Welcome to #KavinCantEven, “Thanks Obama for sterilizing our teens” edition. My regular readers know I’m not a fan of the self-proclaimed “Mama Lion” Zen Honeycutt, the founder of anti-biotech group Moms Across America. She spreads misinformation and fear, regularly blaming genetically engineered food and glyphosate for health problems ranging from autism to mental illness. Though more and more research continues to show that autism is innate, caused by complex interactions of genetic variations with some influence from environment, Honeycutt has fabricated a story of curing her son’s autism by switching to a GMO-free, organic diet.
To top it all off, she accuses people like me of calling Moms Across America and their ilk “mommy shamers.” Ladies and gentlemen, give the lady a prize. Zen Honeycutt and Moms Across America most certainly do shame parents for feeding their families conventional food. They berate parents for choosing conventional produce or food with genetically engineered ingredients despite the fact that every scientific oversight agency in the world deems GE food as safe as organic or conventional counterparts. They blame children’s ailments on their parents’ food choices. They send the message that those who neglect to buy organic are lazy or parsimonious, or don’t care about their children’s health. This is classism and yes, it’s unadulterated parent-shaming.
Can you imagine the expression on my face when a follower shared this with me?
I can’t even. Now Honeycutt and her cronies aren’t just blaming parents for their children’s health problems, but for infertility too. The idea that glyphosate has contraceptive properties isn’t new. “Roundup: The sneaky and cheap contraceptive hiding in your food,” declares a 2013 headline from Natural News, the website I like to call “Woo Central”. A GreenMedInfo.com headline asked, “Is It Time To Acknowledge Roundup Herbicide As A Contraceptive?”
Um, no. The study cited in both of these articles was an in vitro rat study that didn’t at all conclude that glyphosate causes infertility. The results showed that “acute Roundup exposure at low doses (36 ppm, 0.036 g/L) for 30 min induces oxidative stress and activates multiple stress-response pathways leading to Sertoli cell death in prepubertal rat testis.” The study wasn’t done in real live rats, it was done on rat testicle cells in culture. Further, 36 ppm (parts per million) is way higher than the typical residues found on crops, around one ppm. Also, I’m pretty sure men don’t just pour Roundup on their genitalia just for fun, am I right guys?
If we want to skip science and go the anecdotal route, I know plenty of families with biological children who eat plenty of GE food. My husband and I are extremely fortunate; we had little difficulty conceiving both of our children and I can assure you, we weren’t buying organic food. Infertility is a real problem with various causes, but GLYPHOSATE ISN’T ONE OF THEM. People like Zen Honeycutt would do well to stop invalidating people dealing with autism, cancer, mental illness, and infertility.
Ladies, keep your IUDs, pills, implants, and other birth control. Guys, don’t forgo condoms, or vasectomies if you’re older. Food isn’t going to prevent any “oops” moments. Thanks Obama, indeed. Mr. President, next would you please outlaw unsubstantiated fear mongering? Voters like me would appreciate it.
Note: If you share this piece, please use hashtag #kavincanteven. For previous editions of Kavin Can’t Even, see Grounded Parents and Skepchick!
Featured image © 2015 Kavin Senapathy
“Also, I’m pretty sure men don’t just pour Roundup on their genitalia just for fun, am I right guys?”
Speak for yourself Kavin! It’s just the thing for after I drink a gallon of glyphosate!
Sorry! I’ve been hearing that some guys like that. Didn’t mean to judge 😉
Since many teen parents would probably miss out on a higher education and be stuck with a low income job, or worse no job at all, I always assumed a lower teen pregnancy rate would be a good thing. Am i wrong?
I know that’s not really the topic here, I’m just having some issues processing so much nuts at once.
Man, three exclamation points. That means it’s very important and obviously must be factually correct. But, ah, she forgot to put it in ALL CAPS. 😉
The really bad thing is, conspiracy theorists appropriate actual cases. You can find articles on the forced sterilization of American Indian women on PubMed. You can also find other articles on the same on whale.to. The first is a trusted source. The second…not so much.
O NO, it’s the glyphosate in the WATER? I thought it was the CHEMTRAILS??!!??
Maybe the chemtrails are spraying glyphosate? Should I tweet Zen Honeycutt about this? I’m sure she’ll want to look into it.
