to Professor Kevin Folta about GMO "science"

Dear Professor Folta,

Your blog of March 27 (Activist-inspired pseudo-scientific nonsense is creeping into legitimate scientific forums) posted on the Web site “Science 2.0" succeeded in cancelling my lecture at the Museum of Science in Houston.   Rice University – next door, was eager to host the lecture and provided their media centre with excellent facilities – so no damage done, other than attracting the attention of the local press – that kind of cancellation was so far unknown in Houston.   

I appreciated your enthusiasm to “debunk junk GMO science” but your remarks were misplaced.  I am not participating in the controversy about the genetic engineering technology. What I speak publicly about is the pollution of our food crops and contamination of our food with the herbicide RoundUp.    I start my lecture by describing the molecule and its various uses (patents), then I comment on a few papers showing toxicity.

I begin with a statement from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine – a group of medical doctors, that took a public position in 2009 and requested a moratorium on engineered foods, based on their readings of scientific studies showing oxidative stress, infertility, immune system dysregulation, accelerated aging, changes in the gastrointestinal tract, including liver and kidney failure.  These are MDs, perhaps not real scientists, but they can read animal studies.

I continue by explaining that most engineered crops today are RoundUp Ready.  Yes there are other crops engineered to resist pests or diseases, or with a better nutrient profiles, or engineered to tolerate environmental conditions, or to reduce spoilage, but most of them are still on a minuscule acreage, or still on the shelf.  Most GMO crops today have been engineered with a bacterial gene to confer resistance to glyphosate.  GMOs are Glyphosate Modified Organisms.

I speak of the origins of this molecule patented by Stauffer Chemicals in 1964 as a descaling agent – a chemical that cleans up the mineral scales in industrial pipes and boilers.   In chemistry and biology we call it a powerful chelator.   I go briefly over the phosphonic acid part of the molecule.  And also glyphosate as an amino acid analog, easily mistaken and incorporated into proteins.

It did not take many years for somebody at the chemical corporation Monsanto to figure out that a chemical that kills bacteria and plants can make a lot more money if sold as a herbicide rather than as a descaling agent.   The Patent Office granted a patent for a new use in 1969.  The formulated herbicide was marketed in 1974 under the brand name RoundUp, a powerful and non selective herbicide, that kills plants and bacteria by shutting down their protein biochemical pathways, a wonderful product that has in theory no animal toxicity because animals do not have the vulnerable pathways.

The game changed in 1996, with the release of soy and corn RoundUp Ready crops - engineered with a bacterial gene that can still function in the presence of the (antibiotic) chelator.   Then we quickly had cotton, canola, and sugar beet and these RoundUp Ready crops revolutionized Industrial Ag.  The crops can be planted without the standard preventive weed control.  They are sprayed later when most of the weeds have sprouted and more than one spray is normal.  And the game changed again when it became normal to spray non engineered crops just before harvest to chemically dry them.  The antibiotic/herbicide has been sprayed on most grain and seed crops as a dessicant  for many years now.   Of course the residue levels must be much higher in foods made from grains and seeds that were sprayed just before harvest, than engineered crops sprayed in the first few weeks of their growth.  We have come from using this chemical as a regular herbicide to spray before planting the crops, to spray once or twice a few weeks later during the early growth of the plants, to finally spray the crops a week before harvest.   Extreme residue levels of glyphosate in food crops are now considered legal and normal.

Then comes the second part of my lecture where I comment on several studies showing toxicity.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient of the herbicide RoundUp is patented as an antiparasitic agent with a long list of claims as a non selective antibiotic - that kills bacteria at 1 ppm.  I call glyphosate an antibiotic masquerading as a herbicide.  

In case you are not too familiar with recent discoveries in Microbiome research, allow me to make a brief summary.  All animals have a symbiotic association with trillions of bacteria that appear essential to their good health.  This community of thousands of species of bacteria we call the Microbiome.  In humans it is mostly in the intestine. Most of our organs are influenced by these symbionts; another way to say it is that most of our organ depend on the integrity of the Microbiome, notably the brain and the immune and digestive systems.  Residues of antibiotic glyphosate higher than one part per million in our food could result in damages to the Microbiome and lead to epidemics of chronic illnesses like autism, diabetes, Alzheimer, and cancer.   Monsanto and the regulatory agencies have not released their data on the levels of contamination in Canada and in the USA.  Perhaps you have data to document that the residues in most foods are below1 ppm, please let me know.

I spend the rest of my lecture reviewing a few papers reporting on cell and animal experiments and cite quickly studies showing endocrine disruption, oxidative stress, inflammation, and cancer.  The WHO consulting experts like Professor Portier say it well on cancer risk in this german documentary on YouTube.  

I finish with the peer reviewed study of  Dr Nancy Swanson who analyzed masses of data from the Centre for Disease Control - statistics on Autism and Ahlzeimer and Dementia, and organ failure and cancer  - and she did a statistical analysis with the data on amounts of glyphosate that was sprayed on corn and soy in the USA from 1990 to 2010.   The correlation coefficients were consistently extremely high making it possible that glyphosate is the responsible agent for these epidemics.  Her data analysis suggest that some or most of the food system may contain residues of glyphosate upward of 1 ppm.

The time has come for glyphosate to return to its days as a herbicide sprayed on weeds.   The social and medical costs of spraying our food crops with this antibiotic are too high to justify its current use in Industrial Agriculture. 

Thierry Vrain

April 8, 2016