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1st December 2017

As Europe renews glyphosate’s licence for another five years, a timely documentary on the International Monsanto Tribunal shows the devastating health impacts of Roundup taking us to the brink of a public health crisis. Sam Burcher 

9782707197399Le Roundup face à ses juges (2017) [1] is Marie-Monique Robin’s second documentary film exposing the activities of agri-giant Monsanto. Her earlier film, The World According to Monsanto (2008) [2] dealt with the hold the multi-billion dollar corporation has over the global food system. This one documents the Tribunal Against Monsanto at the Hague in 2016, which followed the format of proceedings of the International Courts of Justice. Five eminent judges heard compelling evidence of damage to human, animal and environmental health by Roundup, the company’s best-selling herbicide from witnesses, experts and lawyers [3]. Monsanto declined to attend. 

Roundup contains 41% glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine), together with adjuvants, chemicals that are added to enhance its effect. Monsanto patented glyphosate first in 1974 as a broad spectrum weedkiller [4] to be sprayed from a bottle, backpack or tractor, or from low flying aircraft. Glyphosate was patented again in 2010 as a general human antimicrobial/antibiotic. [5]. In 2016 it was classified as “probably a human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) whose task is to conduct and coordinate research into the causes of cancer. Over half a century, the IARC has assessed nearly a thousand substances.

The film takes us to the Hague, to the towns, villages and homes in France, Argentina and Sri Lanka, to see the effects of exposure to glyphosate ranging from rashes, skin lesions, mouth ulcers and swollen joints. We hear of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, miscarriage, kidney and liver disease, and death in shocking testimonies given by victims of glyphosate.  

Impact of glyphosate on children

The film opens with testimonies of adverse health effects in children. Sabine Grataloup is a mother who used glyphosate over a 700m2  paddock around her home in France during the early stages of her pregnancy [7]. Since her son Theo was born nine years ago he has undergone fifty operations, including a tracheotomy, to help him breathe, and a gastrectomy tube to feed his stomach. Now he can do without the feeding tube, but will depend on the tracheotomy and an oesophageal voice box until he is eighteen and fully grown.

Maria Liz Robledo lives in Baigorrita, an agricultural province of Buenos Aires. Her daughter Martina was born with an abnormal breathing condition: oesophageal atresia with a tracheoesophageal fistula, as a result of glyphosate being routinely sprayed in neighbouring gardens and fields, “which for us is normal,” she says. Canisters of glyphosate are piled high in a barn next to her house. Another child in the locale was born with the same condition as her daughter, and neither mother carry the gene that would cause that malformation. She wants to see changes in the law regarding spraying public places that is making people sick [8].

Cry for Argentina

Losing its reputation as producer of the world’s finest grass finished beef, now mostly reared in factory farms, Argentina’s agro-industrial crop production has doubled since the intensification of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (R) glyphosate resistant soy, chiefly exported to China as soybean oil [9]. The transformation from Pampas tradition to large-scale mono crops has in several decades increased glyphosate use by 848% to over 220 million litres per year [10].

The film tracks changing health patterns in four regions central to industrial agriculture that differ significantly from the official National Statistics. Dr Damian Verzenassi’s environmental health researchers go door-to-door finding higher than average levels of cancers, respiratory problems, earlier onset Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, miscarriages and congenital malformations amongst 96,874 people in 27 towns [11]. In 2012, average national cancer rates were 217 per 100,000, in the regions the same year, the rate of 397.4 per 100,000 is 1.83 times higher than average, and 1.63 times higher than the country’s expected maximum. Hypothyroidism is the second most frequent disease in the regions, much higher than type 2 diabetes, which is second most frequent nationally. Miscarriages increased from 5.8 per 100 in 1995 to 11.5 per 100 in 2014 in Chabás province and congenital birth defects, 9.7 per 100 to 17.9 per 100 in Acebal, 1995-2014.

Dr Verzenazzi’s office door was chained on his return to the National University of Rosario in Santa Fe because his Dean was unhappy about him giving evidence at the Hague. He is not the first scientist in Argentina to be vilified for claiming harm from glyphosate. Biology professor Andreas Carrasco, University of Buenos Aries, discovered brain, heart, and intestine malformations in amphibian and chick foetuses exposed to Roundup [12]. His work on glyphosate and the regulation of Retinoic acid, a metabolite of vitamin A essential for the correct expression of the genes continues today, despite him being intimidated and his colleagues beaten by thugs to stop their presentation of unfavourable findings on glyphosate in 2010 [13]. Andreas Carrasco died of a heart attack in 2014.  

Impact of glyphosate on growers

Christine Sheppard tells the judges she developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after coming into contact with glyphosate on her coffee farm in Hawaii [14]. She sprayed Roundup from a knapsack several times a year for five years before developing the disease. After receiving chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant, she is part of a consortium of around 1,000 growers with non-Hodgkins which is taking Monsanto to civil court around the USA and Hawaii to let the jury decide, after reviewing the scientific evidence, if glyphosate causes cancer or not [15].

The film journeys on through Sri Lanka’s verdant countryside flowing with rice fields and hospital wards overflowing with dialysis patients. Dr Channa Jayasumana, a toxicologist, says Roundup was first used in Sri Lanka thirty years ago. Since the mid-1990’s, as many as 400,000 rice growers have been affected by an unidentified chronic kidney kidney disease (CKDu) from which over 20,000 have died [16]. The disease is also known as Chronic Interstitial Nephritis in Agricultural Communities (CINAC). His studies conclude the cause to be as a result of exposure to glyphosate spray and drinking hard groundwater contaminated by a synergy of glyphosate and heavy metals. Sri Lanka banned glyphosate in 2014, calling nations at the Tribunal to follow [17]. 

It is doubtful that paddy farmers in humid Sri Lanka, their wives or children drinking from hard water wells are aware of glyphosate’s ability to capture and retain nephrotoxic metals and acts as a carrier in delivering these toxins to the kidney. Or that Glyphosate was first patented by Stauffer Chemical Co in 1964 as a chelator, a strong chemical agent that binds to calcium, magnesium and strontium in the presence of hard water. It was principally used as a descaling agent to strip out mineral deposits from pipes and boilers in hot water heating systems [18].

Impact of Roundup-Ready crops

As the whales play in Tromso Bay, Thomas Bohn, a toxicologist at Norway’s Centre for Biosafety is repeating Monsanto’s 1978 MON139 study that said glyphosate is practically non-toxic to daphnia magna, and forming the basis of worldwide regulatory assumptions in relation to aquatic eco-toxicity [19]. His daphnia magna model shows Roundup has negative effects on several life-history traits, in particular reproductive aberrations, and is toxic even at levels below accepted environmental tolerance limits set by the US [20].

Comparing the effects of conventional, organic and RR (Roundup-resistant) soy grown in Iowa on daphnia, Dr Bohn finds mortality rates are higher in the RR soy group while the organic group live longer and have more offspring. The individual samples of RR soy contain extremely high residues of both glyphosate and AMPA (Aminomethylphosponic acid), glyphosate’s principle breakdown ingredient, on average 9.0 mg/kg [21]. This amount is greater than is typical for many vitamins. In contrast, no sample from the conventional or organic soy show residues of these chemicals. That RR crops take up and accumulate glyphosate and AMPA, demonstrates substantial non-equivalence [22].

Iowa introduced RR soy and corn in 1996-98, and now produces millions of bushels every year [23]. Many of these crops have become susceptible to a relatively newly discovered infection called Goss’s Wilt (bacterium Clavibacter michiganensis subsp nebraskensis) causing corn to rot and the loss of functional leaf area in soy [24]. From a field of rotting corn in Iowa, plant expert Professor Don Huber characterises glyphosate-resistant plants as having greatly reduced yields, because the toxin ends up killing the crop and damaging soil, plants, animals and humans. The crops have a lower nutrient density than organic foods. They contain high amounts of pesticides with documented harmful health effects, and novel highly allergenic proteins. Professor Huber describes this as ecocide, and the scene ends with a superweed towering above the field. The Union of Concerned Scientists has reported 24 newly emerged strains of glyphosate resistant superweeds in the US as a result of RR crop genes crossing with native weeds [25]. 