Turns out the premise is actually wrong if we look at the overall fertility rate of US women instead of the teen birth rate. Since 2006, the “completed birth rate” has risen:
“The second fertility measure is completed fertility, which counts the number of children a woman has in her lifetime. Typically, researchers collect fertility data for women ages 15 to 44 because those are considered childbearing years. They then measure “completed fertility” as the number of children ever born to women ages 40-44, on the assumption that most women at this age are done having children. According to this measure, since 1976, the low point in U.S. fertility occurred around 2006, when women near the end of their childbearing years had had an average of 1.86 kids.”
That’s from Pew, a pretty reputable source. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/02/24/is-u-s-fertility-at-an-all-time-low-it-depends/
The premise that the fertility rate is falling. Teen birth rate is low, but the overall fertility rate for US women has been rising for 9 years.
By all three of those charts, fertility is way down from 50 years ago. Now, it’s probable this is due to the Baby Boom, but that aside, you can see that fertility is down over the long term, even if not over the short term.
Um…these rates are per capita, so the Baby Boom has nothing to do with them. Ms. Honeycutt argues that Roundup makes people sterile and uses the declining teen birth rate as evidence. I offer the growing fertility rate over the last nine years as counter-evidence. Roundup use has increased over this nine year period while the fertility rate as also increased. So I could argue that Roundup makes people reproduce if I wanted to.
There’s been an overall trend toward lower fertility since 1910. There are also a smaller percentage of workers in agriculture today than there were in 1910, so one could argue that the non-farm lifestyle depresses fertility. There are good reasons for this to be the case; chiefly, farmers see children as free labor, but city-dwellers see them as an amusing expense.
The Baby Boom is so called because lots of people had lots of kids, so it would show an increased birth rate, even per capita.
I agree with you about Roundup, we just need to clarify what sort of time scale we’re talking about, and decide what metric to measure with. The completed fertility metric isn’t a great one for Roundup, because the effects would be felt by people now, not 20 years ago when the completed fertility metric people were giving birth mostly.
The average age of women giving birth is now 30.
Glyphosate has other bigger problems, including that collection of 30 studies WHO used to link it to cancer. Either way, with the rising problem of superweeds immune to it, Monsanto is turning to something even worse- Enlist Duo.
They are equating Monsanto with GMO, which is like equating Microsoft with computers. While GM aren’t dangerous, Monsanto’s monopoly IS. But just like we wouldn’t ditch our computers because we detest Microsoft, we shouldn’t detest GM because we know Monsanto has a dark background. They have a 40 year track record of poisoning the environment with DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs, etc so they rightly deserve their bad reputation. With glyphosate they made a huge error, as Fraley himself admitted, not realizing that immunity would arise so quickly with the evolution of superweeds. WHO used a combination of 30 studies to link it to cancer. Their replacement, Enlist Duo, is even worse. Most people I know in the bio-engineering field wish Monsanto would just disappear, and they just might get their wish with their proposed move to London and expansion into the organic field. Which is another questionable move, but that’s what’s been reported on Wired.
It appears that you’re somewhat misinformed, @alexthegreatest. The IARC found one and only one study linking glyphosate to cancer, the retracted Seralini study. If you believe there are 30 studies making this connection, please cite them.
Not that study, as that was from a few years ago. I’m talking about the WHO statement just a couple of months ago.
Aaron Blair, a scientist emeritus at the National Cancer Institute and lead author of the study, told Reuters,“There was sufficient evidence in animals, limited evidence in humans and strong supporting evidence showing DNA mutations and damaged chromosomes.” The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published their study of glyphosate on March 20, finding that the popular herbicide may contribute to non-hodgkins lymphoma.
IARC report was published in The Lancet Oncology detailing evaluations of organophosphate pesticides and herbicides. The report concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The evidence for this conclusion was pulled from studies of exposure to the chemical in the US, Canada and Sweden published since 2001.
The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985. The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.
In 2014 Anti-Media reported on a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which claims to have found a link between glyphosate and the fatal Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown origin (CKDu), which largely affects rice farmers in Sri Lanka and other nations. In response Sri Lanka has banned glyphosate and Brazil is considering doing the same.
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Special Projects S.M. Chandrasena stated that President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a directive to ban glyphosate sales in the country. “An investigation carried out by medical specialists and scientists have revealed that kidney disease was mainly caused by glyphosate. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered the immediate removal of glyphosate from the local market soon after he was told of the contents of the report.”
