GMOs and the Roundup Chemical, Glyphosate

Thierry Vrain

Why is everybody so confused about Genetically Modified Organisms? We are saturated with daily messages about GMOs, a veritable barrage about how bad they really are. It is all very ominous and fuzzy with nothing really concrete either way.  

The confusion about the safety of GMOs is quite simple to address. The only GMOs currently in our agriculture in Canada and the USA are RoundUp Ready crops, also known as Glyphosate Modified Organisms and the only GMOs in our food supply are from these crops. RoundUp Ready crops are engineered to be sprayed with the herbicide RoundUp and this technology has become so successful that RoundUp has become a major pollutant and food contaminant. This chemical pollution is antibiotic, it impacts the microbiome, impairs CYP enzymes, and depletes food of essential mineral micronutrients. That is all you need to know about GMOs and engineered foods – they are all contaminated with a chemical that demineralizes the food and will make you sick in the long term.

Descaling Agent

Glyphosate is the active ingredient of the herbicide RoundUp, a new molecule created in 1960 by Stauffer Chemicals, a US company with a business of cleaning mineral scales from industrial pipes and boilers. The mineral deposits (same as in electric kettles) are called scales, and the pipe cleaning chemicals are called descaling agents.  Glyphosate was patented in 1964 in the US as a powerful and very broad spectrum descaling agent – a demineralizer.   This means it binds to minerals indiscriminately and does a great job at “dissolving and preventing minerals from being reactive or bioavailable in solution.” When the descaling solution was disposed of in nature, it was obvious that it killed plants. The chemical company Monsanto promptly bought the molecule, patented it as a herbicide in 1969, and got it commercialized as RoundUp in 1974.

This molecule is making history because glyphosate has become the most successful agricultural chemical in North and South America and beyond, wherever RoundUp Ready seeds are used. The farmers using this technology get simpler and cheaper weed management and, despite higher input bills and sometimes disappointing yields, with weed resistance spreading fast, it has been a huge commercial success.

The herbicide RoundUp had a completely novel chemistry for a herbicide in 1969. It was deemed to kill plants by bonding to only one protein enzyme in the plant cells.   Animals do not have that enzyme, so it was assumed at the time that animals would not be affected. Glyphosate has little acute toxicity to speak of – although studies clearly indicated acute effects toward invertebrates and amphibians, and at the time of registration in the US and Canada, nobody bothered to check for chronic effects. Glyphosate was pronounced innocuous to humans and registered as such in the USA and in Canada. Considering its chemical capability of demineralizing its environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officers who signed off the registration papers clearly were asleep at the helm. Any toxicologist would expect long term chronic effects in animals, equivalent to vitamin depletion diseases like rickets, scurvy, or beriberi, from progressive lack of mineral nutrients.

Residue Levels of Glyphosate

The animal feeding studies proving the safety of GMOs do not include testing for the safety of glyphosate.  None of them mentions the residue levels of glyphosate in the feed. Meanwhile, a fast-growing series of independent studies in various countries published in the last five years have ascertained the impact of glyphosate on various cellular enzymes and organs of animals and of human cells.
The first RoundUp Ready crops to be commercialized were soy and corn, released in 1996. Today close to 500 million acres of soy and corn, and cotton, canola, and sugar beet are engineered to be sprayed with RoundUp, with close to two billion pounds of glyphosate every year.

So much of that finds its way into animal feed and processed food, that the US Environmental Protection Agency  had to raise the legal residue limits last year to accommodate a new reality. Legally, your meal could have 30 ppm (parts per million) of glyphosate in your breakfast cereal, 100 ppm in animal grains, 120 ppm in soybean, and every food item in between.

Why such a high residue limit for cereals when none of them are engineered to be sprayed with RoundUp?   RoundUp is sprayed on many non-engineered crops with the intent to kill them right before harvest. This is done to mature and dry the crops quickly to make them easier and cheaper to harvest. The RoundUp herbicide has been used as a desiccant for the last 10 years.

We have no official data on residues of glyphosate in food or in water in Canada. No epidemiological studies of any kind have ever been done. All we have are human cell studies and animal feeding studies, and they show acute and chronic effects. We learned last year that glyphosate bio-accumulates in animals that eat the plants after they have been sprayed. It accumulates in the lungs, the heart, kidneys, intestine, liver, spleen, muscles, and bones … and chronically ill people have higher residues in their urine than healthy people.

Human Bacteria

This  is scary when you know that glyphosate is a powerful and broad spectrum antibiotic. The medical field is now interested in  funding a large multi-university research project to explore the community of thousands of species of bacteria that call us home. The Human Microbiome project is the equivalent of the Human Genome project in its scope, because one hundred trillion bacterial cells call our lower intestine home. They are forever sending signaling-molecules to each other and to all human organs, particularly the brain.

All animals depend on their symbiosis with these bacteria, and humans are no exception. They are the teachers of our immune system, they make the neurotransmitters for our brain, and have a strong connection to the heart and the whole digestive tract. They literally feed us all kinds of molecules that we require – we call them essential, like vitamins and such. They digest and recycle most of our food. Human organs rely on molecular signals from the microbiome for normal functioning, and as goes the microbiome so does its human shell.

Over 60 governments around the world have found the evidence compelling enough, in the past few years to legislate some form of labeling, or to ban RoundUp Ready crops and the herbicide RoundUp. And their numbers are growing steadily. In Canada we need a social movement to advertise this issue. My hope is that this article will be shared widely so more people are warned.
Dear reader, I’ll be happy to send you the selected references I use to document my assertions in this document. The references are also posted on the Watershed Sentinel website. Dr. Thierry Vrain,

Dr. Thierry Vrain is a retired soil biologist and genetic engineer who spent his whole research career with the Department of Agriculture in Canada.
See also “Monsanto’s Roundup: Enough to Make You Sick,” Organic Consumers Association, January 2015.

Update: March 20, 2015 – Glyphosate Classified Carcinogenic by International Cancer Agency, Group Calls on U.S. to End Herbicide’s Use and Advance Alternatives






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