Improve Your Health by Avoiding Pesticides and Herbicides

Story at-a-glance -

  • “Whitewash” tells the compelling story of how corporations such as Monsanto created global pesticide dependence, leading to a massive increase in the use of glyphosate and other herbicides
  • Farmers now apply nearly 5 billion pounds (over 2 billion kilograms) of glyphosate onto farm crops each year, worldwide. Approximately 300 million pounds are applied on U.S. farmland
  • Pesticide exposure has also exponentially increased. Urine output of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, shot up by more than 1,200 percent between 1993 and 2016
  • The “gly” in glyphosate stands for glycine, a very common amino acid your body uses to make proteins. Your body can substitute glyphosate for glycine, which results in damaged frequently nonfunctional proteins
  • In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a research arm of the World Health Organization, reclassified glyphosate as a Class 2A "probable carcinogen"

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By Dr. Mercola

Monsanto has become a global powerhouse capable of twisting entire governments according to its will. As a result, the company has saturated the global environment with its toxic chemicals, largely through questionable if not outright immoral and illegal means. Carey Gillam, an investigative journalist, dives deep into the backstory of Monsanto and the catastrophic consequences of their influence on the global culture in her book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science."

"I've been a journalist my whole adult life, more than 25 years,” Gillam says. Most of her career was spent as a reporter with Reuters, a highly respected global news organization. In the 1990s, she was assigned to move to Kansas and  tasked with reporting on issues concerning food and food production.

"I came to Kansas City and immediately started digging in and trying to learn everything about Monsanto, which had then just introduced genetically engineered (GE) crops," she says. "I thought genetic engineering sounded cool … I used Roundup; it worked great … I came with no preconceived biases.

As a reporter, you really learn to set aside any bias because it's not fair and it's not the way that you accurately learn about and report information. The book is really the culmination of 20 years of being heavily involved in this world and spending a lot of time with Monsanto, and with Dow, DuPont and farmers.

Glyphosate — Roundup — is sort of the vehicle for my book. Monsanto and the story of how they pushed this weed killer to become the most widely used in the world … [was] strategically by design … The point I hope this book makes is that glyphosate and Monsanto are really the poster children for a much larger problem — a corporate push for pesticide dependence …"

Glyphosate — The Most Widely Used Herbicide on Earth

Glyphosate is registered in 130 countries and its use has gone up exponentially since the introduction of glyphosate-resistant GE crops. Farmers now apply nearly 5 billion pounds (over 2 billion kilograms) of glyphosate to farm crops each year, worldwide.1 Approximately 300 million pounds are applied on U.S. farmland.

Needless to say, pesticide exposure has also exponentially increased. Urine output of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, shot up by more than 1,200 percent between 1993 and 2016.2 Gillam’s book reveals how GE crops were the true catalyst for this tremendous surge in glyphosate use, since they were in fact designed to encourage farmers’ use of this chemical.

“It's been a brilliant move by Monsanto,” she says. “We've gone from about 40 million pounds a year in North America to about 300 million pounds a year. It's used on … about 70 different commonly consumed food crops. Everything from avocados and almonds to cherries.” Indeed, just because a food is not genetically engineered does not mean it’s pesticide free.

"Monsanto also was smart enough to market it to farmers [of] wheat, oats and barley … to be sprayed directly on the crops shortly before harvest. When the grain is mature, they say the farmers can then go ahead and spray it directly on the crops. The crops will then dry out and … the farmers can harvest the crop in a more even and consistent way.

[This] might be good for farmers, it might be good for sales — for glyphosate producers — but it leaves a lot of glyphosate residue in the finished foods.

We have documented glyphosate residues in oatmeal, baby oatmeal that you're serving your kids, and in wheat and bread products. Glyphosate has even been found in honey — organic honey even, which is more [due to the] function of bees … than it is pesticide application. Again, it's pervasive in our food, our water, our soil, our air and our own bodies," Gillam says.

Glyphosate Is a Potent Toxin

Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup, but while toxic in and of itself, Roundup as a formulation is even more harmful. Some believe it's significantly more toxic, as certain surfactants allow glyphosate to be more effectively absorbed. Additionally, the "gly" in glyphosate stands for glycine, a very common amino acid your body uses to make proteins.

As a result, your body can substitute glyphosate for glycine, which results in damaged proteins being produced. Glyphosate also affects the shikimate pathway and destroys your microbiome, thanks to its antibiotic activity.

Roundup has also been linked to certain cancers. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), reclassified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A),3 based on "limited evidence" showing the weed killer can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with "convincing evidence" linking it to cancer in animals.

"Monsanto flipped out as you might imagine, and has been campaigning to discredit IARC ever since. [But] documents show … they knew ahead of time … [and expected] IARC [would] find it to be either probably or possibly carcinogenic. They anticipated this and internally said they were vulnerable with the epidemiology and the toxicology, because they have also seen the body of scientific evidence grow showing problems with glyphosate.

