Essays Featured — 24 September 2017

The hazards of the chemical glyphosate for all living entities and the sinister role Monsanto has been playing in a macabre death waltz is illuminated by Surendra’s in-depth inquiry.

However, in spite of much opposition, the company is still thriving and their poisons distributed at large.

Roundup products

You must have realised this article is not about cowboys lassoing a bunch of plants. Roundup is the Monsanto trade-name for a weed killer whose principal ingredient is glyphosate. So, to start with, this article is all about the chemical glyphosate and its relationship to genetically modified foods.

Originally appraised as a water softener, glyphosate was patented by Monsanto in the early 1970s and commercialised in Malaysia and the UK as Roundup in 1974. As a broad-spectrum herbicide, it killed all plant life. The trend at the time was for selective weed killers and Monsanto was cautious about marketing Roundup in the United States. Reassured by overseas success, Monsanto soon made Roundup one of the best-selling herbicides for farmers and householders in their domestic market. Today no other weed killer has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use worldwide.

As sales peaked in the 1990s and the patent on glyphosate was about to expire in 2000, Monsanto needed to come up with another strategy for Roundup. They had already been investing heavily in biotechnology and were trying to develop strains of soybeans and corn, the most valuable crops on the market, that would be able to resist glyphosate. Staff at their Los Angeles plant noticed that one of its ponds accumulating glyphosate residues contained bacteria that, unlike other living forms, was surviving. Wham! Monsanto, with help from some other companies, was able to isolate the genes within the bacteria that were responsible for resistance to glyphosate and splice them into soybeans. We are talking about taking genes from one biological kingdom (bacteria) and introducing them into a completely different one (plants). This provoked the condemnation ‘Frankenfood’ from some quarters. Undeterred, in 1996, Monsanto patented RoundupReady seeds that could survive large doses of glyphosate and introduced commercially viable genetic engineering to agriculture – GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Corn Seeds Comparison

Farmers of soybeans, corn and canola, could forget about weeding. Instead, they bought RoundupReady seeds and soaked their fields and crops with glyphosate. Sales of Roundup skyrocketed. But that was not enough for Monsanto. They patented the seeds, preventing farmers from the traditional practise of using part of their crop to grow next year’s harvest. Farmers now had to buy new seeds every year from Monsanto and pay through the nose for them. To make doubly sure, the company later sold ‘terminator seeds’ that produced no offspring at all.

Not only that, airborne pollen from GM crops did not stay on the farm but travelled far and wide. Still a problem, organic farmers could suddenly find they had the RoundupReady variety on their land and were in danger of losing certification. Now 95% of the US soybean crop and 85% of American corn is RoundupReady. This does not bode well for the future of biodiversity. Some have even predicted that GM strains of each individual produce could gradually obliterate all the others around the world. Soon all soy on this planet could be exclusively GM.

Monsanto has a close affinity with toxins and seems to like killing things. Its first product was saccharin, eventually banned on health grounds. Then came the infamous PCBs in the 1920’s that caused havoc in human health and the planet in general. Although the principal producer, Monsanto has managed to secure legal immunity regarding liability for PCBs. Later, during the Vietnam war, Monsanto was one of a small group of companies that supplied the US government with Agent Orange. Between 1961 and 1971 some 12 million gallons (500 million litres) of this highly toxic, dioxin defoliant was sprayed over a large portion of southern Vietnam. As Jeffrey Smith, a leading opponent of GMOs, and author of ‘Seeds of Deception’ has remarked, “think Monsanto, think Darth Vader.” (His book is available as a free download.)

Spraying herbicide

Not content with a toxic takeover of soybeans and corn, Monsanto pondered what else it could do with Roundup. Wheat farmers in the northern states of America sometimes have trouble in harvesting. If the autumn is wet and the winter comes early, crops may fail or become mouldy. Roundup is not only a herbicide but as it kills the plants, it dries them out, too. Instead of allowing wheat to die and dry slowly and naturally, why not persuade farmers to kill it quickly and desiccate it at the same time? Farmers in the southern states of America do not have this problem. What about them? Well, if they work fast and use Roundup, they can get two crops per year and double their production. Unsurprisingly, Roundup is now used on 85% of the US wheat harvests.

