Welcome to Review 552, which covers a lot of news and new research on glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup, as well as other GMO-related pesticides, and the sustainable alternatives to poisoning ourselves and our environment. Topics include Roundup cancer lawsuits, the European Food Safety Authority’s perverse decision to greenlight glyphosate’s re-approval in the EU, the concerns of health scientists about exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides, new studies on glyphosate and its commercial formulations, damage to ecosystems from the use of GMO-related pesticides, actions of citizens resisting pesticide spraying in their localities, and innovations that provide effective non-toxic alternatives to weedkilling chemicals.
ROUNDUP: SALES DOWN, LAWSUITS RUMBLE ON
Bayer says it expects to take a €2.5bn ($2.8bn; £2.2bn) hit from a slower demand for its glyphosate-based products, including the controversial weedkiller Roundup. The announcement came as the company lowered its outlook for the year as it braces for a persistent fall in demand and lower prices. In all, it has set aside over $15bn (£11.7bn) to settle lawsuits alleging its herbicides are linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and other cancers.
The number of Roundup lawsuit adverts on TV in the USA is increasing at an exponential rate, encouraging more cancer claims against Bayer. Legal and financial uncertainty over the Roundup litigation has been a major drag on the group’s share price, which has fallen 46% over the past five years, underperforming the wider German stock market. With a stock market value of just €51 bn, the company is currently worth less than Bayer on its own before it acquired Monsanto.
Dr Chadi Nabhan, a hematologist and medical oncologist, is the author of a new book about Roundup, “Toxic Exposure: The True Story Behind the Monsanto Trials and the Search for Justice”. In the book, the doctor details his experiences as an expert witness tasked with showing how Monsanto, the original manufacturer of the weedkiller Roundup, was liable in Roundup lawsuits brought by users of the product who had contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Nabhan shares what he saw the plaintiffs go through, how Monsanto’s public relations team attempted to push aside the 2015 verdict by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) deeming glyphosate a dangerous carcinogen, and even potential ways the Environmental Protection Agency was swayed to not agree with that IARC decision. He also tells how he worked to show the manufacturer’s liability in cancer cases.
Lawyers representing a man who blames his cancer on exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer are crying foul over what they say are close personal ties between a lead Monsanto lawyer, James Bennett, and a special magistrate, Robert Blitz, helping oversee the Roundup litigation. Bennett has personally acted as legal counsel for Blitz and for his law firm, according to the motion, and they have worked together in a separate case. Additionally, the two men are “effectively economic partners” in a contingency fee case that brought their two law firms $276.5 million in fees, which they split, according to the motion. The Roundup case in question is among thousands of lawsuits still pending against Monsanto and its German owner Bayer.
EFSA GREENLIGHTS GLYPHOSATE
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has shockingly given positive advice to move forward with the prolongation of the use of Europe’s most widely used herbicide, glyphosate, despite a series of data gaps and outstanding issues. In its conclusions, it highlights that the potential genotoxicity (DNA-damaging effects) of impurities and consumers risk assessment remained incomplete. The potential of glyphosate products to cause developmental neurotoxicity and harm the microbiome and biodiversity is clearly recognised. EFSA, like ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) and the national agencies, bases its assessments predominantly on industry studies. The deeply flawed EU pesticide authorisation system neglects a wealth of independent and peer-reviewed scientific studies that link glyphosate to severe health and environmental problems. Many studies prove that glyphosate is genotoxic, neurotoxic, damages the gut microbiome and causes serious damage to soil, aquatic life and biodiversity.
EFSA said it had found no “critical areas of concern” for human, animal and environmental health from the use of glyphosate in agriculture. But what does that actually mean? According to EFSA’s own definition, “A concern is defined as critical when it affects all proposed uses of the active substance under evaluation (e.g. pre-sowing uses, post-harvest uses etc.), thus preventing its approval or renewal.” Note that EFSA emphasises the word “all”. As Thomas Backhaus, professor of ecotoxicology at the University of Gothenburg and director of its Center for Future Risk Assessment and Management, explains, this definition “basically means that, even if all but one of the proposed glyphosate uses are problematic, it still doesn’t qualify as a ‘critical area of concern’”. That explains how EFSA could acknowledge, for example, that 12 of 23 proposed uses of glyphosate result in “high long-term risk to mammals” without considering it a critical area of concern. Under their definition of “critical”, there are still ways of using glyphosate that don’t result in those risks, so in their opinion a ban would not be justified. In other words, EFSA has set an impossibly high bar to justify a ban on glyphosate or, indeed, on any other pesticide.