But yet to the world they have publicly made it appear as though they're shocked; they’re outraged. [They’re saying,] ‘How could IARC find [glyphosate] to be a carcinogen? [They’re telling people] that's crazy and [that] these IARC scientists have a political agenda and they're using junk science!’ [This is how Monsanto] set up organizations and different methods to try to discredit IARC. They've gone after IARC scientists.

They really have been on a mission for these past two-and-a-half years to get that classification basically cast aside, and they now are pushing Republicans in Congress to strip funding from IARC … [R]ather than actually looking at the science, listening to the experts, being concerned about how to possibly mitigate exposure to humans and the risk to humans … they're trying to discredit these scientists and twist the truth."

This is a classic strategy. The same thing happened in the tobacco industry, and is also happening in the telecommunication and pharmaceutical industries. By discrediting objective scientists who have integrity to report the truth, they delay the inevitable collapse of their business. Confusion and doubt alone are enough to maintain their business as usual.

"All the different strategies they've employed to suppress science, to harass scientists, to discredit individuals, to control regulators and influence regulators, to ghostwrite and manipulate the scientific content — when you put that altogether, it's a really alarming story of how we the public and our policymakers are being misled and put in danger … over the long term by this [chemical] industry corruption,” Gillam says.

Thousands of Lawsuits Pending Against Monsanto's Roundup

Since the IARCs classification of glyphosate as a class 2A carcinogen, an estimated 3,500 individuals have filed lawsuits against Monsanto, claiming the weed killer caused their Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Many of the cases in this multidistrict litigation are being handled in federal court in San Francisco under one judge. Internal documents obtained during discovery have been released by plaintiff attorneys, and have become known as “The Monsanto Papers.”

"It's pretty scary stuff when you see that what they say publicly is so very different from what they say internally, and how they work too," Gillam says. "I was looking at a new [document] today [in which] one Monsanto scientist makes reference to published peer reviewed papers that he has worked on but don't bear his name. This goes into the ghostwriting [issue], where they write papers but [the papers] appear to be from unbiased independent individuals."

Some of the evidence also reveals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has colluded with Monsanto to protect the company's interests by manipulating and preventing key investigations into glyphosate's cancer-causing potential. Gillam explains:

"There was a health and human services department review of glyphosate that was underway. Monsanto wanted it to go away. They talked internally about how worried they were about it. They went to the top brass at EPA and asked for assistance. They got it, and it went away. You can see all of that in internal emails and freedom of information documents.

We can see these conversations going on. Again, it serves Monsanto. It doesn't serve the public very well. The office of inspector general is now investigating collusion between EPA and Monsanto because of this and many other examples of EPA working on behalf of Monsanto."

Main Problem: Corporate Interests Allowed to Trump Public Safety

When it comes to the harm glyphosate exposure can cause, cancer is really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It may not even be the most significant issue. Glyphosate has the ability to cause widespread systemic and metabolic damage capable of causing or worsening just about any disease, and that is far more troublesome than its potential carcinogenicity. And, as Gillam stresses in her book, the even larger issue is that we're also being exposed to many other toxic pesticides, and often in combination.

"Chlorpyrifos, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the fourthmost prevalent pesticide found on food samples today,” Gillam says. “It's found on about 80 percent of fruits, for example. Chlorpyrifos, a Dow insecticide, has been shown to cause neuro-developmental problems in children [and] pregnant women …

It's banned for household use because it's known to be so dangerous. It was scheduled to be banned for farming this year. Dow's chemical went to the EPA and sat down with the Trump folks and gave a million bucks to the Trump inaugural fund, and guess what — it's not going to be banned anymore.

This is a bigger problem of corporate profits trumping public safety. Our policy makers, our regulators, are not protecting the public. They are listening to the corporations … That is the bigger message of the book 'Whitewash.'"

Testing Your Glyphosate Levels

While both the USDA's Pesticide Data Program and the FDA measure herbicide and pesticide residues in foods, neither of them include glyphosate in their testing, ostensibly because it’s too expensive and partly because glyphosate has been assumed safe (based on Monsanto’s own evidence).

The USDA did promise to start testing for glyphosate residues last year, yet mere days before the testing was scheduled to begin, it was called off. The reason has never been disclosed. The only time the USDA tested for glyphosate was in 2011, when 300 soybean samples were tested and all were found to be contaminated. The FDA also started a limited testing program for glyphosate in 2016, but did not go public with the program.

"They had one of their lead chemists in Atlanta do some testing," Gillam says. "He found oatmeal products [and honey] with high glyphosate levels … and he was mysteriously pulled off pesticide residue testing. A memo has gone out that basically says, 'Please don't look for glyphosate in honey anymore.' They suspended the program but now they say it's back on, but we still don't have any data on glyphosate residues in food, which to me just seems really suspicious."

The good news is you no longer need to rely on the government when it comes to glyphosate testing. You can test your own levels, thereby assessing your own individual exposure. If your levels are high, you would be wise to address your diet and consider buying more organic foods. The Health Research Institute Labs (HRI Labs) in Davenport, Iowa, has developed home test kits for both water and urine.