Impact of glyphosate on animals and humans

Art Dunham is a veterinarian in Iowa who is concerned about the overuse of glyphosate since the introduction of RR crops. He identifies eight deleterious outcomes in swine, dairy, and cow-calf herds that have become more common with glyphosate use: manganese and cobalt deficiencies leading to B12 deficiency, toxicoinfectious botulism, listeriosis and other pathogenic infections, more fusarium mycotoxins in feed and bedding, glyphosate-phytase issues, antimicrobial resistance and early-term pregnancy loss [26]. Pig farmer Ib Borup Pedersen almost wept giving evidence of shocking birth defects in his herd when fed soy imported from Argentina [27].

The three different patents on glyphosate alert us to its ability to bind with trace minerals and immobilise key micronutrients that are essential cofactors in biological enzyme systems. And growing awareness of the importance of the gut microbiome alone should curtail the indiscriminate use of glyphosate as an antibiotic herbicide and prompt society to get glyphosate out of our food supply. We should not take it for granted that herbicides are non-toxic and continue to concoct lethal combinations for resistant weed control without knowing their modes of action, Art Dunhum warned, also giving evidence on behalf of Don Huber [28]. 

Our bodies are already loaded with pesticides, according to molecular biologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini,University of Caen,whose team presented his findings of toxicity to humans to the tribunal [29]. And, it’s not just glyphosate we should be worrying about, it is the “real active ingredients”, the adjuvant chemicals in Roundup: corrosive distillates from the petroleum industry, a thousand times more toxic than glyphosate [30]. Roundup tested in water - not glyphosate alone - at very low levels (0.1 part per billion (ppb)) is highly toxic for kidneys and liver, an endocrine disruptor and causes tumours in rats [31],[32]. 

In 2015, University of California San Francisco found 93% of the human urine samples they tested were positive for glyphosate residues. Iowa, in the American Midwest, has the highest levels, with children the highest of all, an average of 3.586 ppb [33]. In Europe, 43.9% of samples tested positive, with an average level of about 1ppb. Recent research shows switching to a clean, organic diet can ameliorate the effects of pesticide exposure in children living in urban and agricultural areas [34].

Decades of deceit and scientific fraud 

Peter Clausing, a toxicologist at Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Germany prescient testimony says “The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) committed scientific fraud by not rejecting the position of the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), which stated, “that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to the classification, labelling and packaging (CLP) Regulation.” And that “no hazard classification for carcinogenicity is warranted for glyphosate according to the CLP criteria” [35]. This position re-enforces the conclusions made by the GTF, an industry led task force headed by Syngenta and Monsanto [36]. So no bias there.

And, it turns out that Dr Clausing was right. On 27th November 2017, after a five month stay created by Greenpeace calling the EFSA pesticides approval process into question [37], the EU Commission capitulated with industry-led approvals to renew glyphosate’s licence for the next five years [38]. Already, Paris and Rome (the Pope is passionately anti-GMO’s [39]) have responded by saying they will ban glyphosate over the next three years; France will phase it out completely by 2020.  

BanRoundupThe Judges Opinion

Five practicing Tribunal judges from Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Senegal, led by Francoise Tulkens, a former vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights gave their Advisory Opinion on April 18th 2017. They conclude Monsanto did not act in conformity with basic human and environmental rights. As a result, there have been series negative impacts to the physical health of individuals and communities, to animals, plants and biodiversity. These have led to substantive and lasting damage to eco-systems affecting the life and health of human populations. The tribunal highlights the need to change International law so that victims can have redress. The judges suggest that ecocide (the destruction of the environment, both in times of peace and war) should become the fifth Crime against Peace [40], similar to a mock trial at the Supreme Court in London concerned with the destruction of the Tar Sands in Alberta and the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill [41]. 

Le Roundup Face à Ses Juges (2017) is produced in association with Arte-TV, a company responsible for some of the most change-provoking and culturally aware documentaries about humanity this century. Filmed before the renewal of glyphosate’s licence in Europe this week, though not yet translated into English, this carefully and beautifully constructed film, will surely find the global audience it deserves.  