The researchers believe glyphosate could be helping carry toxic heavy metals present in certain agri-chemicals to the kidneys. Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) was first seen in the north central areas of Sri Lanka in the 1990s and has taken an estimated 20,000 lives. Before being pushed by Monsanto for use as herbicide, glyphosate was a de-scaling agent to clean mineral deposits in hot water systems.
Although the paper did not offer new scientific evidence, the researchers proposed a theory for how CKDu is spread. The researchers believe that glyphosate is contributing to a rise of heavy metals in drinking water. Dr. Channa Jayasumana, lead author of the study said, “glyphosate acts as a carrier or a vector of these heavy metals to the kidney.” Glyphosate itself is not the toxic agent, however when combined with metals in the ground water the herbicide becomes extremely toxic to the kidneys.
In recent years there has been a spike in CKDu patients in farming areas of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
The Minister stated that a new national program would be launched encouraging Sri Lankan farmers to use organic fertilizer. The Ministry of Agriculture is hoping to plant 100,000 acres of land throughout the country using organic methods.
Nice try, but news articles aren’t peer reviewed scientific studies. You claimed WHO (it was actually IARC acting on WHO’s behalf) collected 30 studies linking glyphosate with cancer. Show me the list.
I know that just as well as you do, I was hoping you would go to The Lancet link I posted (a British medical journal in case you didn’t know) and see it there.
The links in my second and third post were from a farmer who uses Glyphosate and he admitted there seems to be a slight increase in NHL, but not enough for him to be concerned about.
But I do agree with you about them trying to protect Bayer- and I dont like Bayer any more than I like Monsanto, neocortinoids have been implicated in the Monarch Butterfly and Honey Bee die off, and Bayer is trying to strong arm the EU into keeping them in their latest trade agreement. ALL pesticides have limited usefulness and timespans, I look forward to the new GM crops that need no pesticides, so that Monsanto will have to keep their dirty hands out of the proverbial jar.
What evidence is there for a link between glyphosate and cancer?
The IARC review notes that there is limited evidence for a link to cancer in humans. Although several studies have shown that people who work with the herbicide seem to be at increased risk of a cancer type called non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the report notes that a separate huge US study, the Agricultural Health Study, found no link to non-Hodgkin lymphomas. That study followed thousands of farmers and looked at whether they had increased risk of cancer.
But other evidence, including from animal studies, led the IARC to its ‘probably carcinogenic’ classification. Glyphosate has been linked to tumours in mice and rats — and there is also what the IARC classifies as ‘mechanistic evidence’, such as DNA damage to human cells from exposure to glyphosate.
Kathryn Guyton, a senior toxicologist in the monographs programme at the IARC and one of the authors of the study, says, “In the case of glyphosate, because the evidence in experimental animals was sufficient and the evidence in humans was limited, that would put the agent into group 2A.”
It is a bit difficult to judge how the W.H.O. agency reviewers arrived at their conclusion. Eventually, it will publish a detailed monograph. For now, there is only a brief paper published March 20 in The Lancet Oncology, a medical journal.
In that paper, the reviewers cited studies from the United States, Canada and Sweden suggesting that people exposed to glyphosate had a higher incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, even after correcting for exposure to other chemicals.
But a large and long study of pesticide applicators on American farms did not find any problems. Dr. Miller of Monsanto accused the agency of “disregarding” this study, though it is clearly mentioned in the Lancet article. Dr. Guyton said because of that study the reviewers concluded that there was only “limited” evidence from human studies that glyphosate could cause cancer.
The Lancet article cited several animal studies. As few as two are needed to establish carcinogenicity, Dr. Guyton said.
There are several ways to measure a possible effect. Are there more cancers in animals exposed to the chemical than in a control group? Do higher doses mean more cancers? Are the rates higher than expected based on historical data? In many studies, not all three measures are positive.
Take the mouse study at issue in the E.P.A. review 30 years ago and also cited by the W.H.O. agency. There were three cases of a rare type of kidney cancer in 50 male mice fed the highest dose. That type of tumor is rare, so it strengthens the case, Dr. Blair said. “They literally don’t occur, but they occurred when rodents were dosed with this stuff,” he said.
While the W.H.O. agency’s reviewers focused on the rise in cancer with dose, the E.P.A. reviewers in 1991 said the findings were not meaningful, in part because there was no statistically significant difference over all between the exposed mice and the control group.
