, have a vested interest,
act as spokesmen for the companies. When my peers examine my work, I will be there. As a researcher I will leave it to companies to seek to influence the media and temporary government officials.
- You accuse people of working to question the very existence of your research? - Well, scientists, Senasa, two deputies and three senators, requested the work and immediately accepted it. So have members of the Executive, environmental organizations and colleagues from abroad. If other work is required by reasons of internal political or business interests, sorry, but it will have to wait. Again, my scientific results can not be assessed by political or economic interests.