On 26 July 2023 EFSA published the conclusions on its peer review of glyphosate in the EFSA Journal. In connection with the publication, EFSA announced that in order to ensure it was complying with rules on data protection and confidentiality, it still had to carry out the relevant checks. As a result, all background documents relating to the risk assessment and peer review will only be published later – at some point “between the end of August and the middle of October 2023”. This delay is convenient for the pesticide industry because concerned NGOs and scientists will only have access to the full background documents as late as the middle of October. Yet the Commission is planning to ask EU Member States to vote on the glyphosate renewal at the 11-12 October SCoPAFF (Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed) meeting – before the full information is in the public domain. Now Pesticide Action Network EU has written an open letter to SCoPAFF objecting to this undemocratic and untransparent move and other aspects of the EU assessment procedure, which appear to aim at getting glyphosate fast-tracked to renewed approval without proper scientific and public debate.
The most notable international human rights group after Amnesty is now campaigning against glyphosate renewal in the EU on human rights grounds. Human Rights Watch tweeted: “The license for glyphosate use in the European Union expires at the end of 2023 — but its use has already been banned or restricted in over 30 countries. The EU should ban the use of this pesticide in line with commitments to the human right to health.”
Results of a recent poll in Germany show that almost 70% of a representative sample of German adults want their government to keep their promise to ban glyphosate at the national level.
In France 30 civil society organisations, including environmental, health, farming, beekeeping and human rights groups, backed by a petition signed by half a million French citizens, have responded to EFSA’s opinion on glyphosate by demanding that France “play a leading and unambiguous role in banning glyphosate in Europe in 2023”.
CONCERNED HEALTH SCIENTISTS
Nearly 100 doctors specialising in oncology, who were gathered in the north Indian hill town Shimla to make a roadmap for the future treatment of cancer patients in Himachal Pradesh, are demanding that lawmakers legislate to cut the use of pesticides in agriculture and encourage a shift towards organic farming. Their demands arose out of their concern over the increasing number of cancer patients.
Health sciences professor resigns as official advisor because Canada’s pesticide regulation “obsolete”, protects industry
Dr Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, has stepped down as the co-chair of the Health Canada scientific advisory committee on pesticides over concerns about a lack of transparency and scientific oversight in pesticide management. In his three-page resignation letter, Lanphear said he worries the committee, and his role as co-chair, “provides a false sense of security” that Health Canada is protecting Canadians from toxic pesticides. He said that based on his experience as an advisor to Health Canada he could not “provide that assurance”. His letter is in line with other critics of Health Canada who argue that pesticide industry interests are favoured over the health of Canadians.
Professor Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist at King's College London who has led a research group investigating the health impacts of glyphosate, believes the chemical is dangerous – even at very low levels of exposure. A recent press report quotes Professor Antoniou as saying, “There are many ways by which it causes damage. It disrupts and attacks the functioning of multiple mechanisms and causes DNA damage, which is the major known risk factor for cancer. Studies from around the world have shown that glyphosate can cause adverse effects at very low levels of long-term exposure… The regulators that claim glyphosate is safe have got it all wrong. They should be taking into account the latest evidence from independent academic groups, such as ours. When they do, they'll find their recommended safe levels are way out. We don’t even know what a safe level is.”
Caring Doctors, a 1300-member organisation for doctors and other healthcare professionals concerned about animal welfare, says if the European Commission re-approves glyphosate, it will opt for further collapse of biodiversity and ignore all health risks such as Parkinson's, developmental disorders and cancer. And it will also show how far the power of the agribusiness lobby extends.
Public Health Agency of Canada sends epidemiologists to support New Brunswick’s response to neuro patients
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) will be deploying two epidemiologists to New Brunswick in September to provide support to the province’s public health team. This decision comes after a letter was sent by neurologist Dr Alier Marrero, who raised concerns about an increasing number of young patients with rapidly developing neurological symptoms. Dr Marrero, who has been advocating for the patients, wrote a letter earlier this year highlighting elevated levels of certain compounds found in herbicides, such as glyphosate, in some patients’ blood work.
GLYPHOSATE: NEW STUDIES
Organic diets reduce glyphosate exposure for pregnant women – but only if they live far from agricultural fields, a study has found. The spread of glyphosate from sprayed fields drowned out any benefits from the organic diet. The findings show that diet is an important contributor to glyphosate exposure in people living greater than 0.5 kilometers from agricultural fields, but for people living near crops, agriculture may be a dominant exposure source during the pesticide spray season.