Another finding cited by the W.H.O. agency was of an increased rate of hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood vessels, in male mice, as discussed in a document issued by the W.H.O. and the Food and Agriculture Organization in 2004. The authors of that document dismissed the significance of the finding, and said that over all, the study had “produced no signs of carcinogenic potential at any dose.”
The 2004 document then discussed four rat studies that it said also showed no evidence of carcinogenicity. One of those studies was also cited by the W.H.O. agency reviewers as evidence of carcinogenicity. Dr. Guyton said the agency reviewers “don’t report the authors’ conclusion. They report their own conclusions on that data.”
Another sign of whether something can cause cancer is whether it causes mutations or chromosomal damage. Bacterial tests do not show that glyphosate causes mutations. But the reviewers said there was evidence of chromosomal damage in studies involving animal and human cells.
The agency assessment began about a year ago with a literature search and culminated this month, when the working group met in Lyon, France. Reviewers had no ties with the pesticide industry, Dr. Guyton said.
very useful graph on that page
The second point about the figure above is that there appear to be many points on the right side for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This is important, because that is the type of cancer specifically called out in the Lancet Oncology article that the IARC used to officially announce their new classification. The table on the first page of the Lancet paper states that “Evidence in humans” is “Limited”, with the cancer site listed as “non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The Lancet Oncology paper lists only 16 references, and as far as I could tell, only 3 of those references actually contained information on glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (henceforth referred to as NHL). And those 3 references do seem to suggest a link between glyphosate exposure and NHL.
All three of the studies in this figure are “case control” studies. This type of study takes a large number of ‘cases’ of the disease of interest, finds a similar group of people without the disease, and then tries to find differences in risk factors between the groups. Any factors that are more prevalent in the ‘case’ group (the group with the disease) are viewed as possible risk factors for the disease. Case control studies can be very useful, as Vox points out here. In the three case control studies referenced in the IARC Lancet paper, all of the point estimates are to the right of 1. But the confidence interval from McDuffie et al. (2001) paper includes 1, indicating that the evidence for a link in that study wasn’t very strong. Similarly, DeRoos et al. (2003) used 2 different models, and the confidence interval for one of those models contained 1. As I looked through a variety of case control studies, multiple models were common. The authors would sometimes evaluate 2 or even 3 different models comparing glyphosate-exposed and non-exposed people. More on this later. I was able to find several more studies (in addition to the 3 that IARC referenced) that investigated links between glyphosate and NHL. All of those studies are summarized in the figure below:
Although many of the confidence intervals contain 1, all of the point estimates are greater than 1. So although there is a lot of variability in the data, the association of glyphosate exposure and NHL does seem to be reasonably consistent across studies. Perhaps this is what the IARC panel saw when they arrived at their conclusion. Similar to DeRoos (2003), both Hardell studies employed more than 1 model. In the studies I read, the difference between models was usually an attempt to adjust for confounding variables. The most common confounding variable in the NHL studies was exposure to other pesticides. A very large percentage of people who are exposed to glyphosate for long periods are also exposed to many other types of pesticides. This is a very important limitation of case control studies. Most people who use glyphosate a lot (like farmers, commercial pesticide applicators, and weed scientists) tend to be exposed to many compounds that are much more rare among the general public. We certainly tend to use a variety of pesticides, but probably also inhale more dust and fertilizers. We are out in the sun a lot. We probably also get exposed to more hydraulic fluid and wake up earlier than the general population. These things are extremely difficult to control for in a case control study.
An ingredient in Monsanto MON -1.59%’s Roundup weed-killer – glyphosate – is “probably carcinogenic,” according to a new decision by the World Health Organization yesterday. The decision was laid out in a new analysis in The Lancet Oncology, and published on the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) website. The analysis is based on the existing research on the chemical exposure in people and lab animals. Though it’s sure to raise consumer concerns, some – like Monsanto – say it’s unwarranted since no new data are included in the research, and previous studies have all deemed glyphosate relatively safe in the doses humans take it in. Consumers’ ears are certainly pricked at this new decision – but how convincing is it?
The report determines that there is “limited evidence” that the chemical can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer in humans. It says there is, however, “convincing evidence” that it can cause cancer in laboratory animals. Among people who work with the herbicide, who generally have traces of the compound in their blood and urine, there appears to be a slightly increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the report: “Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides.”
