Perhaps the World's Most Overlooked Poison

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Story at-a-glance -

  • The vast majority of processed foods containing corn, soy, or canola, or any derivative thereof, are made from genetically modified 'Roundup Ready' crops, which have never been proven safe for human consumption.
  • Roundup causes birth defects and deformities in frogs and chicken embryos, according to study published last year.
  • Report shows that industry and regulators were aware of these effects as early as the 1980's, but kept the information hidden from the public.
  • Regulations are primarily based on unpublished industry studies showing glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, is "safe."
  • Numerous animal studies suggest reproductive problems are a common side effect of glyphosate exposure and consumption of genetically engineered (GM) Roundup Ready crops.

Concerns about Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup, are at an all-time high. But according to a new report by Earth Open Source, one of the biggest concerns may be something that you're totally in the dark about, namely birth defects.

Research published last year shows that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, causes birth defects in frogs and chicken embryos at far lower levels than used in agricultural and garden applications.

The malformations primarily affected the:

  • Skull
  • Face
  • Midline and developing brain
  • Spinal cord

Other independent scientific research has also found that glyphosate causes:

Endocrine disruption

DNA damage

Developmental toxicity


Reproductive toxicity


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Many of these effects were apparent at much lower doses than the typical levels of pesticide residues found in food… Yet despite the evidence, which strongly suggests that the precautionary principle should be applied, regulators are turning a blind eye.  According to the Earth Open Source report:

"The EU Commission dismissed these findings, based on a rebuttal provided by the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). BVL cited unpublished industry studies to back its claim that glyphosate was safe." [Emphasis mine.]

Massive, Uncontrolled Experiments are Currently Taking Place

The above-mentioned study was prompted after reports surfaced of high rates of birth defects in areas of Argentina growing genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready soy. This GM soy has been genetically altered to be tolerant to otherwise lethal doses of Roundup. What this means is that the plants absorb the herbicide and survive, which makes them vessels of potentially high levels of glyphosate. Naturally, when you eat this crop, you also ingest glyphosate, which makes these findings extremely disturbing…

According to the lead author:

"From the ecotoxicological point of view, what is happening in Argentina is a massive experiment. It is a cautionary tale of what could happen in any country that adopts glyphosate-tolerant GM crops on a large scale."

Unfortunately for American consumers, the United States is a major grower of genetically modified crops. For example, in the US, over 90 percent of all canola grown is GM Roundup Ready canola, as is about 90 percent of US soybeans, and about 70 percent of all corn and cotton. And according to the featured report, industry and regulators KNEW that glyphosate causes deformities as early as the 1980's, but withheld the information from the public…

Quite shockingly, the amount of glyphosate residue you can be exposed to through food is remarkably high, in terms of being close to the maximum residue limit (MRL) allowed. According to the featured report, the highest MRL for glyphosate in food and feed products in the EU is 20 mg/kg. GM soybeans have been found to contain residue levels as high as 17 mg/kg, and malformations in frog and chicken embryos occurred at 2.03 mg/kg! That's 10 times lower than the MRL.

According to GMO expert Jeffrey Smith, there is so much glyphosate in GM soybeans, when they were introduced Europe had to increase their allowable residue levels by 200-fold!

The report does mention that an injected dose, which is how the animal study was done, is not the same as ingesting that amount. However, it strongly suggests that we need to thoroughly investigate just how much glyphosate humans and animals can safely ingest.  At present, no such investigation has taken place, and regulatory agencies choose instead to rely in industry studies showing that glyphosate is safe…

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Roundup Lethal to Amphibians

In another study on the effect of Roundup on aquatic and terrestrial amphibians, researchers discovered that the herbicide can be lethal, and may cause amphibian population declines. According to the authors, previous studies have shown that Roundup may be "highly lethal" to North American tadpoles. Here, they sought to determine whether the herbicide might also be lethal under more natural conditions, and in post-metamorphic amphibians.

Turns out the answer is a resounding yes.

The author writes:

"I assembled communities of three species of North American tadpoles in outdoor pond mesocosms that contained different types of soil (which can absorb the pesticide) and applied Roundup as a direct overspray. After three weeks, Roundup killed 96–100 percent of larval amphibians (regardless of soil presence).