A new systematic review of studies on glyphosate and its commercial weedkilling formulations has found “strong evidence” that the chemical has five out of ten key indicators for cancer hazard. The researchers from UC Berkeley said their analysis also revealed “strong and consistent positive findings” that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor and has the ability to cause DNA or chromosomal damage (genotoxicity). For genotoxicity, the researchers found: 1) studies conducted in humans provided stronger positive evidence than animal studies; 2) glyphosate-based formulations elicited a stronger effect in both human and animal studies when compared to glyphosate alone; and 3) the highest quality studies in humans consistently revealed strong evidence of genotoxicity. The authors conclude, “Our findings strengthen the mechanistic evidence that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen and provide biological plausibility for previously reported cancer associations in humans, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma [NHL]. We identified potential molecular interactions and subsequent key events that were used to generate a probable pathway” to the onset of NHL.
US Right to Know have updated their fact sheet, which includes summaries of a number of studies.
Glyphosate exposure linked to severe depression, lower cognitive function and increased risk of serious hearing difficulty
A new study provides evidence that glyphosate exposure may be associated with adverse neurological health outcomes. The researchers observed lower cognitive function scores, greater odds of severe depressive symptoms, and increased risk of serious hearing difficulty in US adults with higher glyphosate exposure, as shown by their urinary glyphosate levels. It’s important to note that these associations between glyphosate exposure and adverse neurological outcomes were found in a representative cohort of the general US adult population, i.e. the study wasn't focused on those with occupational exposure to glyphosate.
A new review of the scientific literature has found that both glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides have multiple effects on various non-target organisms in terrestrial ecosystems. Regardless of the fact that glyphosate may be less acutely toxic than many other herbicide active ingredients, the review notes that “Unintended side-effects on a range of organisms, including microorganisms, invertebrates, and vertebrates, are evident especially upon chronic exposure. The major mechanisms of these effects are oxidative stress, metabolic dysregulation, metabolome disturbances, endocrine disruptions and genotoxicity including direct DNA damage.” The review concludes, “Based on the available literature on terrestrial ecotoxicity, and given the drastic decline in biodiversity, we conclude that the continued high use of GBHs [glyphosate-based herbicides], resulting in increased exposure and risk, cannot be considered ecologically sustainable.”
A new review of the scientific literature has found that the exposure of animals to glyphosate and its formulations “reduces activity, depresses foraging and feeding, increases susceptibility to predation, interferes with courtship, mating, fertility and maternal behaviors, decreases learning and memory capabilities, and disrupts social behaviors.” These changes in animal behaviour as a result of glyphosate toxicity, the researchers from UC Riverside and California State University say, are “important because of their sometimes severe effects on individual fitness, as well as ecosystem health”.
Glyphosate affects larval gut microbiota and metamorphosis of honey bees. Results include deformity and mortality of newly emerged bees
A new study on the impact of glyphosate on honey bee larvae shows “the intake of field-relevant concentrations of glyphosate induced a slowdown in growth with dysbiosis in the larval gut microbiota followed by late effects on their metamorphosis such as teratogenesis [deformity] and mortality of newly emerged bees”. The study follows on from research on the impact of glyphosate on adult honey bees which, as the researchers note, “proved glyphosate has detrimental effects on adult honey bees, and other insects, associated with the disturbance of their gut microbiota.” Such detrimental effects have been shown to affect the growth, metabolism and survival of both honey bees and stingless bees. These impacts may have much wider significance, as the researchers note that the readily managed and more heavily researched honey bee can be regarded as “a sentinel species of the pollinator community which is exposed to a wide variety of pesticides”.
Degradation of colour discrimination associated with glyphosate exposure impairs bees’ foraging ability
A study has found that glyphosate can adversely impact sensory and cognitive processes in bumblebees. The researchers found that glyphosate exposure impairs bees’ learning of aversive stimuli like electric shocks paired with specific colour discrimination. Additionally, the pesticide reduces attraction to UV (ultraviolet) light and temporarily impacts movement in response to light. These impairments to sensory and cognitive processes render foraging difficult for these glyphosate-exposed pollinators and increase vulnerability to predators. The study shows that glyphosate exposure can thus reduce foraging efficiency and adversely affect ecosystems, especially those dependent on insect pollinators.
The use of herbicide combinations is an increasingly common practice in the face of weed resistance, and glyphosate is among the active herbicide ingredients commonly mixed. But a new study points out that not all herbicides mix well and it finds that “glyphosate is not an herbicide of choice in selecting companion herbicides”. The organisation Critical Scientists of Switzerland notes that glyphosate’s failure to mix well is “quite an ironic finding”, given that stacked GMOs, like maize MON 87429, Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton or SmartStax Pro x Enlist maize, are becoming increasingly common. These GMOs encourage herbicide mixing by being tolerant of up to five active ingredients, including glyphosate!