Doctors Need to Learn More About Pesticide Exposure

The current threshold for HRI, which is the one you want to be using or a lab that uses this sensitivity, is half a part per billion or 40 parts per trillion. If you're below that threshold, your exposure is low and you're unlikely to experience adverse effects. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in terms of educating medical professionals about the importance of pesticide testing. Last year, Gillam asked her doctor to check her glyphosate level and the doctor had never even heard the word.

"She said, 'I have no idea what you're talking about. I can't order that test,'" Gillam says. "It's not part of mainstream medicine and it should be, I think. I've talked to people at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about that. How are we ever going to correlate [pesticide exposure] to disease … if we don't track it?

There are various integrative medical doctors affiliated with laboratories who will run testing for glyphosate, heavy metals and other pesticides, but mainstream medicine is not there, and not even turning in that direction it seems like."

US Right to Know — Fighting for Truth and Transparency

After decades with Reuters, Gillam left the news organization in 2015 to join U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), a nonprofit organization working for transparency and accountability in the U.S. food system. By filing freedom of information act (FOIA) requests with regulatory agencies and other institutions, USRTK has exposed a number of massive frauds.

"We're a very small, very poor nonprofit. What we do, primarily, is file FOIA requests with our federal government regulatory agencies. I do EPA, FDA and USDA. We also file state records requests with taxpayer funded universities to see where all that corporate money is flowing and how it's influencing research and what's happening. It's been really alarming because it has opened a window into this world … of profound corporate influence on people — academic professors for instance.

We know about the collusion with regulators, but these academic professors who are teaching our young people and writing policy briefs to our lawmakers, giving presentations around the world — in many cases we're seeing Monsanto made the presentations for them; sent them the slide shows, wrote the papers for them that appear on websites under their names.

It's amazing, the network Monsanto and the chemical industry have developed around the world, of individuals who appear to be independent and nonbiased who are really collaborating with the chemical industry. It's astonishing …

[A] recent example [is] Henry Miller … Through the emails, we were able to see that Monsanto was assigning him, and drafting for him, these articles that would appear in Forbes Magazine. Many times, word for word … Written by Monsanto, appearing in Forbes Magazine under a name of someone who looks to be independent.

Forbes Magazine, after these documents came out, severed its relationship with him, but this is again one example of one individual. [This] is happening all over the place …

I had to sue the EPA over one of my most recent requests dealing with glyphosate and the cancer assessment. They have turned over several thousand documents after we filed that lawsuit, so that's useful. The government is not eager to cooperate, certainly, and neither are these academic universities.

We've been attacked and [it's been] alleged that we're trying to stifle science, harass scientists and all sorts of false things like that, when all we really want is truth and transparency for the public and the taxpayer. If these academics really believe GMOs are wonderful and glyphosate is safe and these chemical companies are going to save the world, that's fine. But disclose the relationship, disclose the funding, disclose the collaborations. Then people can make up their own minds."

More Information

To learn more about Monsanto’s impact on the food system, the dangers of pesticide exposure and the corruption of science, be sure to pick up a copy of “Whitewash.” For about $20, you get access to Gillam’s 20-plus years of professional experience researching and reporting on these issues. She provides deep insights to what is happening with your food, and what the solutions are, such as shopping organic and growing your own.

"It's interesting to note that while we don't test [foods for glyphosate] here in the U.S. … we do test grains and alfalfa and other things that are going overseas. We have a grain inspection agency that does glyphosate testing on different grains. Not those destined for American dinner plates but those destined for foreign dinner plates. Why? Because so many countries around the world don't want glyphosate residues in their food …

It's important and it's serious … but it's hard to get people interested … I'm hoping people will [read the book and] understand that it's not so much about one chemical, it's about what has been done to our food system, to our health — how one company … [has been able] to push this into our world in a twisted and manipulated way that leaves us in the dark, and leaves them reaping the profits. It's not fair and it's something we all need to be aware of."

Be Part of the Solution

Just six short years ago, we catalyzed the project to have GMOs labeled in California. While we lost the vote, the campaign catapulted GMOs into the awareness of millions of Americans who had never before heard the term. The issue of pesticide exposures is the next level of awareness people need to reach. You can help this process by educating yourself and sharing your findings with those you know.

Also, know that while ignorance can put you in a tough place, health wise, information can set you free. It's easier than you may have imagined to take control of your health. All you have to do is make different choices. One of the most basic strategies is to eat real food, organically grown without pesticides. Once you've gotten into that habit, check your urine for glyphosate to evaluate your eating habits. If your levels are still high, you're still being excessively exposed, be it through water, food or your environment.

Last but not least, "We need to make decisions for ourselves to eat healthier, but I'm [also] hoping that people will be motivated to try to have an influence on public policy, and to push for more transparency and more healthy choices," Gillam says. Indeed, tackling government corruption will require all of us to get more involved in the political process.