It may be that this new determination mainly regards farm workers, rather than the general public. It could also be that glyphosate itself isn’t the risk, but rather the compounds that glyphosate is combined with to arrive at the final formation. The German research that led to the EU’s decision on glyphosate’s safety concluded that, “the available data do not show carcinogenic or mutagenic properties of glyphosate nor that glyphosate is toxic to fertility, reproduction or embryonal/fetal development in laboratory animals…..[the research team] believes that there is convincing evidence that the measured toxicity of some glyphosate containing herbicides is the result of the co-formulants in the plant protection products (e.g., tallowamines used as surfactants).”
Because of the now conflicting opinions, Monsanto is demanding another look at the data. “We have issued an urgent request,” said Miller, “for appropriate personnel of the WHO to sit down with the global glyphosate taskforces and other regulatory agencies to account for the scientific studies used in their analysis and, equally as important, to account for those scientific studies that were disregarded.”
Some people, however, aren’t surprised by the WHO’s new decision, and feel it a small step in the right direction. Author and food industry analyst, Robyn O’Brien says that given the science that’s already there, the new development isn’t totally unexpected. “In October 2014,” says O’Brien, “Monsanto officials said during their earnings’ report, ‘the Roundup business is expected to soften in 2015’ due to increasing headwinds. This week’s World Health Organization announcement adds to those headwinds.”
O’Brien hopes the new analysis will at least spark more scientific inquiry into what these types of compounds to do both humans and the ecosystems into which it’s spread. “Scientists around the world continue to ask why,” she says. “Why do case-control studies of occupational exposure to glyphosate in the USA, Canada and Sweden now show increased risks for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? What is this doing to farmers? Why is it being applied in record amounts?”
Monsanto has been blamed for a number of disturbing ecological and sociological trends: from a dwindling Monarch butterfly population in North America to the suicides of farmers in India. They are currently being sued by San Diego for polluting the San Diego Bay with PCBs.
As far as how the rest of the industry will respond, this remains to be seen. “Looking forward, will the food industry begin to opt out of using it?” asks O’Brien. “Will the market step in and address this with a safer solution, making the 20th century agricultural productivity tool obsolete in the 21st century?”
If nothing else, at least the new decision will raise awareness on the part of the customer – and hopefully the concerns and fears it may also spark will turn into energies in the right direction: A demand for greater food safety and more scientific studies on the effects of these chemicals have on us and the environment in the long-run.
“One thing is clear,” says O’Brien. “We need more science on this genetically engineered landscape we now eat from. I hope some brilliant engineering students are looking at all of this right now and figuring our how to use 21st century technology to design a smart pesticide that doesn’t cause harm…A disruptive innovator would be great.”
The info I posted appears to be even-handed, they included data that supports both sides of the issue, including something I’ve read about before, that it may not be glyphosate itself that is the problem, but the other ingredients included as “filler” in Round Up.
Either way, the rise of weed immunity is something that happened much more quickly than was thought possible, and may result in more usage of a more toxic pesticide- Enlist Duo. I see pesticides, like antibiotics as a short term bandage for a long term problem- the final solution will be pesticide free. I hear that new GM crops are being developed that dont need any pesticides at all. That would be good news. I doubt Monsanto would be part of that project, since their money train would be threatened- which is even better news.
Once again, news articles are no science. Until I can see some peer-reviewed, non-retracted, controlled studies linking glyphosate with cancer I’ll judge IARC as (once again) protecting French agribusiness from US competition.
I know that just as well as you do, I was hoping you would go to The Lancet link I posted (a British medical journal in case you didn’t know) and see it there. SciAm is reputable, they are owned by Nature.
The links in my second and third post were from a farmer who uses Glyphosate and he admitted there seems to be a slight increase in NHL, but not enough for him to be concerned about.
But I do agree with you about them trying to protect Bayer- and I dont like Bayer any more than I like Monsanto; neocortinoids have been implicated in the Monarch Butterfly and Honey Bee die off, and Bayer is trying to strong arm the EU into keeping them in their latest trade agreement. ALL pesticides have limited usefulness and timespans, I look forward to the new GM crops that need no pesticides, so that Monsanto will have to keep their dirty hands out of the proverbial jar.
By the way, I’m not trying to avoid what you asked for, if you’d read what I posted, you’d see that WHO is due to release the full list later this year in a complete statement as to why they classified Glyphosate 2b.
Most people in the biotech field that I know of aren’t fond of companies like Monsanto or Bayer either, so opening up the field to more competition and reducing the reliance on ANY pesticide (especially that of a company with a notoriously bad environmental record) would be a great idea.