A new report from PAN UK shows how pesticides exacerbate the climate emergency throughout their lifecycle via manufacturing, packaging, transportation, application, and even through environmental degradation and disposal. Glyphosate has a particularly large carbon footprint of 31.29kg of CO2e for each kilogram manufactured. Globally the amount of glyphosate used in 2014 was equal to fuelling 6.25 million cars for a year. UK use increased by 16% from 2016-2020, generating the CO2e equivalent of over 75,000 flights from London to Sydney. PAN UK say making pesticide reduction part of climate action would both cut greenhouse gas emissions and bring huge benefits to nature and biodiversity.
OTHER HARMFUL GMO-RELATED PESTICIDES
The use of dicamba and 2,4-D herbicides, which has massively increased in the US in recent years with the advent of GM dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant crops, is harming mature trees in Illinois, according to reports. The trees are showing signs of distress, with leaves that have wilted, curled and cupped. Kim Erndt-Pitcher, senior habitat and agricultural programs specialist at Prairie Rivers Network, said that in some areas the organisation has been monitoring, some oaks are no longer producing acorns. Prairie Rivers Network’s senior habitat specialist added, “In recent years, states across the US have been dealing with large increases in reports of injuries to crops, trees, and plants. These injuries are symptomatic of exposure to plant growth regulator (PGR) herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba.”
One of every three bites of food we eat comes from a crop pollinated by bees. This bee-powered nourishment includes apples, blueberries, tomatoes, bananas, avocados, cashews, and almonds – a harvest of more than 130 fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Yet, all this is imperilled by a severe decline of bees and other pollinators worldwide. A shocking new study just found that mass pollinator loss has already caused half a million early human deaths a year by drastically reducing the global supply of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Between April 2018 to April 2019, the managed bee population in the US decreased by a stunning 40.7%, which experts call "unsustainable". An overwhelming number of scientific studies link these bee declines to pesticides, especially a group of systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids. These bee-harmful pesticides have many long-term detrimental effects and pose an increased risk to fragile ecosystems. Although banned in the EU, in the US there is massive use of neonicotinoids as seed treatments in corn and soybean crops – most of which are GMO.
Unregulated pesticide-coated seeds are quietly decimating bees, birds, and butterflies. Pesticide giants like Bayer-Monsanto have been selling these deadly seeds with no safety testing or regulation by the EPA for decades. Now, almost half US farmland is planted with pesticide-coated seeds. And just one GMO corn seed coated with neonics contains enough pesticide to kill over 80,000 bees! If you’re in the US, please join the Center for Food Safety’s call to stop these poisonous seeds from killing more pollinators.
“STOP SPRAYING US”
Argentina: Supported by doctors and researchers, the group “Stop Spraying Us” wants freedom from pesticide spraying on GM soy
The Sprayed Peoples of Argentina and people from other pesticide-sprayed towns in the “United Republic of Soybeans” in Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay and Bolivia have been meeting and marching in Rosario, Argentina for food sovereignty and freedom from spraying. They were mobilising against the concentration, expulsion, poisoning, disease and death that agribusiness brings with its GMO monocultures and pesticides. There have also been talks organised by the Institute of Socio-Environmental Health of the National University of Rosario. Carlos Manessi, head of the Center for the Protection of Nature (Cepronat) and member of the multisectoral “Stop Spraying Us”, has worked for 15 years to publicise the problem. He said, “It is urgent that we make a change, we have to start changing agriculture in Argentina… What they are doing is madness. The State cannot continue to endorse this way of producing, they are responsible for the economic, environmental and public health disaster that is taking place.”
A remarkable and disturbing photographic record of the impact of the cultivation of GMO soy in rural areas of Argentina – titled "The human cost of agrotoxins" – has been captured by the award-winning photographer Pablo E. Piovano.
The Canadian province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and Climate Change has approved herbicide spraying over 1,415 hectares of the province from August 14 until September 30, but resistance is likely. Last year at least 10 no-spray camps were established by groups of local residents to block glyphosate spraying. The camps popped up in Nova Scotia forests while spraying was underway, causing repeated cancellations. And the same happened in previous years.
No-spray campsites are also being set up in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. “They're not going to walk over us,” a rural resident told the CTV Atlantic news channel. “We're going to be camped out until they realize that we mean business. We're not going to let this happen.”