You may still be wondering what all the fuss is about. Monsanto has made gigantic profits and farmers have been exploited but how does that affect us? From the outset, Monsanto boasted that Roundup was environmentally friendly. In 2001, French activists succeeded in gaining a legal verdict that Monsanto had falsely advertised Roundup as ‘biodegradable’ and claimed, untruthfully, that it ‘left the soil clean’. Two subsequent appeals by Monsanto against this ruling failed in the French courts.

Recent research indicates that 99% of Roundup sprayed on plants ends up in our soil, our air and our water. In the soil, glyphosate kills many bacteria, reduces the population of earthworms and binds with essential micronutrients, making them unavailable. In essence, it has a seriously damaging effect on long-term soil quality. In spite of all this, Roundup has become ubiquitous on the planet: it is truly ‘out there’. It is also ‘in there’.

“New research from Friends of the Earth has shown that people from all over Europe – in EU and non-EU countries – have glyphosate residues in their urine. The evidence suggests that a significant proportion of the population could have glyphosate in their bodies – and it is not clear where it is coming from. Despite the fact that glyphosate is the world’s best-selling chemical herbicide very little testing is done for glyphosate residues in food, feed, or water. Tests for glyphosate in the body do not take place at all.” (The Environmental Impacts of Glyphosate, Friends of the Earth Europe, June 2013).

In May 2017, the US Department of Agriculture dropped plans to test for glyphosate residues in foods. Up until then, although regular tests are carried out for most pesticides, the USDA had avoided testing for the most prevalent one, glyphosate. Of course, they had better not upset the Monsanto lobby and their cohorts.

For fun, here is a video record of a French TV interviewer doing just that.

Watch on YouTube

The year 2013 also saw the publication in a scientific journal of groundbreaking research on glyphosate by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff (Entropy 2013, 15 (4), 1416-1463). Since its inception, Monsanto has claimed that Roundup is harmless to human health. Already researchers had found that even at very low dilutions glyphosate was capable of killing cells taken from human embryos within 24 hours (Toxicology 53, 126–33). Another study found low doses of Roundup capable of altering the shape of frog and chicken embryos (Chemical Research in Toxicology 23 (10): 1586-1595).

Samsel and Seneff, however, took the controversy to another level by concluding that glyphosate is possibly “the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernised societies.” Their findings included but were not limited to: autism; gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhoea, colitis and Crohn’s disease; obesity; allergies; cardiovascular disease; depression; cancer; infertility; Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

These researchers found that glyphosate attacks bacteria through the same route that it kills plants. Furthermore, it targets the helpful microbes in our bodies more than the harmful ones. This especially interferes with digestion and the bacteria of the gut, making us much more prone to all of the diseases listed above. Monsanto ran for cover to the US Government and astonishingly, in 2013, the so-called ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ was approved. Although only valid for 6 months, the measure shielded sellers of genetically modified seeds from lawsuits and prohibited any legal restrictions on sales, even if the resulting crops were shown to cause significant health problems. Although now expired, it may have set a dangerous legal precedent.

Health hazards

The following year, Monsanto came under more scrutiny when it was demonstrated that additives in Roundup amplify the dangers of glyphosate making it 125 times more toxic than regulators had advised. (Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles, Mesnage et al, BioMed Research International, Feb 2014). Meanwhile, recent research, from a completely different source confirms the importance of effective gut bacteria linking them with a healthy lifespan. (Indoles from commensal bacteria extend healthspan, Sonowal et al, PNAS, July 2017)

Monsanto and other components of BigAgro have been allowed to vouch for most of their own products, including Roundup. As a result of lobbying, governments are in favour of the companies and members of official regulatory committees keep quiet about safety issues as they are rewarded with lucrative jobs in the industry when they leave. Monsanto does put together a few reports that allege safe findings from scant studies. Some reports are ghost-written by Monsanto executives. More renowned scientists are then paid to put their names to them. Many of these scientists were involved in supporting the tobacco industry and transferred to BigAgro when that collapsed.