 

References:

1.  Marie-Monique Robin, Le Roundup à faces ses juges (2017) https://www.arte.tv/sites/robin/

2.  Marie-Monique Robin, The World According to Monsanto (2008) https://www.arte.tv/sites/robin/2010/07/30/the-world-according-to-monsanto/

3. International Tribunal Monsanto http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016

4. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organisation, Q&A on Glyphosate https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/Q&A_Glyphosate.pdf

5. Charles M. Benbrook, Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and Globally Environmental Science Europe 2016, 28 (1): 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5044953/

6. Glyphosate formulations and their use for the inhibition of 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase https://www.google.co.uk/patents/US7771736

7. Sabine Grataloup, Memo Victim, Testimony of Sabine Grataloup - Theo’s mother. http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/13589019.pdf?rnd=te4lnj The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016

8. Maria Liz Robledo, Victim, Argentina http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/689720468.pdf The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016

9. Walter Pengue, The impact of soybean expansion in Argentina, Seedling Volume 18, Issue 3, June 2001, GRAIN Publications https://www.grain.org/article/entries/292-the-impact-of-soybean-expansion-in-argentina

10. Tom Philpott, Argentina is Using More Pesticides Than Before and Now it Has Cancer Clusters. 23rd October 2013 http://www.motherjones.com/food/2013/10/argentina-cancer-cluster-pesticide/#

11. Damien Verzenazzi, Memo No 20, The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016 http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/718305640.pdf?rnd=qcMYle

12. Paganelli A, Gnazzo V, Acosta H, López SL, Carrasco AE. et al., Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling.Chem Res Toxicol. 2010 Oct 18;23(10):1586-95. doi: 10.1021/tx1001749. Epub 2010 Aug 9 .https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20695457

13. Jeffrey Smith, Monsanto is secretly poisoning the population with Roundup, October 4th 2011https://www.naturalnews.com/033772_Monsanto_Roundup.html

14. Christine Sheppard, History of Round Up Use on Farm and Non-Hodgkins-Lymphoma, The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016, http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/184674859.pdf?rnd=Dat8Z

15. Timothy Litzenburg, Memo No.2, The American Jury: One of the most Effective Tools at our Disposal, The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016 http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/270625289.pdf?rnd=YHYzVm

16. Channa Jayasumana, Sarath Gunatilake and Priyantha Senanayake, Glyphosate, Hard Water and Nephrotoxic Metals: Are They the Culprits Behind the Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lanka? Int J Environ Res Public Health v.11(2) February 2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945589/

17. Channa Jayasumana Testimony: Dr. Channa Jayasumana http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/1053455779.pdf?rnd=0O0Yls The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016

18. Glyphosate Patents http://www.gmofreepartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/glyphosate-patents.pdf

19. Marek Cuhra, Glyphosate nontoxicity: the genesis of a scientific fact Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry 15 (2015) 89–96 © 2015 

20. Cuhra M, Traavik T, Bøhn T. , Clone and age-dependent toxicity of a glyphosate commercial formulation and its active ingredient in Daphnia magna, Ecotoxicology. 2013 Mar;22(2):251-62. doi: 10.1007/s10646-012-1021-1. Epub 2012 Dec 6.

21. T. Bohn, M.Cuhra, T Traavik, M.Sanden, J.Fagen, and R.Primicerio,  Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans, Food Chemistry, Volume 153:207-215,15 June, 2014 

22. Thomas Bohn, Marek Cuhra, How “Extreme Levels” of Roundup in Food Became the Industry Norm, Counter Punch, March 27, 2014 https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/27/how-extreme-levels-of-roundup-in-food-became-the-industry-norm/

23.Top soybean producing states in the U.S. from 2014 to 2017 (in 1,000 bushels) The Statistics Portal https://www.statista.com/statistics/192076/top-10-soybean-producing-us-states/

24. Anna Freije, Joe Ikley, Kiersten Wise, and Bill Johnson, Diseases of Corn Goss’s Wilt on Grass Hosts, Purdue University, September 2015  http://mccc.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/IN_2015_Goss’s-Wilt-on-Grass-Hosts.pdf 

