The Case for Banning Monsanto's Roundup 

There's strong evidence that the herbicide causes birth defects and probably causes cancer. There's also reason to believe it causes or exacerbates numerous chronic illnesses.

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Gatica shared her findings with her friends and neighbors. Soon a group formed, calling itself the Mothers of Ituzaingó. In 2012, Gatica was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work protecting her community from glyphosate toxicity.

A group of Argentine doctors, alarmed by the increases in birth defects and cancer, joined the Mothers of Ituzaingó. These concerned physicians formed Doctors of Fumigated Towns, which held its first national conference in August 2010 in Córdoba, Argentina, a farming area where agribusinesses heavily and repeatedly spray glyphosate. The Department of Medical Sciences of the National University at Córdoba sponsored the conference. Some 160 doctors from throughout the country attended. At the conference, Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a pediatrician and environmental health expert, explained his concerns: "The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We've gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects, and illnesses seldom seen before. There are more than 12 million people affected by fumigation (pesticide spraying) in the country. In these areas, the rate of birth defects is four times higher than in the cities."

Chaco is Argentina's poorest province and a region of intensive glyphosate spraying. Records from the neonatal service at Chaco's Perrando Hospital show that birth defects increased fourfold, from 19.1 to 85.3 per 10,000 people, in the decade after intensive herbicide use began.

The experimental animal studies, the observations in farm animals, and the epidemiological studies in humans all bolster the conclusion that glyphosate causes birth defects.

And the research directly contradicts claims by Monsanto, which states on its website that Roundup is safe "because it binds tightly to most types of soil so it is not available for uptake by roots of nearby plants. It works by disrupting a plant enzyme involved in the production of amino acids that are essential to plant growth. The enzyme, EPSP synthase, is not present in humans or animals, contributing to the low risk to human health from the use of glyphosate according to label directions."

So how can Roundup cause birth defects if it only affects an enzyme (EPSP Synthase) that animals do not possess? Andrés Carrasco, an embryologist and the former director of the molecular embryology laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires, found the link.

Carrasco suspected that glyphosate caused an abnormal hyperactivity in the Vitamin A pathway. The Vitamin A signaling pathway is present in all vertebrates from the very earliest stages of embryonic development. The pathway turns on certain genes and turns off others. It acts like a conductor, orchestrating the symphony of embryological development. And there is no room for error. Genes must be turned on and off at precisely the right instant in exact sequence. Any disturbance of the Vitamin A pathway can result in birth defects. It is because of the enhanced risk of birth defects that pregnant women are advised not to take any Vitamin A (retinoic acid) containing medications.

When Carrasco added a chemical inhibitor to his experiments, he was able to block the glyphosate-induced hyperactivity in the Vitamin A pathway. The birth defects no longer appeared. Mystery solved! Glyphosate had caused birth defects by over-stimulating the Vitamin A pathway. Since this pathway is present in all vertebrates, glyphosate has the capacity to cause birth defects in fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

But Roundup doesn't just cause birth defects.

Epidemiologic studies from the areas in Latin America where agribusinesses heavily spray glyphosate have consistently shown spikes in cancer incidence. Other epidemiological research has implicated glyphosate in brain cancer in children and in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In addition, laboratory studies of many kinds, as well as animal feeding studies, have repeatedly linked glyphosate to cancer.

Cancer is a complex process. One of the initial steps is damage to our DNA. Each of our cells gets its operating instructions from DNA, and if DNA is damaged and not repaired, it can program cells to divide rapidly and chaotically. When that happens, cells transform into cancers.

Cells are also vulnerable to becoming cancers during cell division. Each cell receives from its parent cell an identical copy of DNA. If a mistake occurs during this process, cells receive faulty DNA copies, and the cells can then turn cancerous.

Since both DNA damage and errors during cell division can lead to cancer, scientists have studied whether glyphosate can cause these abnormalities. And the results have been conclusive. For example, fruit fly larvae exposed to glyphosate have developed lethal DNA damage. And mice injected with glyphosate and with Roundup showed an increased frequency of DNA damage in the bone marrow, liver, and kidneys. Roundup damaged the DNA in blood cells of the European eel at environmentally realistic concentrations. And when researchers exposed cow lymphocytes to glyphosate, the herbicide caused DNA damage.

In a 2004 study, researchers from the National Scientific Research Center and the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in France exposed sea urchin embryos to glyphosate, and found that the herbicide caused significant errors in cell division. The scientists commented that these abnormalities are hallmarks of cancer and delivered a particularly chilling warning. "The concentration of glyphosate needed to cause these errors was 500 to 4,000 times lower than the dose to which humans may be exposed by aerial spraying or handling of the herbicide."


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