Scientific research has been steadily losing independence year upon year. University studies depend on government funding and grants from big corporations. Money calls the tune: scientists play the requested music and follow the prescribed dance. In-depth or longer-term studies that might raise concerns are prohibited by the industry. Apparently, it has even come to the point where sponsors dictate the results: for example, “we want you to prove this is safe.”

The majority of scientists feel they have little choice but to follow the money. Few are rich enough to set up their own labs. If they manage to get independent funding for their work, they may have to carry a gun to keep themselves safe. This is the situation for Mike Adams aka ‘The Health Ranger’ who declared that the glyphosate molecule closely resembles a nerve gas. The damning statistical research cited above, by Samsel and Seneff, on multiple chronic diseases in the West, was not funded by American money but an Asian computer company.

GMO Foods

Entities like Monsanto work hard to smear any opposition. They have teams of spin-doctors ready to promote seemingly noble but bogus ideas. One of these is about feeding the starving with the much higher yields that GM crops provide. In fact, in the field, yields from RoundupReady soybeans have proved inferior to those from conventional beans (Cropchoice News, May 2001) and starvation is much more about food distribution than production.

Monsanto, Roundup, glyphosate, genetically modified soy and corn are a very big tip of a much bigger iceberg that is gradually emerging. Some GM crops have insecticides incorporated into their genes, throughout the entire cellular structures of the plants. One insecticide comes from a bacterium (bacillus thuringiensis) and BT corn, potato and eggplant are well established. Washing or peeling these vegetables will not remove the pervasive bug killer. We have no choice but to eat it.

If it kills bugs, what will it do to our cells? The problem is that Big Agro has no legal responsibility to find out. They are blithely allowed to introduce their products into the biosphere without any liability to study the longer term results. Many geneticists are concerned about tampering with DNA. That also goes for other chemicals responsible for coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes such as RNA. They argue that such interference could cause profound disruption, with totally unpredictable effects across a wide range of behaviour in plants and animals. This is not confined to the GM organisms themselves but to anything that interacts with them, including us.

Zyklon B

As the Monsanto name becomes increasingly vilified in the public eye, that company is about to duck and cover by allowing a takeover from Bayer. This is another organisation in the business of killing, with a dark history and roots going back to the chemistry of the holocaust. A sister firm, IG Farben produced Zyklon B, the gas used by Nazis to murder an estimated 1 million Holocaust victims.

Nature is not to be underestimated and has come up with ’roundup ready’ super weeds causing farmers to spray bigger and more frequent doses of herbicide to try to dispose of them. This approach is no longer working and Bayer’s LibertyLink is poised to take over from Roundup. Instead of glyphosate we have glufosinate and in tandem, genetically modified soy that can withstand LibertyLink. The play will go on using characters with different names but the script remains the same. The personnel in big corporations change but the organisations use the same established tactics. They behave like parasites.

Parasitism is a non-mutual relationship between species where one species, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. It is time to roundup those ubiquitous GMOs and dump them in the trash. Say ‘no’ to GMO, shop carefully, grow what you can yourselves and choose organic whenever possible but never organic from China where nothing is safely regulated. Be careful with animal products: their feed is predominantly GM and allowed to contain large amounts of pesticides that accumulate in their systems. If enough of us move away from GM food we could totally disrupt the supply chain.

SurendraA former Reichian therapist, British Surendra took sannyas in 1976. He lived in Osho’s communes in India, USA, UK and Japan from the early 1980s on. In Pune 2 he looked after the painting work in Lao Tzu House, and then worked in Osho Publications. From 1991–1997 he taught at Ko Hsuan in Devon, UK, and after a sojourn again in 2001 he also became a passionate photographer. In 2013 he relocated to the Japanese Alps with his partner, Amrapali. All articles by this author on Osho News. surendraphoto.com

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