25. The Union of Concerned Scientists. Policy Brief, The Rise of Superweeds and What to Do About It, December 2013 http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/rise-of-superweeds.pdf

26. Art Dunham, Memo No. 8 Animal Health Issues with Increased Risk Due to the Use of Glyphosate Based Herbicides http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/674472033.pdf?rnd=XxHmZ9 The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016

27. Ib Borup Pederson, A Farm Study showing Health Issues, Deformities, abortions and fertility problems in pigs linked to GM soy and Roundup, By Ib Borup Pedersen, a Danish pig farmer. http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/223719479.pdf?rnd=Fe02Fy The Hague, October 15th-16th 2016

28. Don Huber, Memo no.7,  Synopsis of testimony to be presented at the Hague Tribunal. Professor Emeritus Don M. Huber PhD, The Hague, October 15th-16th 2016 http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/76342986.pdf?rnd=IT6q1h

29. R.Mesnage, B.Bernay,G.-E.Séralini. Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity Toxicology,Volume 313, Issues 2–3, 16 November 2013, Pages 122-128

30. Gilles-Eric Séralini, Why glyphosate is not the issue with Roundup, A short overview of 30 years of our research, Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry, Vol. 15 (2015) ISSN 1512-0856 https://www.gmoseralini.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Seralini-career-JBPC_2015.pdf

31. Nicolas Defarge, Eszter Takács, Verónica Laura Lozano, Robin Mesnage, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, Gilles-Eric Séralini, and András Székács, Co-Formulants in Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Disrupt Aromatase Activity in Human Cells below Toxic Levels Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2016, 13 (3), 264 

32. Gilles-Eric Séralini, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, Republished study: Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, Environmental Sciences Europe 2014, 26:14 https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1186%2Fs12302-014-0014-5.pdf

33. Axel Adams; Matthew Friesen; Roy Gerona Biomonitoring Of Glyphosate Across The United States In Urine And Tap Water Using High-Fidelity LC-MS/MS Department of OB/Gyn-Reproductive Sciences, University of California-San Francisco, USA http://www.apamt.org/wpcontent/uploads/2017/06/Poster_Presentation_34.pdf  and UCSF Presentation Reveals Glyphosate Contamination in People across America https://detoxproject.org/1321-2/

34. Asa Bradman,Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá,Rosemary Castorina, Raul Aguilar Schall, Jose Camacho, Nina T. Holland, Dana Boyd Barr, and Brenda Eskenazi, Effect of Organic Diet Intervention on Pesticide Exposures inYoung Children Living in Low-Income Urban and Agricultural Communities Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 123, Number 10, October 2015https://detoxproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015-organophosphorus-pesticides-in-children-organic.pdf

35. Peter Clausing, Memo 24,  Regulatory agencies (BfR, EFSA) used biased arguments to deny the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, Memorandum by Dr. Peter Clausing, PAN Germany, as a witness to the Monsanto Tribunal, The Hague, October 15th-16th, 2016 http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/1071085491.pdf?rnd=62bBTh

36. Legal Notice The Glyphosate Information Portal is an initiative of  the European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), a consortium of companies joining resources and efforts in order to renew the European glyphosate registration with a joint submission. This consortium is not to be considered a legal entity http://www.glyphosate.eu/legal-notice 22 March 2017

37. Arthur Neslen EU report on weedkiller safety copied text from Monsanto study, Friday, 15th September https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/15/eu-report-on-weedkiller-safety-copied-text-from-monsanto-study

38. Arthur Neslen, Controversial glyphosate weedkiller wins new five-year lease in Europe,  Monday 27th December 201 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/27/controversial-glyphosate-weedkiller-wins-new-five-year-lease-in-europe

39. Pope claims GMOs could have ‘ruinous impact’ on environment, Catholic Herald October 20, 2016, https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2016/10/20/pope-claims-gmos-ruinous-impact-environment/

40. International Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion The Hague, 18 April 2017 http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/upload/asset_cache/189791450.pdf

41. Sam Burcher,  Ecocide, A Crime Against the Planet, 11th October 2011 http://www.samburcher.com/newsite/index.php/articles/sustainability/18-ecocide-a-crime-against-the-planet