I then exposed three species of juvenile (post-metamorphic) anurans to a direct overspray of Roundup in laboratory containers. After one day, Roundup killed 68–86 percent of juvenile amphibians. These results suggest that Roundup, a compound designed to kill plants, can cause extremely high rates of mortality to amphibians that could lead to population declines."

Infertility—Another Potential Health Risk of GM Foods

There's plenty of evidence suggesting that GM foods may pose a threat to future generations in more ways than one. Aside from birth defects, reproductive failure is another recurring theme in independent research.

For example:

  • A 2009 Brazilian study found that female rats fed GM soy for 15 months showed significant changes in their uterus and reproductive cycle, compared to rats fed organic soy or those raised without soy. The glyphosate in the soybeans is believed to be the cause of the problem as it throws off the delicate hormonal balance that governs the whole reproductive cycle.
  • In a 2009 French study , scientists discovered that glyphosate can kill the cells in the outer layer of the human placenta (the trophoblast membrane), which in turn can kill the placenta. Only 1/500th the amount needed to kill weeds was able to kill the cells. The amount is so small, according to the study authors, the "residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R[oundup] formulation-treated crops" could be enough to "cause cell damage and even [cell] death."
  • A Canadian epidemiological study, which looked at nearly 4,000 pregnancies in 1,898 couples, women exposed to glyphosate during the three months before getting pregnant had a significantly higher risk of miscarriages, especially for those above 34 years of age. Fathers who were exposed to glyphosate before their wives got pregnant showed an increase in early delivery and spontaneous abortions.
  • A study on male rabbits showed that glyphosate can cause a reduction in sexual activity and sperm concentration, and an increase in dead or abnormal sperm.
  • In 2005, Irina Ermakova with the Russian National Academy of Sciences reported that more than half the babies from mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks. This was also five times higher than the 10 percent death rate of the non-GMO soy group. The babies in the GM group were also smaller and could not reproduce. When Ermakova fed male rats GM soy, their testicles changed from the normal pink to dark blue.
  • Italian scientists similarly found changes in mice testes (PDF), including damaged young sperm cells. Furthermore, the DNA of embryos from parent mice fed GM soy functioned differently.

Say NO to GMO's!

These GM crops can now be found in nearly all processed foods, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, soy lectin and so on. This means that if you eat processed foods, you are virtually guaranteed to consume GM ingredients. Children are clearly at greatest risk, as no one knows exactly what kind of harm these experimental foods may cause over an entire human lifetime, let alone two or more generations.

So what can you do?

In your own home, you can:

  1. Avoid using glyphosate-containing weed killers on your lawn and garden, and
  2. Buy organic foods to avoid both genetically modified crops and agricultural chemicals like glyphosate

If you still want to purchase some processed foods, make sure you avoid those that may contain GM ingredients. This would be any food product containing any of the following ingredients, or any derivative thereof, unless labeled USDA 100% Organic:



Sugar from sugar beets




Hawaiian papaya


Cottonseed (used in vegetable cooking oils)


Some varieties of zucchini


Canola (canola oil)


Crookneck squash


Common derivatives include items such as: 

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Soy lecithin

Other common food ingredients you may not be aware are genetically modified include:

  • Milk containing rbGH
  • Rennet (containing genetically modified enzymes) used to make hard cheeses
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet)

More Information

Fortunately, you and I do have the power to turn this horrific trend of genetically engineered foods around, but it will require steadfast avoidance of all GM foods, which by and large means avoiding processed foods that contain any of the ingredients or derivatives listed above—unless it's USDA Certified 100% Organic.

It will also require steadfast sharing of information to educate those around you about the problems with GM foods and why it's so essential to vote them off the market with your pocket book. It's quite clear that we cannot win this fight through regulatory action, but we can still force it off our shelves and out of our fields if sufficient amounts of people simply refuse to buy these products.

On an individual level, you can get educated on GM foods, which are prevalent in your supermarket right now (virtually all processed foods contain GM ingredients, unless they are certified organic), so you can opt out of including these foods in your diet. To start,

I urge you to print out and use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, created by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Share it with your friends and family, and post it to your social networks. You can also download a free iPhone application, available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.

To learn more, I highly recommend reading the following two books, authored by Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology:

There are also a number of great films and lectures available, including: