Genetic Engineering and Glyphosate

Genetic engineering (GE) is the process of transferring specific traits, or genes, from one organism to another. The resulting organism is called a transgenic organism or genetically modified organism (GMO), also known as genetically modified (GM) food. A large percentage of processed foods in American supermarkets now contain GM ingredients.4 The principal transgenic crops grown commercially are herbicide-resistant or glyphosate-tolerant strains and include soybeans, corn, sugar beet, cotton, and canola. In the United States, 93% to 94% of soybeans, 86% of corn, and 95% of sugar beets are glyphosate-resistant GM products.4-5

Extensive use of herbicides during crop growth results in glyphosate residues on GM products. One study found that glyphosate residues were clearly detectable in GM soybeans (3.3-5.7 mg/kg) and not in non-GM controls; additionally, non-GM soybeans had a richer nutritional profile than GM soybeans.5 Moreover, according to Cornell University, glyphosate is highly adsorbed by most soils, particularly those with high organic content. Microbes are primarily responsible for the breakdown of glyphosate. It may take as many as 174 days for half of the herbicide to break down to its still-toxic degradation byproduct aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA).6 In addition, a study by the US Geological Survey revealed that glyphosate and AMPA were found in more than 75% of air and rain samples tested in Mississippi in 2007.7 Research also found that glyphosate was detected in animal and human urine. Cows kept in GM-free areas had significantly lower glyphosate concentrations in their urine than did conventional farm cows. Glyphosate was detected in the intestine, liver, muscles, spleen, and kidney of slaughtered cows. Moreover, levels of glyphosate were significantly higher in the urine of humans who consumed a conventional diet vs those who followed an organic diet.8

Why should we be concerned about glyphosate?

As a broad-spectrum herbicide, glyphosate kills most plants. It prevents the plants from synthesizing certain amino acids that are needed for plant growth. Glyphosate stops a specific enzyme pathway, the shikimic acid pathway, which is necessary for plants and some microorganisms to live.9 As a matter of fact, its ability to alter the microbiome of humans and plants is likely to negatively impact our health.10-12 Disturbance of our intestinal flora results in dysbiosis, a microbial imbalance. Altering susceptibility of the body to infection and allergy and affecting autoimmunity, dysbiosis is a possible root cause of many modern diseases such as systemic inflammation, allergy and sensitivity, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.13 Research has also found that the urine of chronically ill humans contains significantly higher glyphosate residues than that of a healthy population. The presence of glyphosate residues in both humans and animals could be leading humans toward numerous health hazards.8
Moreover, glyphosate is now linked to liver and kidney damage;14-15 bone marrow damage;16 infertility;17 gluten intolerance; celiac disease;10 and neurological diseases such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and multiple sclerosis.11 Glyphosate is pervasive in our food supply, air, and water. Although the amount of glyphosate in individual products may not be large, the cumulative effect, particularly considering how much processed food Americans eat, could be devastating. Glyphosate may, in fact, be the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.

4. Bawa AS, Anilakumar KR. Genetically modified foods: safety, risks, and public concerns-a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2013;50(6):1035-1046.

5. Bohn T, Cuhra M, Traavik T, Sanden M, Fagan J, Primicerio R. Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans. Food Chem. 2014;153:207-215.

6. Pesticide Management Education Program. Pesticide Information Profile: Glyphosate [1]. Accessed March 24, 2016.

7. Majewski MS, Coupe RH, Foreman WT, Capel PD. Pesticides in Mississippi air and rain: a comparison between 1995 and 2007. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2014;33(6):1283-1293.

8. Krüger M, Schledorn P, Schrödl W, Hoppe H-W, Lutz W, Shehata AA. Detection of glyphosate residues in animals and humans. J Environ Anal Toxicol. 2014;4(2):210.

9. National Pesticide Information Center. Glyphosate general fact sheet [2]. Accessed March 24, 2016.

10. Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2013;6(4):159-184.

11. Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases III: manganese, neurological diseases, and associated pathologies. Surg Neurol Int. 2015;6:45.

12. Shehata AA, Schrodl W, Aldin AA, Hafez HM, Kruger M. The effect of glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota in vitro. Curr Microbiol. 2013;66(4):350-358.

13. Myles IA. Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutr J. 2014;13:61.

14. Mesnage R, Arno M, Costanzo M, Malatesta M, Seralini GE, Antoniou MN. Transcriptome profile analysis reflects rat liver and kidney damage following chronic ultra-low dose Roundup exposure. Environ Health. 2015;14:70.

15. Jayasumana C, Paranagama P, Agampodi S, Wijewardane C, Gunatilake S, Siribaddana S. Drinking well water and occupational exposure to Herbicides is associated with chronic kidney disease, in Padavi-Sripura, Sri Lanka. Environ Health. 2015;14:6.

16. Prasad S, Srivastava S, Singh M, Shukla Y. Clastogenic effects of glyphosate in bone marrow cells of swiss albino mice. J Toxicol. 2009;2009:308985.

17. Walsh LP, McCormick C, Martin C, Stocco DM. Roundup inhibits steroidogenesis by disrupting steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein expression. Environ Health Perspect. 2000;108(8):769-776.