British Columbia forest management plans show scheduled spraying of glyphosate, a herbicide that kills plants, fungi and bacteria, on forests throughout the territory of the Ma’amtagila (one of the Indigenous peoples in Canada) and neighbouring Nations. "When I think about the spraying it pains me to know that all of that traditional medicine is being destroyed. This practice is banned in Quebec, yet we’re still spraying it here in B.C. There must be transparency about the true impacts of glyphosate because we're the ones that suffer when we’re not consulted in good faith as First Nations people,” said Gigame Mak'wala, Chief Rande Cook of Ma'amtagila First Nation, which supports a ban on glyphosate in forestry uses. “It's time to stop stealing from ecosystems and start healing them."
In countries in Central America, the focus on intensively produced monocultures is damaging the capacity to produce food for the local population. Wendy Cruz, of the international farmers’ rights movement Via Campesina, based in the Honduran capital, says, “We need to push for a change of model, with governments adopting an agroecological vision that sustains life.” In Guatemala, for instance, glyphosate is regularly applied by aerial spraying as part of monoculture cropping. According to David Paredes, an activist with the National Network for the Defense of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala, “when the wind spreads it [glyphosate] to the fields of poor communities, there are no crops”. The same indiscriminate use of glyphosate, in particular, and other agrochemicals, in general, is happening in El Salvador. As a result, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador approved a ban in 2013 on fifty agrochemicals, including glyphosate, but the ban has still to be implemented. Alejandro Labrador of UNES El Salvador puts the obstruction down to the influence of transnational biotech firms like Bayer. And in the decade since the ban failed to be implemented, the use of glyphosate during the sugar cane harvest has been linked to a high rate of kidney failure in El Salvador. The country has the highest rate of deaths from chronic kidney disease in Central America.
Protesters from the grassroots global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion want farmers to stop using glyphosate; for shops to stop selling it; and for councils to stop spraying it. They have disrupted a pro-glyphosate event in France and protested in the UK in front of Bayer’s offices, outside local government offices and inside hardware stores and garden centres, among other locations.
Teen Vogue has a feature on how if you’re a student, your place of study, whether school or college, is likely covered in potentially hazardous pesticides. But the tide against pesticide-intensive campus management is turning. And Mackenzie Feldman explains how it all began with her successful campaign to get the University of California to ban glyphosate on all 10 of its campuses. Now Mackenzie has set up Re:wild Your Campus to encourage students across America to get toxic pesticides out of their school grounds and off their college campuses, and to help educational institutions prioritize the health and safety of campus communities through organic land management. She says colleges are seeing great benefits from having their campuses and sports fields managed without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. In fact, she says, research shows it can lead to up to 25% water savings, better soil health and significantly reduced financial costs. And Mackenzie hopes that Teen Vogue featuring this new student movement will help “make it cool and trendy to get toxic, cancer-causing chemicals off of our school grounds!”
“Push-pull” agricultural practices, which aim to improve crop yields by minimising the use of synthetic herbicides and insecticides, don’t only increase maize yields in the short term but in the longer term double yields while preventing pests from adapting , a study shows. “The key finding of our study is that push-pull actually gets better the longer it is established,” said Tim Luttermoser, the study’s lead researcher. The researchers add that ecologically intensified pest management systems such as push-pull systems are more durable than chemical pesticides, as pests frequently evolve pesticide resistance but rarely adapt to overcome ecologically intensified systems.
The Japanese Knotweed Agency is now treating invasive weeds without the use of glyphosate or other chemicals. They're using RootWave’s electrical weed management approach instead. This uses electricity to boil weeds from the root upwards without harming the soil or non-target vegetation. Other users of RootWave’s chemical free weed management include Arsenal Football Club, Transport for London (TfL), English Heritage, Exmoor National Park, the Royal Horticultural Society, and the royal residence Highgrove House and Gardens.
Andrew Diprose, the CEO of the electrical weed management firm RootWave (see item above) told GMWatch, “The argument for keeping glyphosate is usually about there being no cost effective alternative. This is simply not true. RootWave gives better weed control at a lower cost without residues.” And Diprose asks people to check out RootWave’s current crowdfunding campaign. While GMWatch doesn’t endorse any specific non-toxic approach to weed management over others, it is happy to see careful investment in all safe, effective and sustainable alternatives to toxic herbicides like glyphosate. More from us on the many flourishing alternatives here.
PAN UK has launched a “Greener Cities” guide that explains the value of the many wild plants that thrive on our streets and the valuable role they play in supporting bees, pollinators, birds, and many other species that forage or shelter on them. PAN UK points out that going pesticide-free in our towns and cities and allowing nature to thrive does not need to result in overgrown streets that compromise on accessibility. They recommend a nuanced approach that recognises the need to keep pavements clear for health and safety reasons, but also encourages wildlife to flourish wherever possible. Cities can be well maintained and thriving with biodiversity.
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