by David Gutierrez
The active ingredient of the popular herbicide Roundup, widely used on lawns and genetically modified (GM) crops worldwide, causes birth defects of the brain, heart and intestines even in minuscule doses, Argentinean researchers have found.
“The observed deformations are consistent and systematic,” said lead researcher Andres Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires.
Argentina is the world’s third largest exporter of soy, planting nearly 17 million hectares (42 million acres), or half of the country’s cropland. Much of this soy has been genetically modified by the Monsanto Corporation to be resistant to the company’s trademark herbicide, Roundup. As a consequence, massive quantities of Roundup are sprayed over soy fields across the country. In many cases, the herbicide is sprayed from the air and may drift over nearby communities or enter their water supplies.
Approximately 200 million liters (53 million gallons) of Roundup are used in Argentina each year.
The new study, conducted by the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), was ordered by the Argentinean Health Ministry in response to complaints filed before federal courts over the health effects of widespread herbicide spraying. For the past five years, a wide coalition of environmental and rights groups have pointed to significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, lupus, and diseases of the kidney, skin and respiratory systems in communities located near field of GM soy. Most recently, the nonprofit Rural Reflection Group (GRR) published a paper containing reports of health effects from rural doctors, residents and experts.
The group has called for a ban on the use of Roundup in accordance with the precautionary principle.
In the first phase of the CONICET study, researchers diluted Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, to a strength 1,500 times less than that used on GM soy crops. Other than water, no ingredients were added. The researchers then submerged amphibian embryos into this glyphosate solution, finding that the embryos consistently developed into animals with deformed heads.
In the second phase, researchers injected embryos directly with the diluted glyphosate solution. In addition to head deformity, the researchers observed reduced head size, increased death of skull-forming cells, deformed cartilage and genetic changes to the animals’ central nervous system, on a much larger scale than in the first part of the study.
“One should be able to suppose, with certainty, that the same thing that happens to amphibian embryos can happen to humans,” Carrasco said, noting that the observed results were “completely comparable to what would happen in the development of a human embryo.”
“Pure glyphosate, in doses lower than those used in fumigation, causes defects … (and) could be interfering in some normal embryonic development mechanism having to do with the way in which cells divide and die,” he said. Because the researchers deliberately excluded any of the additives that are also found in Roundup, they concluded that the herbicide’s active ingredient was definitely to blame for the effects.
Because the levels of glyphosate used “were much lower than the levels used in the fumigations,” the risk in real life “is much more serious” than that seen in the lab, Carrasco said.
“The companies say that drinking a glass of glyphosate is healthier than drinking a glass of milk, but the fact is that they’ve used us as guinea pigs,” Carrasco said.